Family Nutrition Counseling

Creating a Healthy Family

Have you ever gotten home from the grocery store, immediately washed the beautiful plump grapes you just purchased, and then left them on the counter for all to see? What happened next?

Or, have you ever returned home from the grocery store and, in a rush, put all the fresh produce in the fridge with the rest of the groceries—burying those healthful foods in the back? What was the result?

I’ve watched my family devour the bowl of grapes on the counter after school, but I’m also guilty of burying the healthful foods in the bins and back of the refrigerator, only to watch my children open the fridge and grab the first thing they see. The grapes would turn brown and wrinkly because no one noticed they were in the refrigerator. .

In the New Year, you may see more clients who want to improve their family’s health. This can be a struggle; what seems like a simple solution to us may not be to a client, so it’s best to start with the basics. Below are simple strategies you can share with clients to get the whole family involved in making healthful changes last throughout the New Year and beyond.

Don’t Promote Drastic Change
Encourage families to take on one change at a time. Do they have dessert every night? Make it once or twice per week. Whole milk? Switch to 2%. Many people try to change too many habits at once and then give up because they can’t stick with it.

Include Children in Decisions
Let young children pick a physical activity for the whole family to participate in on the weekend. Ideas the whole family may enjoy include visiting a local zoo, walking on a wooded trail, geocaching on foot or by bike, swimming at a local lake or pool—the options are endless. Encourage parents to bring young children grocery shopping and have them fill the cart with healthful foods. Children are much more likely to eat foods they had a hand in choosing.

Enable Teens to Make Their Own Choices
No one likes to be told what to do, especially teens. Have parents explain the family’s goal of being more active and eating more healthfully. Encourage teens’ independence by allowing them to choose the activities in which they’d like to participate. Simple ideas include walking the dog daily, mowing the lawn with the push mower, or taking up a new sport. Allow older kids to choose recipes they’d like for dinner and encourage them to help in meal preparation. Brainstorm ideas that encourage teens to make healthful choices on their own.

Highlight Benefits Children Care About
Children don’t tend to care about their heart health or cholesterol levels, but they do care about having the energy to play sports, clear skin, or strong muscles and bones. Focus on health benefits that matter to the individual child to help get them involved with healthful changes.

Be a Good Role Model
Parents often forget that their children are watching and learning from them every day. Remind clients that the best way they can help their children develop more healthful habits is to model this behavior daily.

Make Healthful Eating Easy
Encourage clients to take the time to wash fresh produce and have it readily available for their family. Make healthful snacking easy by prepackaging snack-size portions of sliced apples or pears, baby carrots, nuts and seeds, whole grain crackers and peanut butter, pita chips and hummus, cottage cheese, etc. Keep these healthful options in the pantry and refrigerator at eye level of hungry children. If you answered the questions above like I did, you know first hand what will result from making these simple changes.

For clients looking for more in-depth guidance, the We Can! parent program workbook is a good resource. The workbook contains handouts on planning meals, creating healthful grocery lists, saving money while eating healthfully, and tracking a family’s physical activity and screen time. It’s available here for free from the National Institutes of Health. We Can! is a national education program of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

— Jodi Danen, RDN, is a family nutrition blogger at Create Kids Club. She’s creator of Lunch Bites lunch box note cards. Her passion and focus is on getting families back into the kitchen.

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