Every parent knows a healthy weight is an indicator of good health and a gateway to chronic disease. Today’s parents, however, are busy and time and finances are limited. This is why it is essential for all parents to model healthy eating for their children.
The first step is to model mealtime as family time. Parents must support shopping, cooking, eating and talking together if mealtime is to be a memorable event. Boundary setting, consistency and communication stop the tug of war that is commonly seen when parents become the food police. Parents must aim for progress not perfection when pursuing a healthy diet. By planning wholesome and well balanced meals, including a wide variety of healthy foods, eating in not out, planning family meals and not skipping meals, parents set the tone of what and when they expect their children to eat. Mealtime becomes a social event that is as much about one another as it is about the food that is eaten.
Parents must be patient with their children and allow children to serve themselves. The focus must be on avoiding excess portion size rather than forcing a child to “clean the plate” and sample every food that is served. Water must be the first part of every meal or snack. Milk should be fat free or low in fat for all children over age 2 years. Juice does not need to be part of your child’s daily food intake. It is best to eat the fruit rather than drink the juice. Limit milk intake to three 4 ounce servings per day and consider substituting low fat yogurt or cheese in place of the milk.
Consider using a luncheon plate rather than a dinner plate for meals. Half of the plate should be fruits and vegetables and one fourth of the plate should be a whole grain carbohydrate. There has never been a controversy about eating too many vegetables. The protein you choose constitutes the final fourth of your plate. Half of all protein chosen should be plant based and fish or lean meat is preferable over high fat cuts of meat. In this way meat becomes a garnish to your meal rather than the main course. Beware of certain high fat foods such as cakes, cookies, ice cream, pizza, sausage, cheese, hot dogs and butter.
Consider making vegetable juicing a part of your family’s diet for children of all ages. Homemade vegetable juice that is free of pulp and fiber becomes liquid gold. It is a fast, convenient and efficient way to dramatically increase the intake of vegetables for your entire family. Because you make it yourself it is fresh and unpasteurized. You are able to limit the amount of sugar it contains while at the same time protecting the enzymes and heat sensitive nutrients that are key components of the vegetables. As a general rule try to use fresh vegetables that are locally produced and organically grown. Because you are using a large quantity of vegetables contamination with herbicides and pesticides can be an issue.
Vegetables that are high in minerals and beta carotene such as kale, cabbage, romaine lettuce and dandelion greens are good choices. High energy vegetables include carrots, beets, cucumber and celery. For added sweetness add one part fruit for every three parts vegetables and for a palate cleansing flavor consider adding half a peeled lemon. A half-bunch of cilantro or parsley also increase the depth of flavors. Other options include a few drops of honey or maple syrup or a dash of cinnamon or all spice. Always juice the stems and bases of cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus and try to drink the juice slowly or during a meal. This allows your digestion to “catch up” with all the nutrients. Storing vegetable juice is difficult. It is best to drink vegetable juice soon after it is made. If stored, consider doing so in an air tight mason jar that is refrigerated and kept out of sunlight.
Fruit smoothies are another healthy addition into the family diet but be aware of high sugar intake. Fruit smoothies can be made in a high speed blender rather than a juicer so the fiber is not left behind. Always include protein and some healthy fat in the fruit smoothie. Nuts or protein powder are easy protein sources and extra fiber can be found in flax or chia seeds, Fat can be found in added coconut, avocado, flaxseed oil, fish oil or coconut oil. This allows the sugar to be absorbed more slowly and lowers the glycemic index of the drink. Avoid sweetened yogurt and fruit juices.
By taking the time to plan and eat healthy meals even busy parents can become a model of healthy eating.