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Guest Post: Leading By Example: How Parents Can Encourage Kids to Make Healthy Choices

Today, we are joined by guest blogger Emily Graham, you can find more of her wisdom over at Mighty Moms.

Parents of healthy children tend to have several habits in common. They don’t make negative comments about others’ bodies, they don’t moralize about food (i.e. they don’t associate abstaining from some foods with “being good,” or indulge in other foods because they want to “be bad”), and, perhaps most importantly, they stock their kitchens with healthy foods instead of shaming their children for making unhealthy choices. 

Ultimately, it’s up to parents to be good role models when it comes to diet. Accentuating the positive and avoiding value judgments are important modeling behaviors. Integrated Mama wants your family to be happy and healthy, so read on for more practices that can encourage kids to make healthy choices:

Dine as a Family

Eating together as a family is one of the best ways to model good dietary habits. According to a study in Pediatrics, kids from families that eat meals together at least three times a week are 20 percent less likely to choose unhealthy foods. Additionally, letting your kids see you making healthy food choices at mealtime also helps reduce the likelihood that they’ll become obese or develop eating disorders later in life. 

Mealtime can also be an important anchor in your child’s life. It sets a rhythm to the day and adds structure to life. The predictability of the routine reinforces discipline and provides security, a much-needed piece of the puzzle for healthy families—especially kids.

Dealing with Anxiety

It’s easy to forget that children are under considerable pressure to do well in school, fit in socially, and make their parents happy. That can produce elevated levels of anxiety, which can be harmful and, in some cases, require some form of psychological or medical intervention. 

Prolonged pressure can result in low self-esteem, depression, sleep deprivation, an elevated risk of mental illness and even suicide. Always talk with a doctor about how best to deal with the problem, and ask about dietary adjustments that can help. It’s possible that magnesium, vitamin D, B vitamins, iron, omega-3 or another nutritional element is lacking. 

Turn Off the Screens

Americans of all ages spend a lot of time staring at televisions, computers, and smartphones. Dinner is one time when the screens should be put away. Meals are a time for the whole family to be present and communicating rather than instant messaging, texting, or surfing the internet. However, parents must be willing to turn off their own handheld devices at mealtime so they can eat mindfully and encourage their kids to do likewise. 

Being attentive at dinnertime encourages family conversation and creates a shared experience that’s emotionally nourishing. Kids who aren’t focusing on social media during dinner see their parents eating vegetables and nutritional foods, and that leaves a lasting, positive impression.

When kids are allowed screen time, make sure it’s both appropriate and enjoyable. Ensure their online safety through parental controls, and choose games that sneak in educational and developmental components. Lastly, make sure their experience is seamless by selecting an internet service that provides the power and speed games require.   

Other Positive Behaviors

Children are highly impressionable and likely to duplicate behaviors their parents model. If they see you drinking three pots of coffee a day, smoking cigarettes, or indulging in drugs or alcohol, chances are they’ll grow up doing likewise. Even if you’re not in the habit of exercising regularly, making an effort to stay active with your kids can encourage them to exercise as well. 

Be Diplomatic About Junk Food/Fast Food

Live Science recommends that parents avoid the outright banning of cookies, cupcakes, candy, and fast foods. A more effective approach is to minimize the number of unhealthy treats so kids are less likely to be tempted by them. If snack choices at home tend to be things like fruit, nuts, and yogurt, children will become accustomed to healthy snacking. 

Parental behavior is enormously influential. Kids who are used to seeing parents eating balanced, nutritional meals and favoring healthy snack foods are apt to do likewise. Make a habit of sitting down to meals together and avoid exhibiting negative, unhealthy activities. 

Look to Integrated Mama for more insights, information and ideas to help your family thrive.

Image courtesy of Pexels

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Family Rhythm and Mealtime as an Anchor

I have been thinking a lot about our family rhythm and mealtimes. These are the ways our family moves day-to-day and stays somewhat balanced. My husband and I comment often about how much prep work it takes to keep our family moving along in a (somewhat) harmonious way. One thing we do is have our evening meal together, as a family. Dinner time is our major anchor of the day.

During my childhood, our family mealtimes were tense. We always had to walk on eggshells around my dad– you just never knew when he was going to blow. I learned to eat as quickly as possible and excuse myself to my room to avoid the temper- flares. I’m sure the value I place on family meal-time has its basis in correcting that childhood stressor.

Also, as I’ve learned how important gut health is and how our stress levels affect our digestive processes it only makes sense to have harmony around mealtimes.

Fine Tuning the Engine

This is one important piece of our daily rhythm. As I mentioned, it takes a lot of energy to make it happen. Food is one of our highest budget items, we plan, prep, and work ahead of time so that the evening transition is relatively smooth.

Our daily schedules are full. We have many different places to be, many different meal “shifts”. However, we work to adjust and adapt our schedules so that everyone can participate in our evening meal. Dinner is the time we all round out the day together. Even when we have crazy days, we try to keep this as close to “normal” as possible.

The larger our family has grown, and the more mouths we have to feed, the more predictability is necessary. Having regular meal and snack times is an anchor that helps the rest of the family rhythms to fall into place. The kids generally know what to expect in the few hours after each meal or snack.

Transitioning to a Family Meal

As we move into our evening meal, there are few things we do to set a positive atmosphere. Since the table is the center of our focus for many other things, we make sure all of the days projects and toys are cleaned up and add a “special” touch. This is often a candle or flowers, and sometimes cloth napkins.

I like to make sure the atmosphere is relaxed and conducive to digestion. The familiarity, the regularity, and the calm all promote healthy digestion and mental attitudes around our food. We don’t have television, news, or any distractions at the dinner table and we keep our conversation light and positive.

My husband is great at promoting gratitude as we start our meal. Sometimes we start our meal sharing 1 high and 1 low point of our day. This lets us decompress without dwelling on a negative. When Keenan was small we would start our meal with a verse as a way to promote gratitude. I have found many nice blessings in books, or it could be based on your religious preference.

All hands are on deck with our dinner preparation and serving. Each person has a role in getting it together. Generally, I do the cooking. My oldest is in charge of after-dinner dishes, Gus guides the little kids and helps them set the table and fold the napkins. He also cuts and preps their food and gets them settled and ready to eat. For me, this is a huge relief. Not everything is on my shoulders and I can actually sit and enjoy the food I have prepared.

The Busy Table, Rhythm as Discipline

In our home, our table is one of the busiest locations in the house. We all gather for many reasons. It is our “Grand Central Station”. Our place of celebration, creativity, education, play, and family meals (and clutter, lol).

Having a regular family rhythm and structure is the main component of our “discipline” tactic. We have found that predictability and routine have created an atmosphere of trust and established boundaries. The kids know what to expect day in and day out (basically) and what is expected of them so there is much less room for “error”.

And yes, we have our days and struggles (in NO way am I saying we are perfect and have it all together). I have just found in my mothering years, that creating a somewhat predictable family rhythm can really eliminate a lot of problems before they begin.

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Tips for Eating Well on a Budget

I can’t write a post about marriage without following up with a post about money.

Tax time is always fun. Of course, I’m saying this tongue-in-cheek. For me, each year is a humbling experience when tallying up our expenses. Taxes this year prompted me to do a major budget overhaul. Gus and I have some big goals for the next couple of years, so looking at our expenses was a must. We are also always looking for ways to simplify life, and taking a look at finances is a good way to see your habits.

What we found out is that other than our home, our food is our largest expense. We were regularly spending over $1000 a month on food for a family of 5 (and one is a toddler and the other an infant). Some of that is due to dietary restrictions and buying alternative pantry supplies. However, the majority is just from mindless spending, grocery shopping for fun, and often wasting.

I don’t know how many times we have had to throw away a pound of asparagus because it was buried in the drawer and ended up slimy before I could cook it.

We are now taking control of this situation and working on a healthier budget while maintaining a gluten/grain-free, refined sugar-free diet. Monday morning I attended a meal-prep class that was offered in my MOPs group– it was a very timely class and I was glad to see I was on track with budget and planning.

The suggestion I heard that really resonated was that our budget should be something close to $115 per person, per month. Wowza! Following that formula would drastically reduce our spending. So, here’s how I’m making that happen.

  1. Meal plan (not prep)– I plan for a week. I plan my week according to what we have already in the fridge so that we are reducing our waste. I keep a running list of what we run out of along the way.
  2. Reduce meat consumption. We are omnivores, so this will be different if you’re vegetarian or vegan. Our portion sizes shifted for us when we switched to an autoimmune friendly diet. We reduced our portions and started buying grass-fed and finished beef and pastured poultry (which is more expensive). The Standard American Diet tends to make meat the star of the show, we now make it a smaller player in a meal full of veggies. We have invested in 1/4 of a local grass-fed cow and this has been budget-friendly. I was a little concerned about the initial investment, but it has been a good one. I also stretch our meals. I make bone broths from our veggie scraps and meat bones (in the instant pot too– so nearly no effort). We roast a whole chicken for dinner about once a week, it will feed us lunch the next day and then a batch of broth. So multiple uses for one purchase.
  3. Buy in-season produce. Out of season produce is way more expensive. Just think of the cost of berries in the winter! Our bodies are designed to have varying produce, so following a seasonal plan will reduce budget and support health.
  4. Shop once a week, with a list and at one main place. This was a biggie for us. We used to chase ads, deals and products all over town (and sometimes in the bigger city). This adds up VERY quickly and sucks our time and energy. Sometimes we were shopping somewhere nearly every day. $30-50 each time we entered a store. I now shop at Aldi as our main store and stop at Publix for a few things that Aldi doesn’t carry. I have also stopped our wholesale membership to Costco. I know this works well for some families, but for us, we wasted a lot and would impulse buy. I now do an Amazon order for a few alternative products that are hard to find in our area. These are usually my alternative flours, etc. I do not do subscriptions or meal delivery services. I do not like the amount of waste it creates with packaging, and I also want to choose my own produce.
  5. I know this is stated all the time, but shop the perimeter of the store and avoid processed/packaged foods. I started this years ago, and it is just my habit now. The few packaged items I buy tend to come from our Amazon order, which reduces the cost quite a bit.

These are my most obvious tips. Soon I will share where I find recipes and how I make a rotation so that we don’t get bored or I feel like I am always in the kitchen. I am all about simplicity and time freedom. My “down-time” is limited with all of these kiddos running around and needing things, so I can’t spend all day cooking and cleaning it up!