Filed under: Family meals
An interesting program for optimizing children’s health focuses on four specific behaviors that parents and children can use for health and wellness: Let’s Go!’s "5-2-1-0".
5—Eat at least five fruits and vegetables today – more is better!
2—Cut screen time down to two hours or less a day (no screen time for under age of two).
1—Participate in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
0—Zero sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Instead drink water and three or four servings a day of fat-free or one-percent milk.
For ideas about how to incorporate fruits and vegetables into daily meals, visit the MyPlate.gov KidsHealth website.
Young children need consistency and predictability in the environment in which they grow up. Maintaining consistent expectations with regards to education, work, and family responsibilities is crucial in a child’s healthy development, as well as for family relations. A great way to achieve a sense of consistency is to create family rituals. MilitaryOneSource suggests rituals such as reading letters aloud during dinner and eating together as a family.
The USDA announced on June 2, 2011, that its classic food guide Pyramid is being replaced with the easy-to-understand and interactive MyPlate. Using a “familiar mealtime visual,” MyPlate is intended to remind Americans about balancing meals with the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, notable changes to the new guide are the inclusion of more fruits and vegetables, less grains, and the re-categorization of oils as providing “essential nutrients” but not appearing on the plate.
The result is a simple visual graphic of a balanced meal that families can use as a tool to make sure the portions of the major food groups are covered in meals. The simplicity of the graphic helps ALL family members, especially children, become more engaged in what and how much they should be eating. An interactive plate on the MyPlate website allows users to click on each section of the plate, which then displays a page for the selected food group with description, key message, and a list with pictures of single-serving sizes of some common foods in that group. These changes allow families to easily identify what a healthy, balanced meal looks like. Also featured is an Interactive Tools section that enables users to develop personalized plans and learn about specific healthy food choices. When all family members know the basics of healthy eating, mealtime can truly be a shared event.
MyPlate can also encourage family discussions about healthy foods, which can help develop good eating habits by all members of a family. For example, you can find out if there are any particular foods that family members like or dislike, and then find and offer alternatives in the specific food group of a disliked item. This will help eliminate the likelihood that someone will skip the essential healthy components of a meal. Get everyone excited and involved during mealtime! Fun meals shared as a family can promote healthy eating habits for children that they can carry into adulthood and can reinforce family bonding.
Keep in mind that MyPlate isn’t designed as strict rule to be followed—it’s perfectly fine to have dairy products directly on the plate instead of in a cup. Desserts, which are currently placed in the “Empty Calories” section, are okay when consumed in moderation in appropriate portions. You may still have to seek out other sources for how to prepare foods in healthy ways and to determine for the nutrition content of many food items. The information on MyPlate should be used as a tool to build a foundation of knowledge about food choices and help set healthy eating goals for your family. Families should take this change as an opportunity to get the entire family involved in healthy eating.
Experts from MedicineNet, the American Dietetic Association, and the Cleveland Clinic developed a heart-healthy food pictures slideshow. Besides pictures, the slideshow also includes menu ideas to help you easily use these foods in your daily diet. The foods that protect against heart disease include: salmon, flaxseed, oatmeal, black or kidney beans, almonds, walnuts, red wine, tuna, tofu, brown rice, soy milk, blueberries, carrots, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, asparagus, oranges, tomatoes, acorn squash, cantaloupe, papaya, dark chocolate, and squash.
Eating with your family around the table is an effective way to bond, communicate, and even eat healthier! So, turn off the television and put all cell phones away during dinner time to improve family dynamics and health.
A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that 4th and 5th grade students ate more fruits and vegetables if they helped their family shop for them, and if their parent(s) ate fruits and vegetables the day before. The bottom line: eating fruits and vegetables helps us, and the children around us, be healthier.
A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology examined females age 9-19 and found that the more often a family eats together in childhood (i.e. before age 12), the more likely the adolescent is to exhibit effective coping skills, good communication skills AND the less likely they are to smoke and feel high levels of stress in late adolescence. For the full study, see Franko, D., Thompson, D., Affenito, S., Barton, B., & Striegel-Moore, R. (2008). What mediates the relationship between family meals and adolescent health issues?” Health Psychology, 27(2), S109-S117.