Healthy Children: Why Family Meals are So Important

family meal“…up to 15% of youth in the United States suffer from depression and approximately 80% of 10-year-old girls have been on a diet…”

The statistics from this article sadden and alarm me greatly. As the mother of three, seeing children healthy and happy is one of the deepest desires of my heart. I was blessed to be able to be a stay-at-home mom when my children were small, so I was able to oversee their food choices during their most formative, early years. The first five years of a child’s life are the foundation that shapes future health, happiness, growth and development (physically, emotionally, socially and mentally) throughout life. This impacts their physical health in ways we never imagined.

It may not surprise you that my children did not drink soda except at birthday parties and they learned to love fruits and veggies very early on. We ate as a family as often as possible depending on my husband’s work schedule. We had a restaurant for several years and he worked some pretty crazy hours. Now that they are all young adults, they are still very healthy eaters.

This article talks about the importance of not only eating together with family, but also of eating truly nutrient-dense foods and the impact it has been found to have on mental health and mood as well as overall health and specifically heart health.

“On average, adults who suffered malnutrition as a child had hearts with less efficient pumping action. They also showed higher peripheral resistance, as measured in their smaller blood vessels. The bottom number in their blood pressure measurements was higher across the board, showing higher diastolic blood pressure readings. All three results showed that malnutrition during the first five years of a person’s life can drastically impact heart and blood vessel development, putting the children at increased risk for high blood pressure and stroke later in adulthood.”

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In case you think our children could never be malnourished, think again! Besides those who eat packaged, processed and fast foods often, even our children who are fed healthy meals are not immune because the quality of our food is of critical importance. Eating lots of fruits and veggies won't do your child any good if they are genetically modified or loaded with herbicides and pesticides. So, malnutrition can happen in a variety of ways.

We know our cars only run well on high octane fuel and our pet needs a specific type of food, how much more do these Intelligently-created bodies of ours need real food to nourish them - especially for children whose bodies and brains are still growing and developing.

By choosing the most nutrient-dense, healthy foods to feed your child you are creating the foundation for lifelong, healthy habits which will impact their health as adults! If you grew up in the 1960’s as I did you may have grown up on Twinkies, Hostess Cupcakes and TV dinners (as I did!). You can always begin to make better choices no matter where you are in life. I believe our parents did the best they could with what they knew at the time. So no blame from me. However, when you know better, you have no excuse not to do better – particularly for your children. We have access to much more information, so I believe we have a greater responsibility to start our children off on the right foot.

You may not have considered letting your children eat fast food and processed junk regularly or drinking soda daily as leading to malnutrition, but that’s exactly what it does. All too often it’s been found that obese people can actually be suffering from malnutrition. That may seem shocking to you since they are so overweight, but filling your belly is not the same as nourishing your body.

Here are 3 simple things you can begin doing today to improve your child’s nutrition and health:

1. Set a good example. If your children see you gulping down liters of soda, getting your lunch at the drive-thru and snacking on junk food, no matter how many rules you may set for them, they won’t listen. You’ve lost “street cred!” You have to walk the talk first and foremost – and that will benefit your health as well as theirs.

2. Get them used to making water their drink of choice. Don’t buy sodas and highly processed fruit juices. If they’re not in the house, there’s no temptation. I remember consulting with a mom whose children were all overweight and who drank several diet sodas daily as their drink of choice. When she asked me what she could do to help them get healthier and lose weight my #1 suggestion was to substitute water for those sodas. She said they would fight and argue with her if she tried to take their soda away and she didn’t want to put herself in that position!! Do it gradually, but do it – replace junky, empty calorie drinks with water. After all you are the parent.

3. Get them involved in shopping for and preparing healthy meals. The more invested in the process they are, the more open to trying new things they will be. Let them choose some interesting new veggies and try a new way of preparing them, together. You may all discover some new favorites! For example, if they like chips, try making kale chips together! You can flavor them in a hundred different ways (my daughter especially likes chili-lime seasoning on hers!) and they satisfy the need for a crunchy snack, yet they are a much healthier option. You can even make healthier “fries!” Get them used to these healthier options early on and they will prefer them.

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