From the seemingly endless expansion of processed foods to super-size mania, to our often fat, salt and sugar-based eating culture, Americans are in the midst of a full-on nutritional crisis. Today, more Americans are now more obese than ever, and an already large and alarmingly increasing sector of ourobese are children. For whatever nexus of reasons, each generation seems to be adopting lifestyle habits worse than those of the preceding one. It would seem that the best way of collectively reforming our eating habits is at the level of the family. But how do we go about making the needed changes?
A healthful way of eating is anchored in the way we eat as much as in the foods we consume. In fact, before you are able to set intimidating alien dishes on the table, you may need to work with your family’s attitude towards making healthier choices. We humans can be deeply attached to the foods we eat-- they can be sources of comfort and even identity—sometimes to the point of unhealthy dependence. Depending on the resistance level of your family, you may need to take it slow.
Eat planned meals together. A family’s eating habits can be reshaped by group reinforcement: think of it as a kinder, gentler sort of peer pressure. The worst way to encourage change is to make family members feel that they’re being policed, so by sharing in a regular ritual rather than watching over their shoulders, you can influence through positive example and observations. The act of making dinner an intentional event not only makes it easier to plot out balanced meals-- it usually slows down the pace of eating to make room for conversation, and puts the brakes on overeating.
Be honest without passing judgment. Again, no one likes to be told what to do, even when they know it’s good for them. Instead of taking the path of nutritional militancy, simply confront family members with the cold facts of their eating patterns in a rational, casual way. If you know your spouse is not happy with their current size, give friendly reminders of the simple cause and effect he or she is choosing to ignore when they go for the third helping or order chili cheese fries, instead of a salad. If you know you’re hitting a touchy subject, you might want to voice these observations in private. A little joking can actually make the medicine go down, but family-wide shaming can backfire.
Be prepared to make deals. Positive reinforcement and exemplary eating habits can sometimes only go so far, so if your family is truly beholden to junk food, some kind of intervention may be in order. However, by framing the new rules as a negotiation, family members won’t feel like they’re being punished or bossed around. As every good negotiator knows, always begin bargaining for more than you intend to get. For instance, if you want your family to eat a veggie-based meal at least two nights per week, start out asking for four. You meet your goal; they feel they've talked you down: everyone wins.
In any event, make the changes gradual. Tiny replacements and introductions over time will be received better than a sudden head-to-toe game change. Furthermore, do your homework to make sure the choices you want to enforce are in fact informed ones. For example, many would-be reformers eager to wean their families off too much processed red meat purchase vegetarian imitations that are ironically even worse thantheir carnivorous counterparts. Above all, see eating habits as one part of a greater equation that includes exercise, sleep, and stress levels—and do your best to maximize all of by sharing as much of your lives as possible.
Virginia Cunningham is a freelance health writer in Southern California, and often writes for NorthWest. She knows how important it is to eat healthy, and tries to encourage her family to do so as much as possible. She enjoys getting her children excited about healthy food by allowing them to help in the kitchen.
Thank you Virginia for sharing this article full of tips for healthy families.
Disclosure: This is a guest post, not written by me, and I received compensation to post it.