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Friday, February 18, 2011

Nutrition: Healthy Kids, Healthy Teens, Healthy Family

The other day I ran across this article, highlighting the struggle of busy teens to find time to eat in their cram-packed schedules. The article discusses the fact that many teens simply do not have the time to eat lunch, that they are so busy with classes, activities, and extracurriculars that they are lucky if they can grab a bite of dinner.

Frankly, this doesn't surprise me. My family has always been quite hardworking, to the point of losing sleep, skipping meals, and etc. It's just how we are, how we've had to be to make ends meet, and I know that we aren't alone. There's nothing at all wrong with being hardworking, but the frenetic pace of the average American life hardly leaves time or room for health considerations.

Take cooking for example. When I talk to people about eating an anti-anxiety diet, the biggest objection I get is "But I don't have time to cook!" And frankly, I understand. When I started this diet I was working fifty-something hours a week, and now I work seventy-something. Maybe more. It's hard to think that cooking sounds convenient when you've got so many other things on your plate simultaneously.

Which is precisely why it is so important to change your lifestyle, not just your diet.

You can eat all of the right things for a few days, but without a sustainable lifestyle, your endeavors to live more healthfully can't be successful...and of course, if you can't maintain a healthier lifestyle, your children wont be able to either.

Fortunately, a lot of the "tricks" for teens hold true for adults as well. The best way to eat healthfully on the go is to prepare food that can be packed and consumed easily and without too much mess. I don't recommend too many pre-packaged foods, but if you must have some for emergencies, keep a good stash of Clif bars and Amy's burritos and wraps. Other good, quick on-the-go foods include fresh fruit, walnuts and almonds, Greek yogurt, whole grain breads and chips, and all-natural cheeses (in moderation).

To help your busy teenager eat well, make sure that you have small meals and snacks packaged up for easy grabbing. Explain the importance of eating regular meals to your teen and make sure that they know where to find to on-the-go food. When they are at home, family dinners are a great way to connect with them and have a chance to ensure that they are eating well.

Although there may not be time to cook every night of the week, you can make a few staples that are good in various incarnations and can be mixed with other foods to round out meals. I suggest having a good, whole wheat bread on hand at all times, as well as some sort of meat that is goods and seasoned somewhat neutrally (chicken with garlic and onions, etc) that can be added to pastas, salads, sandwiches, etc. Often in my house, we have a spare container of marinara and a loaf of either Easy Whole Wheat Bread or Vegan Pumpkin Bread. Having some sauteed veggies on hand and some pre-made salads to make sure you're getting those fresh fruit and veggie servings!

The other step you can take toward your family's better eating is explaining to your children why you eat the things that you do. A lot of my knowledge of nutrition comes from being told my entire life what makes a healthy food, and what makes an unhealthy food, as well as what different vitamins and supplements do for you, etc. Having these conversations with your children may not always keep them from eating processed, high calorie, unhealthy foods or drinking soda, but it will make them think twice about what they put into their bodies.

And most importantly, set an example. Eat healthy, in small portions, and make food that is delicious and sustaining. Never, never berate a child about their weight! You will be much more effective if you set an example and use positive reinforcement than if you deride your children for a problem for which you are probably at least partially responsible.

Eat well and focus on changing your lifestyle, your habits, and your priorities...and work with your family and children, not against them!

The Calm Cook

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