Three tips to create a healthy home environment

March is National Nutrition Month and CPCMG is here support your family in developing healthy nutrition habits. We know life is busy but starting with small and simple changes can make a big difference in the health of the whole family in the long run. If healthy habits have fallen off your family’s list of priorities, it’s never too late to start again!

1. Eat family meals as often as possible. While this can be tricky, especially if you have kids with various activities and different family schedules, prioritizing a few meals together each week can boost mental and physical wellbeing and foster family relationships. Kids who eat family meals at least three times per week perform better academically, have better nutrition habits, less stress, higher self-esteem, lower rates of depression and anxiety, and more. Offering the same meal for the whole family can model healthful habits and improve picky eating.

Dr. Mary Tanaka, CPCMG W.E.L.L. Clinic pediatrician and founder of the W.E.L.L. Clinic’s virtual teaching kitchen says “When it comes to making healthy changes at home, family meals are the best place to start! All children, no matter what age, can benefit physically and emotionally from eating meals together. Here’s my recipe for making it a success: keep meals simple, let the kids help as much as possible, ditch the screens (that includes parents!) and most importantly, enjoy the time you have together as a family!”

The benefits of family mealtime are extraordinary, but we understand eating as a family can be a hard habit to put into place. Here are a few tips for how to put this habit into action:
• If weeknights or evenings are crazy, consider weekends or breakfast or lunchtime. Start with two or three meals each week and increase from there.
• If the process of prep, cooking, and cleaning is overwhelming, include the family or take short cuts like pre-chopped vegetables, or using rotisserie chicken, or batch cooking foods that can be used in different ways during the week.
• Make dinner a “screen-free” zone and use conversation starters or games promote discussion and connection at the table. ‘Rose and thorn’ is a great way to connect. Each person at the table takes a turn sharing a rose – a positive part of their day, a win, or a success; and thorn – a challenge or something that didn’t go so well that day.
• Invite kids to participate in cooking dinner or making a portion of the meal. Use cookbooks or cooking magazines to allow kids to choose recipes or new foods they may be interested in.

2. Make healthy choices easy by keeping fruits and vegetables easy to access. A fruit bowl on the counter, clear containers of fruit or vegetables in the refrigerator, or a vegetable tray on the dining table after school help kids to be more likely to reach for something nutritious. When kids inevitably ask for a favorite snack, offer the favorite food paired with a fruit or veggie. Aim to include two food groups at snack time to provide nutritious snacks that keep them full until the next meal.

Sample snack ideas:
• Grapes (cut in half for young kids and toddlers) with cheese. Use small cookie cutters to make shapes with cheese slices.
• Apple “nachos” – apple slices drizzled with peanut butter and a few chocolate chips
• Berry kabobs with yogurt dip
• Ants on a log – celery with peanut butter and raisins
• Cucumbers and baby carrots dipped in homemade ranch dip

3. Lead by example. Let your kids see you enjoying balanced meals, snacking on fruits or vegetables and making movement you enjoy part of your routine. How parents talk about food, their bodies, and weight impacts kid’s health habits and body image. Rather than focusing on weight, discuss the physical and mental health benefits of physical activity and nutrition.

It’s never too late to begin focusing on your own health or creating healthy habits as a family. Here’s how to put this habit into action:
• Invite your kids to go on a walk with you. We are fortunate to have beautiful weather much of the time here in San Diego as well as plenty of parks, trails, and beaches to choose from for an enjoyable stroll, hike, or bike ride.
• Talk about how you feel after a workout or when you eat a balanced meal. Discuss benefits like having more energy or feeling strong.
• Model intuitive eating by encouraging kids to use their hunger and fullness cues. Avoid forcing or bribing your kids to eat everything on their plate, and instead encourage them to listen to their bodies to determine when they are full.
• Take a trip to the farmer’s market. There are dozens of markets across San Diego County. Allowing kids to choose a fruit or vegetable is a great way to help them to be open to trying new foods. Make it a game by having a “taste test” of everyone’s choices.

If your family could use some support in creating healthy habits, CPCMG’s W.E.L.L. Clinic is here to help. The W.E.L.L. Clinic helps families improve habits in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, sleep, screen time, and social and emotional wellbeing. For more information, talk with your CPCMG pediatrician or call 760-633-3640.