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CHoR Challenge: Healthy eating is a recipe for family-time success

May 20, 2020

Week 5 of #CHoR Challenge: One of the silver linings of social distancing is that families are spending more time together and have more opportunities to share family meals.

This week we explore the unexpected benefits of home cooking and family meals, along with healthy recipes from our specialists in nutrition.

With families eating out less and spending more time at home, we have a golden opportunity to make healthy eating fun! Time spent now learning new ways to cook and eat could have lifelong benefits for everyone in your family: healthier hearts, lower risk of cancer and stroke, weight loss, enhanced moods, better sleep and more robust immune systems.

Family mealtime is about more than food

Besides better health, sharing a meal fosters healthy development in children. Preparing and eating meals together is an important ritual in family life. Like many rituals, family mealtime creates a sense of belonging, taking time to talk and learn as well as to eat. Planning meals together is an opportunity to talk about healthy habits. Cooking can teach teamwork. Measuring ingredients helps kids practice their math skills. And when you sit down together to a satisfying meal, it’s time for the screen-free conversation and listening to each other that builds children’s language and thinking skills.

Building a healthy plate

Variety is the spice of life—it’s also key to making meals flavorful, interesting and nutritional. Here’s what a healthy plate looks like according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

  • At least half our plate should be filled with colorful vegetables and fruits—which also make great snacks. The more vegetables, the better, because they have less sugar. Aim for a mix of colors to maximize nutritional benefit. Focus on non-starchy vegetables, which are the most nutritious choices! 
  • Up to one-fourth can be high-fiber starch. Whole grains—whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa—are better than processed and refined grains such as white rice, white bread, pizza crust and regular pasta. You can also include non-fried starchy vegetables like corn, potatoes, peas and pumpkin in this section of the plate. If starches aren’t your favorite, swap in more of your favorite non-starchy vegetables!
  • The final one-fourth should be a healthy protein. Limit red meat and avoid processed meats such as bacon, deli meat, hot dogs and sausages. Instead choose beans, peas, nuts, seeds and other plant-based proteins, along with fish, eggs and poultry.
  • “Good fat” is a necessary part of our diet. Unlike fats from most animal sources, the unsaturated fats found in wild-caught fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados are good for us. It is still important to keep appropriate portions sizes of these foods!
  • Choose water. Tea and coffee, with limited sugar, are fine for adults, and for children, unflavored milk is a good choice for those who enjoy it. But plain water is the healthiest choice for both kids and grown-ups! Soda is the unhealthiest choice, along with sports drinks and even fruit juices. These sugar-loaded drinks have no nutritional value and contribute to weight gain and type-2 diabetes.
  • Avoid processed foods, candy, chips, pastries and cakes. These foods are high in sugar, saturated fats, sodium and/or added chemicals while staying low in nutrients. They can easily lead to weight gain and increase the risk of type-2 diabetes.

This week’s CHoR challenges focus on healthy eating

Social distancing healthy eatingMealtime can be family team time: collaborative, conversational and the highlight of your family’s day. 

Prepare a wholesome quarantine meal together

Preparing a healthy meal together offers a smorgasbord of benefits. And by helping to make a meal, your child may try new foods and discover new favorites.  

Sonya Islam, one of our registered dietitians, shares her favorite recipes for families in quarantine. From salads to smoothies, all are wholesome, delicious, easy to make and easily altered for your family’s tastes. CHoR challenges you to prepare one, or all six, of these delicious meals together as a family. Your taste buds will thank you.  

Try a new fruit and veggie

Bodies need vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals to grow up healthy, and fruits and vegetables are loaded with them. But as all parents know, convincing kids to eat them isn’t always easy. In this challenge, encourage your child to try one new fruit and one new vegetable this week. Be prepared: it may take several tries, but don’t give up!

One trick for getting new fruits and veggies into your child’s diet is empowerment. Tell your child that the family is going to try one new fruit and vegetable every week, and they get to pick! Another is to prepare them in new ways—again, with the help of your child—as children often refuse foods on the grounds of color, odor and texture. You may find your child is an undercover fan of broiled, boiled, roasted, sautéed, steamed, stir-fried or baked veggies! Introduce chopped fruits as a tasty topping for cereal or blend frozen fruit, vegetables and low-sugar yogurt into a yummy, nutritious shake. See more tips for adding fruits and vegetables to your child’s diet.

Make dinner conversations fun 

It happens in every family. Whether picky eaters or it’s just been a long day, time together at dinner isn’t always easy. To change the mood, try a game to get everyone laughing and connecting. Here are a few to try.

  • Rose & Thorn: Instead of asking “how was your day?” take turns talking about your day’s rose (the best part of the day) and thorn (the hardest part).
  • The Alphabet Game: Choose a category—animals, people you know, famous people—and start the game by naming someone or something from the category that starts with the letter A, and the next takes B, and so on around the table and through the alphabet.
  • Create a Story: One person starts a story with a single sentence: “Once upon a time, there was a child who lived in a cave …” or “A man walked down the street carrying the world’s largest donut.” Each person adds a sentence until the story ends, usually with hilarious results.
  • Where in the World: Imagine that each of you has the magic power of teleportation—but it only lasts for 24 hours. Each person tells where in the world they would go, why they chose that location and what they would do while they were there.

When life gives you lemons …

Research has shown that children learn most health-related behaviors from the adults around them. Parents who model resilience, healthy diets and exercise habits tend to pass them on to their children for life. The pandemic may have given us lemons, but teaching your child optimal eating habits could be the best (and healthiest!) lemonade you’ve ever made.   

Did you miss out on previous weeks of CHoR Challenges? Check out more #CHoR Challenge blog posts with activities for kids in quarantine.

Could your teen benefit from healthy lifestyle support? Our TEENS program could help. See if you and your teen qualify for this FREE program.

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