Better Habits in 2020: Nutrition!

It’s a new year and a new opportunity to check in with our family routines, to assess what is working and what might need a little work. In this series, Better Habits in 2020, we’ll take a look at the kinds of things we can do to improve our and our children’s lives. Today we’ll focus on something that is a challenge for many busy families: nutrition!

Webster’s dictionary defines “nutrition” as… no, we’re not really going down that road. But it is important to note that what defines “nutrition” might vary widely, depending on who’s defining it. Fat, protein, carbohydrate and sugar contents in diets are debated in popular/social media, and individuals’ different health situations can call for specific dietary regulations. For the purposes of this post, we’re using recommendations from Harvard’s School of Public Health and defining “nutrition” as a diet of foods that contain more essential nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and water and less added sugars, salts and processing chemicals.

Sounds pretty easy… unless you’re a real person with a real family. It is so easy to grab-and-go a processed dinner filled with extra sugar and salt. Too easy for those of us with busy lives. But the real truth is, when we continue to eat easy, fast, sugary, salty (delicious) foods, we continue to deprive our bodies of all of the nutrients they need.

At every age, we need a balance of foods, with a variety of nutrients for our bodies and brains to function at their best. And as I mentioned in our first Better Habits post, children are doing even more than we are. Growing, learning, developing muscles, bones and organs. They are especially in need of good nutrition to fuel the non-stop work their bodies and brains are doing.

Children’s House Guide Jessie Braud explains it this way, “When I’m talking about nutrition, I always like a reminder of how we as adults feel when we aren’t getting the nutrition we need. Sugary food, processed food, fatty food can affect us hard… adults will feel cranky, irritable, even nauseous as our bodies adjust to the fluctuations in blood sugar. So why would young children not feel the same? And to make matters even more challenging, they are still developing the self control that we have already acquired, and they are lacking the knowledge we possess about healthy eating. So when they are not eating well, it is an easy road to feeling out of control, towards misbehavior, to tantrums and crashes.”

And to make matters even more challenging, they are still developing the self control that we have already acquired, and they are lacking the knowledge we possess about healthy eating. So when they are not eating well, it is an easy road to feeling out of control, towards misbehavior, to tantrums and crashes.Jessie Braud

It can be a challenge but it is not insurmountable. A good first step is to make it as easy as possible. “Our culture of convenience has made these processed foods extremely easy, so it can certainly feel like you are climbing an uphill battle,” Jessie continues. “Opt for whole grains, real fruits and vegetables, and healthy protein in the easiest way for you so it becomes habit and second nature.”

Next, let children in on the food planning and preparing. Many many studies show that a key way to help ourselves eat better is to prepare our own meals. And that goes for children too! When children help with the shopping, the planning and the preparing, they tend to eat a wider variety of foods.

photo credit: Shannon O’Connell
photo credit: Shannon O’Connell

And maybe the most important thing we can do is… not give up. We need to just keep at the work of creating a habit for better food choices. As parents, we face an extra obstacle here, our children. They will not like every food we introduce to them, and they might not like any food we introduce to them the first time. But that doesn’t mean they will never like those foods. Give them the chance to say no, the chance to change their minds and the chance to discover their true tastes.

Jessie sums it up this way, “It is crucial to let our children experience and explore, to try and taste. And it’s okay if they decline; it takes many, many tries for our taste buds to reorient, especially if it is something unfamiliar or particularly bitter, spicy, or strong. Lowering the pressure and opening the options, allowing children to help prepare and cook, encouraging them to experience and explore different tastes and textures… all of this will help guide your child towards understanding their own palate and their body’s needs.”

For more ideas about how to cultivate good nutrition for yourself and your family, here’s a list of sources for this post and other suggested reading: