Let’s take a minute to ask ourselves a couple questions. I interviewed a couple kids, ages 4-8. I asked, what does healthy eating mean to you? They answered: “Strawberries and bananas” and “What do you mean? I don’t know.” Then I asked, what is your favorite part of mealtime? They said: “When we talk about our day,” “when we share our favorite part of our day” and “eating.”
Speaking directly to my younger readers now, I’m guessing many of you answered the first question with fruits and vegetables as your first thought. This is awesome, of course! But have you ever thought of “healthy eating” in a different way? For example, maybe healthy eating means taking the time to enjoy wholesome foods you put in your body, knowing where the foods come from (processed and manufactured or from a local farm), learning how the foods can affect your body and recognizing your body’s cues in hunger vs. satisfaction.
All these thoughts can lead to healthy behaviors and may entice you to try something new. With school being right around the corner, now is a great time to gear up for back-to-school healthy lunch and snack ideas. Think C3. Combine. Be Creative. Add Color. Combine different food groups, for example, mozzarella cheese balls and pear squares to make kabobs. Combine dried fruit, nuts and seeds, popcorn and whole-grain cereal to make your own trail mix, or simply combine a handful of grapes and ¼ cup of nuts for a nutrient-dense snack. Be creative by freezing yogurt tubes or packing nut butter and whole-wheat cracker sandwiches. Lastly, add more natural color found in fruits and vegetables to your snack or lunch box. This provides more nutrients and long-lasting energy.
In the second question, I purposely left out a key word, and that was family. Some of you may have answered by saying, “enjoying family company and conversations.” This piece of mealtime is HUGE. Have you ever asked your parents, “what’s for dinner” only to hear a less-than-appetizing response such as, “I don’t know yet” or “leftovers”? Or you see your parents scramble at putting together a dinner full of snacks to satisfy the criteria of starch, protein, fruit and vegetable?
Perhaps these nights are the nights you don’t enjoy family mealtime or you choose not to eat much on your plate. This can be frustrating to you and your parents. Family mealtime is the foundation to building healthy nutritional habits. Perhaps this week you could offer to participate in meal planning, preparation and being present. Ask what you can do to help prepare the meal.
For example, maybe you wash and cut the vegetables and fruit, sprinkle seasonings into the pot, brown meat or layer lasagna. Increasing your preferences for fruits and vegetables is aided by repeated exposure through hands-on cooking. A study in Appetite, a Science Direct Journal (June 2017 and July 2019) found that having children participate in the kitchen may lead to more positive attitudes about nutrition and eating healthy.
Nutrition topics have been integrated in your classes since preschool, and I’m willing to bet you have tried foods your parents haven’t even heard about. Perhaps ask your friends what their favorite meal is for more ideas. Write a list of your food likes and dislikes. Expand on the dislikes by writing down alternatives of foods you would like to try. If you can’t think of any, ask your parents for ideas. This can be helpful when making a family menu for the week. It may give you more opportunity to have a say about “What’s for dinner?”
Creating time to enjoy family meals can be difficult. If schedules collide in the evening, perhaps then, breakfast works better for your family. Even if it is 20 minutes together as a family to talk and eat, take it! This quality time can nourish your mind and body.
Tammy Licari, RD, CD, LD, is a St. Luke’s clinical dietitian.
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