Clearly, eating on the run can have negative consequences for our health, particularly if the choice of foods consist of mainly high fat and high sugar convenience snacks at the expense of fruit, vegetables, dairy products and wholegrain foods. Chaotic eating patterns also make it difficult to judge exactly how much you have consumed, which can lead to either over or undereating.
In our hectic lifestyles, however, grazing is inevitable as we skip meals to try to fit school runs, work, shopping, etc, into our everyday schedules. But how can we turn a potentially unhealthy and negative habit into an enjoyable and healthy experience without piling on the pounds? To graze effectively needs conscious planning and effort.
Typical grazer’s day
- Breakfast: a Danish pastry, cappuccino
- Mid-morning snack: packet of crisps, chocolate bar, coffee
- Lunch: burger meal with chips, carbonated drink
- Afternoon snack: biscuits, coffee
- Dinner: fish and chips, carbonated drink
Effective grazer’s alternative
- Breakfast: bagel with banana and low-fat cream cheese, orange juice
- Mid-morning snack: packet of reduced fat crisps or dried fruit, coffee
- Lunch: packet of vegetarian sushi, apple, water
Afternoon snack: vegetable crudites with reduced fat hummus
- Dinner: spaghetti bolognese with mixed salad, water
Whilst it is possible to graze healthily, eating together as a family has long-term benefits that go beyond physical well-being. Psychologists Dr. Blake Bowden and Dr. Jennie Zeisz conducted a study of 527 teenagers, which showed that children who ate regularly with their family were less prone to depression, had better peer relationships and were more motivated at school. According to Professor Pak Sham of the Institute of Psychiatry, ‘Sharing appears to be the most important aspect of the family meal. In addition to food, family mealtimes also offer an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings and this is important in helping teenagers to deal with the pressures of adolescence.
Despite the benefits, it is often impractical to eat dinner as a family every night of every week. So set realistic goals, perhaps eating breakfast together at the weekend or Sunday lunch as a family might work for you. Cooking meals in advance (perhaps at the weekend) and freezing meals might make a family dinner more feasible. That way you can just reheat it without the hassle of preparing a meal when you come home from work.
Involving the children in the preparation of the meal, or other chores such as setting the table or clearing up, might ease the stress of the whole process. Make the meal together a social occasion and eliminate distractions by turning off the telly, radio, mobile phone, or computer.