Please welcome guest contributor, Alison T., a registered dietitian through the Commission on Dietetic Registration, a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a certified dietitian through the State of the Wisconsin, and board certified in oncology nutrition–also through the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Alison runs the private practice Wholesome LLC. We met Alison through our team member Martha. To read Martha’s story, click here.
Patient: “Your daughter is so lucky.”
Me: “Why do you say that?”
Patient: “Because she has the healthiest start in life having you as a mom.”
This conversation has occurred several times between myself and a few patients. And every time I am SO humbled by it as both a mom and a dietitian.
You see, I am an oncology dietitian at a local cancer center helping patients through treatment to ensure adequate nutrition. Additionally, I own a small private practice where I help patients improve their nutrition to prevent or manage chronic diseases. And I am blessed to have a beautiful almost-2-year-old little girl.
But I have a confession…
I don’t have a perfect diet.
As a family, we aim for progress, improvement, and do the best we can to raise a healthy child AND healthy family.
We all know raising a family is hard work. No matter your family situation— single parent, dual working parents, one stay-at-home parent and one working, etc — life is busy! And when life is busy, striving to raise a healthy family can be difficult.
While I wholeheartedly believe ‘healthy’ encompasses several aspects, here are my top five tips for raising a healthy family.
Top 5 Tips for Raising a Healthy Family
Menu Planning & Prep
Meal planning is definitely my top recommendation for putting healthy meals on the table. Personally, I don’t mind making the decision of what is for dinner as long as it is done ahead of time. What does frustrate me is if 5 o’clock approaches and we still have no game plan for dinner.
Meal planning avoids the the common, “what should we do for dinner?” conversation. Take 30 minutes one day per week (whichever day works best for you) and create a plan. The plan should include dinners for each night of the week, and a complete grocery list.
I know for a fact if we don’t take the time to plan, we are m u c h more inclined to rely on take-out or a less healthy choice. Plus, planning ahead of time also helps us still to a budget! Check out our blog post, “10 Tips for Effective Meal Planning” to help you save money, eat healthier, encourage family bonding, and more!
Cook/Bake as a Family
It makes my heart melt when I walk downstairs on a weekend morning (after Daddy lets Mama sleep in ?) and see my husband and daughter, Eleni, making pancakes together.
My husband is incredibly patient and allows Eleni to pick out all of the ingredients, pour the flour into the bowl, and add the blueberries one-by-one. Not only is she learning cooking is regular task, she continues to learn how to count, measure, pour, and eat healthy foods since she “sneaks” blueberries. I amazed how much she learned each time.
Once everything is cooked and on the table, (most of the time) she is more inclined to eat or try the meal she helped prepare. Plus, she ends up eating a wider variety of foods.
Grab a simple recipe, allow a little more time than usual (cooking/baking does take longer with kids!), and enjoy the benefits of cooking as a family!
Start a Garden
“Mama. Water. Garden.” Eleni says it every time she spots the garden in the backyard.
She loves to help Mama water the garden, hold the freshly harvested produce, and be my friendly reminder to water my garden on a regular basis.
Our garden is a wonderful teaching tool and tiny little classroom right in our own backyard. Similar to cooking/baking with children, kids are more likely to try new foods when they help care for and harvest. Eleni has tried more lettuce fresh out of the garden than the dressed up salad with croutons on her dinner plate. Plus, it makes my dietitian heart sing when she correctly identifies squash, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes…
Don’t have a backyard or space for a garden? Start with containers and/or pots! Keep it simple with one or two plants. I suggest starting with fresh herbs like basil or a simple head of green lettuce. Follow us on Instagram to get some of our best gardening tips in our Instagram stories.
Try New Foods
Stubborn picky eaters is a common complaint when I talk to my parent friends. The first thing to remember is children watch and learn from you. I think it is fair to say all of us want to raise healthy eaters, right?
However, if us parents (or other caregivers) are not eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc., your child takes note. Why would they eat it if you aren’t?
“Mama, try” states Eleni as she spoons me a portion of her food. “Mmmm, yum. Now you try” I say in return.
Our daughter could live off of sweet potatoes, dates, and toast if we let her. But limiting her foods will never expand her horizons—or help her meet her nutrient needs. When we serve sweet potatoes for dinner, Eleni will quickly eat them and ask for more before she touches the rest of her plate. In that case, our rule is Eleni must try a least one bite of another food on her plate before she gets more potatoes. If she holds her end of the deal by just trying one bite, she gets more potatoes. More often than not, Eleni will resist for a short period of time but eventually finds out she likes everything else on her plate.
Bottom Line: Try new foods together & stick to the rule of trying one bite of another food on the plate—no matter the tears. Your child will not go hungry as long as food is provided to them.
Care for yourself too, Mom & Dad.
Self care. This is SO important.
Before I became a mother, I believed in self-care. Now that I am a mother? I believe in self care e v e n more! I don’t just think, but know, I am a better mother, wife, daughter, friend, dietitian, etc. when I first take care of myself. If I’m lacking sleep, exercise, healthy eating, etc. I have less patience, increased stress, and less fun playing and providing for my daughter. Although Eleni is my entire world and her needs are incredibly important, I truly believe my needs are also important so I can better care for her.
Yes, self care becomes increasingly difficult when caring for a family. It therefore takes extra effort and planning. I wake up before the rest of the family to go to the gym, walk, work, etc. Plus, I make sure I communicate my needs or wishes to my husband so we can figure out how to accomplish the day, together. We are not perfect at it, but we are getting better and better as time goes on.
Although parenthood and raising a family isn’t always easy, I hope this post resonates with you and your family. I encourage you to choose one tip which resonates most with you and your family and work on applying it. Then, come back tackle the next. Small, simple changes can lead to big results. And remember…
“Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress.”