Eating Well With A Family
Seven Tips From Tom Bainbridge At Body Type Nutrition....
Eating well is easy, when you think about it. All you really need to do is to focus your diet around whole, unprocessed and single ingredient foods for the vast majority of the time, try to include as many colours as you can in every meal from fresh vegetables and fruits, and eat a good portion of a variety of protein sources at each meal. Nothing to it!
Even if you have a specific goal in mind, all you need to do then is to find out your requirements with regards to calories and macronutrients, buy only what you need to avoid temptation, and prepare lunches and snacks ahead of time if needs be to help you stay on track. Simple.
Then you get a family….
Altering your dietary habits as part of a lifestyle change can be tough when you are part of a family. Kids often go through phases with food where they refuse to eat certain things, and having a partner who enjoys things the way they are might mean that support is found wanting. I would venture to say that having a supporting partner is one of the most important things for any person looking to make a large change to their lifestyle and, therefore, food habits.
Likewise, maintaining current habits can be difficult if you meet someone new because, for someone who isn’t as interested in health and fitness, your dietary choices may seem restrictive or simply ‘weird’.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. By making a few changes to your approach and a couple of compromises, as well as adopting a few ‘tricks’, you can keep your life easy and harmonious whilst staying right on track with whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.
Here are my top tips for keeping the peace:
1. Have children help to cook dinner. This is an important thing to practice as it not only makes eating wholesome food a fun activity, it will teach the child valuable skills for later life. The vast majority of young people who enter university don’t know how to cook, and these young people are growing into an increasing number of parents who have grown up without ever preparing a meal at home for themselves, let alone a child.
So get them involved!
Letting children see things as they transition from cupboard to plate, washing, cutting and peeling (carefully) before adding to dishes is a fantastic way to introduce colour and freshness into their diet. Not only will this teach them how to cook, this helps to reduce food anxiety as they see the food for what it is, (rather than the thing on their plate they don’t want but are pressured to eat) and a child will always be more inclined to try something knowing that they made it.
2. Further to the above, and contrary to what a lot of people end up doing, it’s my firm belief that people should try to eat together as a family as often as possible.
It is far too common that families will not eat together, which has far reaching repercussions. It may seem unimportant but because this has been one of the cornerstones of group bonding for humans for the majority of our history, not eating together can contribute to familial communication becoming impaired.
Whilst eating separately, of course, is the easiest way to ensure that there are no issues with eating what a dieter may want or need to, and allows them to cook something a child ‘will eat’, it doesn’t solve an issue, but dodges it. Teach a young person about nutrition early on and they will develop a habit for life. Not just good for you, excellent for them. Imagine if YOU had been taught about vegetables from being very young…
Now I know that eating with kids is stressful sometimes, but for the most part, meal times with children are only stressful and difficult if adults make them so – mealtimes should never be battlegrounds. A great model for this is the ‘Division of Responsibility’ model championed by Ellyn Satter. In this model, the parent is responsible for providing the food, and the child is responsible for deciding how much to eat. This relies on the fact that children will not starve themselves to death, and also plays on the idea of positive reinforcement (rewarding for doing well is far more effective than punishing for not). Here you would serve your child 1-2 foods that they like, and one food that they don’t (numbers just for illustration). For example, you could serve chicken drumsticks and homemade chips, with some carrot chips mixed in. The child can choose to eat the carrots or not.
Critically, your job is to sit with them, eat your carrots, enjoy your carrots, and leave your child to decide on what they want to do. There’s no punishment for not trying, but there’s no alternative either. Continue and eventually, curiosity will win out every time.
This is opposed to telling a child what to eat, as this only causes anxiety and will result in a tantrum – and a spiralling self-fulfilling cycle of serving food you don’t think your kid will eat, then fighting, rinse and repeat. Once kids are used to, and happy about eating the same foods as their parents do, it becomes infinitely easier to maintain family-wide healthy eating habits.
As a final point on this, sometimes families CAN’T eat together. Perhaps your kids have after school clubs, or are involved in evening activities that take them away from the table at mealtimes. Here, preparation is key – use these days to make up big batches of bolognese, chilli, curry, stew or other similar meals, and simply reheat what you need to. Even if your partner and one child are at home from 5 and you have to go back out at 6-7:30, there’s no reason you can’t all eat the same meal – only at different times of day. Reheating food in the microwave is safe and extremely easy (despite what you may read on the topic of microwave cooking from certain ‘healthy bloggers’), but if that doesn’t sound like something you would enjoy, revel in the ease of slow cooker living, which allows you to just portion food up as and when you need it!
3. Use healthy swaps to make it easier to eat with children without ‘falling off the wagon’.
Trade chips for the homemade version using a little olive oil and the oven, make pasta Bolognese or Lasagne from scratch with lean mince, and trade half of the pasta for spiralised vegetables, or a side salad. Again, letting children help in the preparation makes it a fun family activity rather than a battle of wills. As far as beverages go, this is as easy as swapping regular soda for diet on occasion, or sugar-free cordial. Even better than this, add some fresh citrus fruit or cucumber to a bottle and leave it in the fridge overnight
4. Keep treats out of the house.
Before I go on with this point I want to clarify that yes, a child will want to have chocolate and crisps etc and they should be allowed to have them on occasion. Completely forbidding certain things may lead a child to have a bad relationship with food as they get older (though that’s not to say that a child less than school age would suffer for not being given sweets yet…). It is important to remember that although we obviously want the best for our children and we seek to give them only the best when it comes to nutrition, it’s also a fact that a growing, energetic child isn’t going to come to harm at the hands of a weekly Freddo.
The rule of human nature is that if something is in your house, you will eventually eat it. That goes for multi-packs of treats that you plan to spread out over a few weeks for a child, too. Sooner or later you will cave in and grab a bag or two whilst watching TV, or you’ll dig into the chocolate after settling the kids in for the night.
Buy single chocolate bars or single bags or crisps to bring home for a child to eat there and then, or buy them whilst you are all out on day trips – this way they are never in the house, calling to you from the cupboards. When at home, focus on ‘healthy’ snacks such as chopped peppers and carrots, celery with nut butter, chicken drumsticks or, the eternal favourite, fruit. This also means that there are no snacks for your child to raid if they want to cheat the DOR model above.
This may seem like a bit of a pain, and it is, but that’s the point. By placing a barrier between yourself and the foods you don’t really want to eat (you just want them if they’re there), you reduce your self-sabotage opportunities by a great margin.
5. As far as your partner goes, if they aren’t too keen on the idea of a dietary change, start slowly.
By home-making things like pizzas, burgers, curries, meatballs and the like you are able to control the contents and therefore calories. This ensures that you are able to stay on track with your health goals, but still continue to eat the foods that you and your partner can enjoy together.
6. Focus most on meals which you can totally control.
There are some meals during the day which you have more control over than others. Most families will eat different things for breakfast, so even if your kids want cereal and your partner wants a sausage sandwich, there’s nothing stopping you having something which fits alongside your plan. Lunch at work is another great opportunity to eat exactly what you need.
Take these two meals as your vegetable load up, and get a good hit of protein, but feel free to keep the calories a little lower if you know the family will eat together in the evening and it’s going to be a little more calorie dense. Preparing these meals ahead of time is a godsend, so don’t be afraid to dedicate the time to making something delicious for yourself one evening.
Even if your partner wants to order a takeaway, there are a surprising number of ‘good’ options which can be ordered from most places. Chicken kebabs, tomato-based curries and meat and vegetables in black bean sauce are relatively light, high in protein and vegetables and (provided it’s not from a TOTAL dive) made with fresh ingredients.
And after the meal? Always make sure that your partner throws out food that they do not finish, rather than sitting with it at the table, and do the same for any kids. Picking at leftovers is one of the most common ways which people sneak calories into their day which they don’t want, without even realising.
We all do it, but if you ask someone for their food diary it will often (accidentally) omit the half Turkey dinosaur left over from their son’s dinner. If you get rid of the temptation immediately, you won’t cave into it.
7.Finally, a recent study indicated that children given pepper sticks while waiting in the lunch line at school were hugely more likely to ask for a salad with peppers on when they got there. There’s no reason that the same couldn’t work with other crunchy veg like carrots, too. During the cooking process, offer your child some chopped pepper, a radish, a carrot stick or even a small piece of chicken. This ‘gets them in the mood’ for a healthy meal and reminds them that yes, foods other than chicken nuggets do taste good.
As a final thought, I’ll say this – Above all, be flexible!
Your family need to know that despite the fact you are chasing better health and body composition you aren’t a robot and they don’t have to eat ‘rabbit food’ all of the time. Eat out in restaurants, but pick a lighter option such as a steak and jacket potato, have a single glass of wine, don’t banish chocolate completely.
Food is vital for a family’s bonding time – don’t miss out!
Thanks for reading.
Tom Bainbridge is the manager of the Body Type Nutrition Academy (www.bodytypenutrition.co.uk/academy) which is a two-tier nutrition course designed at the general public and fitness professionals. The courses are 100% online, and guided by both Tom and BTN owner, Ben Coomber. If you like Tom’s writing, he is a key contributor to the BTN blog (www.bodytypenutrition.co.uk/blog), and the blog of Awesome Supplements (http://awesomesupplements.co.uk/articles) so check him out there!
If you’d like to contact Tom about BTN, or about his coaching services, please drop him an email on firstname.lastname@example.org
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