What’s your favorite food or meal? When we start to talk about food, not only do the aromas come to mind, but the people we enjoy sharing that food with are a part of that memory. When we think about March as National Nutrition Month, I’d like to encourage you to think about mealtime in terms of building healthy habits for life. Nutrition is a foundation of knowledge to build upon to increase our personal wellbeing and that of our family.
Each time we put food on the table we are introducing eating habits to our family. Each fruit, vegetable, grain, dairy and protein, we share with them helps them to recognize the foods that are important for good nutrition, for them to grow and be strong and healthy.
When we talk about life skills, helping our children to read the labels on food products will tell them what vitamins and nutrients are in each of them. It will teach them what products have a lot of fat and sodium and those that don’t. Use the number 10 as a guide, if a product has 10% or more of a nutrient, then that’s a pretty good source of it. However, if it has 10% or more of fat, sodium or cholesterol, then consider these questions. Is the benefit worth the price (the calories, fat, added sugar, etc.)? Am I getting good nutrition for the number of calories that I’m taking in? Remember the list of ingredients are in order of most to least, so a quick look will tell you what is in greatest quantity in the product.
Having a variety of fruits and vegetables is essential in a balanced diet. One goal would be to look at our plate and plan to have half of it filled with fruits and/or vegetables. Whether they are fresh, frozen or canned, all offer nutritive vitamins and minerals that our bodies need on a daily basis without many calories, or fat. The unprocessed food is the best. The fiber is good for our digestive system and the flavor of eating the fruit or vegetable helps us to feel full better than a glass of juice. Having at least 2 fruits and 3 vegetables each day is good for our bodies.
When it comes to grains, strive to include at least half of your servings as whole grains (100% whole grain in the label) as they provide more nutrients and fiber than refined grains. Wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or other cereal grains can be found in many of our favorite breads, cereals, pastas and other favorite carbohydrates.
Don’t forget to include dairy products, a guidance of 3, 8-ounce servings a day is recommended for most adults and children. Calcium, vitamin D, potassium, protein and other nutrients that are needed for a lifetime of strong bones and muscles are found in many of our dairy products. Remember to look for the lower fat versions to cut calories and saturated fat unless you are serving young children and the extra fat may be necessary for the growth and brain development.
While we are enjoying the flavors of the foods, the conversations that we have around the table have been shown to strengthen families. Try to incorporate different foods, have variety in what is shared and prepared. Whatever is served, use this time to catch up with one another, share good things that happened and struggles that you may have had through the day. Developing accountability, empathy, responsibility and caring are all character traits that happen with conversation around the dinner table.
If we don’t have regular meals or mealtimes, may I challenge you to try it?? Even if just a couple of times a week, plan to sit and eat a meal without the TV or cell phone, just family and connecting in conversation. Start with simple things and share the time together, then build to let children help you in the kitchen. Not only will you be building healthy habits and skills, but memories too.
Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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