What does “family nutrition” mean, exactly?
Family nutrition means teaching and encouraging eating attitudes and behaviors within the family unit. Every family has nutrition habits. The concern is whether the habits taught and encouraged are healthy or unhealthy. Since every family member is unique and has different nutritional needs, each individual’s needs should be considered in the family nutrition plan. The combination of needs will often mean that certain family members will need to focus on special areas. For instance, in a family with one child who is underweight and one parent who has diabetes, the child will need to focus on eating adequate portions of healthy, high-calorie foods, while the parent will need to focus on appropriate portions for diabetes treatment.
Why is family nutrition important?
Families often focus nutrition changes on family members who have a health problem or a certain athletic focus. But good nutrition is important for everyone, and the family unit is the perfect place to build a healthy foundation for every member. Good family nutrition helps everyone in the family to be healthy and happy. Since we know that good nutrition helps prevent disease and increase quality of life, good family nutrition will benefit the whole family in this way. It is also possible that good family nutrition will reduce the incidence of obesity and disordered eating, including eating disorders like anorexia and binge eating.
How do you start your family’s nutrition on the right track? Here are ten tips:
- Start with healthy nutrition in infancy. Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for babies 0 to 6 months old. If you’ve chosen to feed your baby infant formula, be sure to use clean water, mix it properly, and wash the bottles well.
- Encourage everyone in the family to eat three meals every day plus a couple of snacks. This will help keep the digestive system regular. Eating five to six times per day also helps the body to better distinguish between hunger and fullness. When you wait too long, your body will feel hungry, even after you’ve eaten enough.
- Eat as many meals together as possible. Try to eat at least one family meal every day, even if it’s breakfast. Whoever is home at meal time should be sitting down together to eat. Families that eat together generally eat healthier and know more about what is happening with their children.
- Offer a variety of foods from all of the food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and meat/protein. Learn about the Food Pyramid. Be sure to have foods available that meet a variety of preferences in the household.
- Choose low-fat foods and whole grains. Read food labels! Look for total fat around 3 grams or less. Choose 1% or skim milk; they have the same nutritional value as 2% or whole, just much less saturated fat. Whole grains, like wheat, bran, and oat, help keep your digestive tract healthy and help keep cholesterol low.
- Remember that drinks have nutrition, too. Low-fat or non-fat milk and 100% fruit juices can be great choices to help meet nutritional needs. Sweet teas, juice-flavored drinks, and sodas add only sugar to the diet.
- Keep empty-calorie foods out of the house. Occasionally buying candy or soda can be fine, but constantly having “junk food” in the house only allows everyone to eat it. You can also have small treats when you eat out, as long as eating out is not part of your usual routine.
- Encourage healthy habits. Praise your children for choosing healthy foods and eating right. This can make adults feel good, too!
- Discourage unhealthy habits in a constructive manner. Try not to humiliate one family member for overeating or skipping a meal, but discuss the behavior in a loving, supportive way. Teach children not to tease each other about eating habits.
- Seek medical attention when needed. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions if you are concerned about your loved one’s nutrition habits or health, especially if it is a child. If you need help with your family’s nutrition, find a registered dietitian. Dietitians specialize in food and nutrition, and some of them even specialize in family issues.
Remember not to dwell on the past! Move your family forward into more healthy living, and start with a good nutrition plan.