This post is a partnership with Stress Health, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness, but the opinions expressed are my own.

Food is a huge part of our lives, and to be honest, it’s more than just nutrition. It’s comfort; it is self-expression, it’s relationships. It brings us together.  Sometimes, food is the hug we didn’t know we needed that day.

But we still have to be careful how we view this relationship. We are setting the foundation for our children’s relationship with food. If they see us eat emotionally, they will too. If they see us yo-yo from one diet to another, they are going to think that is the norm. Even though we may struggle with making good nutritional choices, we need to help our children get the healthy nutrients they need.

With busy parenting schedules, work, household responsibilities, and the pressure of outside influences, it’s hard to provide my children with the ideal nutrition in their diet. But I know that it’s important, and I know I can take some small steps to help them shape future decisions.

Breakfast

Breakfast is one thing this family does really well. Everyone wakes up hungry! A few years ago, I instituted a “cereal ban” and forced my children to eat something healthier for breakfast. I’d make eggs and toast, overnight oats, or yogurt with fruit and granola. After a while, I stopped buying cereal altogether, and it became a special treat. Regardless of what time it is, breakfast is served every morning. It’s the meal we most often eat together.

Eating Together

Growing up, my family ate dinner together almost every night. As a parent now, I see just how hard that must have been. My kids are still pretty young, but there always seems to be something that interferes with dinner time. Maybe it’s my gym time, maybe it’s my husband working late, or maybe the big kids are having too much fun with their friends to come in for dinner. But we still make it a priority a few times a week. And we have fun when we do.    

Fruits & Vegetables First

I know kids (and some adults!) can be picky eaters, and I am fortunate that my children aren’t. They eat almost anything I put in front of them, and that includes fruits and vegetables. When they want a snack, we start with fruits and vegetables. When they claim they are hungry after dinner, fruits and vegetables are the first options. It cuts down on the amount of junk food I buy and they eat.

Water, Water, Water

Soda was always a treat in my house growing up. My mom would buy it for parties or barbeques, and we could order it when we ate out, which was very special. I’ve stuck to that at my house too. I drink water and coffee, and I can’t remember the last time I bought juice. By eliminating those things from our daily diet, our children don’t really know what they are. One of my children won’t touch anything with bubbles, which makes keeping her away from soda easy. Our oldest has the occasional soda when we’re out. But water is the first stop in our house, for everyone.

Meal Prep Together

You know I’m a big fan of meal prepping, doing some extra work one day to do less the next. I like incorporating my kids into prepping as well. Kids of all ages can help in the kitchen, doing age-appropriate tasks. My two-year-old can help assemble some things, or mix. My big kids can make some meals all on their own. And the best part is the time we get to spend together.

As you work toward minimizing stress and parenting guilt, you will see some ups and downs. You may serve five, well-balanced and healthy meals and then have pizza for dinner the next night. That’s life! It’s perfectly normal and healthy to balance food and choices.

Sometimes, you just have to do drive-thru, sometimes you need to have delivery, and sometimes cereal for dinner is the best option. But by sticking to an overall routine that emphasizes family meals and togetherness as well as healthy food choices, you can introduce the importance of nutrition, help everyone feel safe and connected, and shape your child’s future.

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