Americans are busier than ever these days. We take our coffee on the go with a calorie-laden muffin; we cruise through drive-thru windows for quick and easy meals. In a pinch, this works. Yet we can’t do this all the time. As a nation, we are becoming more and more health-conscious, and restaurants–even fast-food venues–offer healthful choices that go far beyond just plain and uninspired salads. However, preparing your own meals and eating at home is still the healthiest choice we can make.
Nutritional experts agree: healthy eating habits begin at home. Parents set the example with their own eating choices and lay the foundation for a nutritional lifestyle. Healthy eating is a learned behavior, and children absorb this information at an early age
Eating at home allows us to cater meals to meet our exact needs. If we’re watching fat, we can use substitutions. If we’re avoiding something such as gluten or dairy, we can choose something else in its place. Preparing our meals at home makes us more informed food consumers, enabling our children to develop a lifelong healthy relationship with food.
Food Culture: Setting the Rules
Before any cooking begins, families should be aware of their own individual “food culture,” the general rules that make up the family mealtime attitudes and beliefs. The best thing you can do for your family is not to play short-order cook. Make sure everyone is on the same healthy eating plan. Talk it out as a family and come up with ideas weekly.
Rules can include more specific things, such as tasting everything served and eating at least one vegetable. Add flexibility to the rules by allowing kids to choose their own vegetables. Giving them some autonomy helps them become an active participant in the process.
Start at the grocery store. Take the kids shopping with you, educate them about fruits and vegetables, and let them help you choose. It’s amazing how much more kids are willing to try when you allow them up-front access to foods.
Finally, establishing a rule in which everyone sits together at the table not only promotes healthy eating habits, but also strengthens family bonds.
Cooking the Meals
Often, “cooking with kids” conjures images of stirring a pot of macaroni and cheese or rolling up pigs in a blanket. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with either of the above, there are plenty more options to choose.
Jonathon Sawyer’s Noodle Kids takes kids and parents on a tour around the world with 50 different pasta dishes they can cook together. He claims that having a healthy family isn’t about trickery; rather, it’s about honesty and connecting kids with the experience of the food.
Food Network offers a special recipe series called Cooking With Kids, the goal of which is to get families together in the kitchen and share healthy meal ideas. Check out some of their fantastic recipes.
What are some of your favorite meals to share with your family?