Are you trying to eat healthier but struggling with family dynamics and getting everyone to agree? You’re not alone. Many families disagree about food preferences and it’s easy to argue about what to make for dinner. Preparing wholesome meals for the whole family can be a challenge, especially for those with busy lifestyles. At River Oaks, we understand how the mind and body are connected and believe proper nutrition is so important for both your physical and mental health! To feel your best, your brain needs constant nutrition. Food is the fuel source, and the nutrients make all the difference. The structure and function of your brain are impacted by what you eat, which directly impacts your mood, anxiety levels, and stress management.
There are many ways to include nutritious foods in your daily routine without too much stress or opposition from your loved ones. Below are a few different tips to improve your family’s eating habits.
Schedule regular mealtimes. You’ll be surprised by how much eating regularly together as a family will positively impact everyone. Mealtimes offer families a chance to reflect on the day and interact with others. They also provide a supportive environment where your family members can express anxieties or concerns about whatever they may be going through. Also, it’s cliché but true that eating a healthy breakfast in the morning can help your family feel their best throughout the day.
When eating, put screens and devices away. The effect of screen time on the body and mind is straining and upsets the body’s natural rhythm. Try making a family rule to not eat while using phones or other devices. Also, eating while watching television or using a computer almost always leads to mindless overeating. Instead, focus on mindfulness while eating and the interactions you are experiencing with each other. Eliminating technology during meals will also help you listen to your body more intently and you will be able to notice hunger cues better.
Include family members in the planning process. Everyone should be able to openly express which foods they would enjoy for family meals. Even children or teens should be given some opportunity to select from choices and feel they have a say in what is being provided by parents. When they are old enough to cook or eat independently without adult supervision, this will help kids learn how to make healthy decisions on their own. Making healthy decisions can help them think more positively and improve their physical and mental health. The benefits of family meals last a lifetime, so take advantage of this chance to empower your family.
Substitute other family activities for mindless snacking. The majority of people occasionally engage in mindless eating. A lot of times this happens with foods containing empty calories. While this is okay in moderation, too much mindless eating can cause fatigue and depression, especially if you start to feel like you cannot control habits of overeating. Try to notice your hunger cues and if you feel like you’re not hungry but still mindless snacking out of boredom, shift your efforts to other activities, like spending quality time with your family. For example, play cards or board games, do something crafty, or have a family movie night.
Integrate more fruits and vegetables. In addition to being full of nutrients, fruits and vegetables also make you feel full so that you won’t be bothered by cravings between meals. Several key nutrients in fruit and vegetables play an important role in maintaining and promoting mental health, managing stress, and raising happiness. Take some time to find some fruits and vegetables for everyone in your family will enjoy. You may even want to explore some new options and try the less-common ones. It can be fun to discover new tastes!
Let go of perfection. Your family meals don’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or worthy of social media pictures. Despite what the media may have you believe, there’s no perfect way to eat. It’s much more important to have flexibility within your family’s eating habits and discover what works best for you, integrating small changes here and there, but ultimately relieving yourself of any unrealistic expectations.
Avoid labeling food as good or bad. There is no such thing as “bad” food. There are many ways that food can nourish you. Some foods will nourish your body nutritionally while other foods nourish you in emotional or soothing ways. All foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle within moderation. Instead of labeling food negatively as “unhealthy” or “junk food,” try using language that describes how often you may engage in this type of food. For example, you may have “daily” foods and you may have “once in a while” foods. Remember, being too restrictive can create stress and tension around mealtimes, which can negatively impact the mental health of everyone in your family and may even cause disordered eating behaviors. Please take this seriously and ask us for help if you need support.
Make meal prep a priority. Try splitting up meal prep responsibilities among family members so that everyone is taking part in this shared task. While it may seem like a big commitment, setting aside an hour or two to prepare your meals for the week will greatly reduce stress for your family. Eating out meals during the week after a long work or school day will be a major relief each night. And with no arguing about “what to make for dinner,” you have a lot more time each evening to actually spend time talking with your family about things you enjoy.
Remember that your family has specific wants, tastes, and a lifestyle. Eating healthy as a family does not have a one-size-fits-all approach. Make every effort to tailor your strategy to each member of your family’s needs because this experience should empower everyone. And if you need support, please reach out to us. We would be honored to help you and your family through all the ups and downs. Eating is such a big part of the human experience and we want to make sure that your feeling confident and supported as you nourish your mind and body each day.
Written by Lauren Presutti