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Healthy eating for families

If the idea of starting healthy eating habits with your family seems like it may lead to World War III, then this is your well-being white flag. By Eulogi Rheeder

Blog_GoodHealthMarch2014If you are a mom or dad, then the phrase ‘eat your vegetables’ is probably commonly followed by a long, drawn-out ‘pleeease’, right? We thought so. And, as if it’s not hard enough to get your children – heck, sometimes even your spouse – to join in devouring a plate of greens, then it’s having to deal with time demands and budgetary constraints.

Forward, march!

But you aren’t alone in your battle against the flood of fast food and sweet treats. According to the South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, childhood obesity is fast becoming a major problem in our country. It is estimated that one in five South African children are overweight or obese – this includes even children under the age of six. The reason is simple: poor diet. And if there’s truth in the fact that children follow their parents’ example, our country has a big health conundrum.

Perhaps you want to live more healthily but don’t know where to start, or think you can’t afford it or that your kids won’t fall for it. The good news is, anyone can make the switch.

Make a plan

Would you start any other important project without a plan? Of course not! So why wouldn’t you approach your and your family’s diet exactly the same way?’ asks dietitian Sandy Goldberg.

She suggests getting your family involved and says that when you sit down as a family to plan your meals for the week, you should ask everyone to make suggestions for what goes on the shopping list. ‘If you allow children (and adults) to choose items, it’ll make them more willing to try them.’

And once you’ve made your shopping list, you need to stick to it. ‘Shopping from your list will not only save you time, but money and a whole lot of unnecessary extra kilojoules.’

Start the day right

Oprah and Dr Oz weren’t lying when they started preaching the gospel of breakfast. ‘Besides being a very good way to start your day, a well-balanced, nutritious breakfast can help to prevent overeating and snacking throughout the day,’ says Sandy. It’s a good idea to choose wholegrain cereals with milk or wholewheat toast with an egg. ‘These foods are generally low GI and contain a lot of bran that will fill little tummies, while the protein will ensure bigger tummies stay fuller for longer.’

Cut it out

The number one mistake people of all ages make is to drink fizzy, sugar-laden drinks. ‘These are filled with refined sugar, which is bad for your waistline, not to mention the damage it does to teeth,’ Sandy says. She adds that sugar-free fizzy drinks aren’t a good idea either. They may have zero kilojoules, but they do have ingredients that will, ultimately, make you crave sweet things. Counterproductive much?

Even 100% fruit juices don’t sit well with Sandy – unless the juice is diluted with water so the drink contains more water than juice, she says. ‘Juice is high in fructose (fruit sugar), which makes it just as sugar-laden as fizzy drinks.’ Rather opt for water.

Smaller is better

Another mistake we make is that we get our portion sizes wrong. We may think we are eating healthily, but when our portions are double what we should eat, it’s all in vain. Start small: dish up portions that equal a fist size or choose to serve the meal on side plates. Only offer second helpings if requested. ‘Take into account that it takes 20 minutes to feel full. Children will very often overeat just because their parents have dished up too much for them. Their behaviour is almost always a result of their parents’ influence.’

Sandy adds that you need to apply the same portion-control thinking to drinks and smoothies – use a standard cup as your measuring stick.

A family affair 

The familiar saying goes: ‘The family who eats together, stays together’, and Sandy wholeheartedly agrees. ‘When families sit down to share a meal, they are more likely to eat the healthier options.’ However, she adds that this is only true if parents make the healthy choices first. When they lead by example, their children will want to follow.

Sandy recommends making dinnertime ‘family time’, as this will teach children a model of regular, scheduled meals, as well as leave them with a healthy structure for eating. ‘Kids will realise meals are a celebration time, that eating is not just something you do when you’re bored or feeling emotional.’

And, an extra benefit is that all family members can share their days with one another. There are few things as special as a happy, healthy family eating and talking around the dinner table.