What’s for breakfast …lunch … dinner? That’s the question that seems to be constantly on the tips of my kids tongues, and in the back of my mind… Unfortunately the answer isn’t quite as easy to spit out… I mean I have usually got some idea, but the internal debate of “Do I cook what they will eat… or do I cook what they need?” seems to rage on in the background …
Now I know what the answer should be simple… Cook what they NEED… But how the hell do we work out what that is, everyone has different needs right? And… How the hell do we get them to eat what they need, when they don’t understand that what they like isn’t always what they need…. Thats constant battle I feel all parents have…
So, I have an active 12 year old pubescent son who eats like a man and who is difficult to fill up, an 8 year old daughter who eats like a sparrow, and isn’t hungry until after 9.30 am and who suffers bouts of severe “Hangry” attacks, a husband who grew up vegetarian and struggles eating protein other than chicken or mince, who has stress sugar cravings and who could eat the same thing night in night out without blinking an eye, and then there is me…. I am always last on the list… the one who just wants everyone, including myself to eat something nutritionally sound, as I know full well through personal experience the impact of the demons that can emerge when this important factor of life is neglected on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels…
So what do you do? Cook different meals? Give in to the likes and wants of the masses? Just take it on the chin and prepare for the whining and the argument when what is offer doesn’t cut it? Make them cook for themselves (also known as “catch and kill your own” in our house)? I know so many families who, like me, struggle with meeting the nutritional needs of everyone! I have tried all of these things. and what happens is this…
- “shove it in the oven food” ( pre-packaged / prepared) becomes the go to as a quick solution for hunger or lack of time to prepare or to care
- “just a salad” leads to more episodes of “Hangry” and not enough nutrition for a growing body
- “mum, how do I make….? Mum, what do I do now? Mum where is the…? “Mum do I have to eat this…?”
- anger and frustration and a negative family experience at the dinner table at a time when family time is just so precious
- left overs that take over my fridge and get lost or never eaten and so are thrown into the green waste
Why do we worry so much? Lets look at the health side effect of this:
- consumption of ultra processed foods are linked to increased levels of heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes and cancer – all of which are some of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) biggest threats to health and wellbeing, and lead to an increased risk of mortality by 14%
- the nutritional value of processed foods in considerably lower in the foods that are milled, canned, blanched, and dehydrated foods. Water based vitamins are more unstable and less likely to survive these processes
- unmonitored nutritional intake can cause health concerns in a growing and developing child, and can create poor nutritional habits that impact on health into the future
- healthy food consumption generally reduces from adolescence into adulthood and is linked to poor health, while childhood healthy food consumption is fairly stable, hence the need to create and promote healthy food consumption habits early on
- a more positive maternal emotive influence and positive family dynamic at meal times is linked to positive weight outcomes, less emotive eating practices and better management of consumption for children, and is more likely to result in greater consumption of fresh or healthy food options.
- 35 % of the average Australian house hold waste is comprised of food waste
So where to from here? How do I work with what I have to get the best results? How do I meet the nutritional needs of my family and maintain the peace? What do I do if the food we eat doesn’t quite tick all the boxes? Now after much trial and error on my part these are some of the things I have found that has worked for us so I thought I might share them. Its not always perfect but it helps
- Involve the family in meal planning for the week – when we come up with a list of options we are all happy to eat it brings about some positivity and ownership of the meal time decisions. It increases the knowledge and awareness of nutritional requirements and understanding of the concepts involved and builds skills for future health. And, why not get them involved in their meal time decisions getting them in the kitchen and off their devices!
- Unpack all the shopping onto the bench or table and group the fresh stuff into macronutrient groups ( Carbohydrates / fats / proteins – see picture for details), and set everything in a packet aside, then decide as a family if you have met the mark in meeting their nutritional needs. Discuss as a family what provides you with energy for life, movement, cellular repair and growth.
- As you move the packaged food to the side, take note of the amount of packaging and decide together on what can be left out in the next shop and what healthier option you can add in to replace it. Discuss the impact of ultra-processed foods with your family ( my kids had no idea until we talked !) so they too understand that you are not just being a “narky healthy parent” but you are truly caring for their long term wellbeing
- Eat the rainbow, and plan for meals that have as much colour as possible ( that does not include the packaging !) The more variety the better and the more likely you are to meet their micronutrient needs (vitamins and minerals)
- Find a suitable protein & / or greens powder that is plant based, gluten free, soy free, has digestive enzymes, pre/probiotics and is stacked full of superfoods and that is unflavored or tastes good with no flavors additives etc – yes they do exist! and discuss how these can be used to fill a need in nutrition at breakfast, for snacks, or additions: i.e. think smoothies for non-breakfast eaters or healthy between meal snacks, protein balls rather than biscuits or sweets.
- Research, explore and invest in good quality supplements and nutritionals that will fill any gaps you may find – I do not rely on these to meet our needs but I will use them when needed.
- Be flexible and work WITH the guidelines consistently and don’t use them to govern or dictate your families eating… the key is balance… and this will help them understand the need to find it for themselves. You can help them by asking them valuable questions at pertinant times so they can come to their own conclusions and learn valuable lessons as they go.
- Don’t forget hydration … when your kids are asking for snacks or say they are starving at times other than meal times, ask them how much they had had to drink … promote water consumption over juice or packaged drinks, before they go for something to eat. Very often the body mis-understands the signal for thirst as hunger and the craving they have can be misguided.
- Guided meal choices: I still have “catch and kill your own night” each week, but I guide it by placing on the bench what they can use to create their dinner of choice. There must always be fresh unpackaged and home prepared as the dominant portion on their plate. This gives them the freedom to choose, but the guidance to choose well.
In the long run the fact that you are making the effort to ensure that you family is aware of their nutritional needs means that you are one step ahead and leading the way for a healthy family.
I will be strong in my conviction to helping my family meet their nutritional needs. I understand that needs and want vary and I will encourage a more positive family involvement in these decisions in order to educate and increase skills and awareness. I will investigate and be open to the use of supplements and nutritionals to boost the value of the the foods my family consumes and to help meet the nutritional needs not met by dietary choices. I will work toward providing a positive meal time routine to help encourage healthy eating decisions and habits. I am the role model my family needs for their current and future health and wellness.