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The family who eats together, thrives together

​Healthy eating habits begin at home - and it starts from an earlier age than you might think. For Nutrition Month, BC Children’s Hospital shares tips on how parents and caregivers can encourage kids to develop healthy eating habits.
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The first updated Canada Food Guide in more than a decade includes some important additions. Gone are the recommended portion and serving sizes. Rather than focusing only on what foods to eat, the guide emphasizes the importance of where, when, why and how you eat. 

“Sharing a meal as a family is a great way for adults to model healthy eating habits,” said Dr. Linda Casey, Director of Complex Nutrition and Feeding Service at BC Children's. “As soon as babies can sit, they should be included at the family table during mealtimes. This is when children really learn about food and socialization.”

Eating together has several benefits. For example, people of all ages tend to eat better when they share a meal with others. A 2012 British study found that children whose families said they “always” ate a family meal together at a table, consumed 125 grams more fruits and vegetables than those who never ate a meal together. 

Dining together also provides a time to connect with children. Mealtimes can be used to encourage children to talk about their day and help develop more communication between family members. It’s also a time when you can teach children about family values and traditions. 

But the benefits of eating together are greatest if you don’t eat in front of the TV and other screens. Screen time has been linked to less healthy eating habits like high consumption of junk food, and low fruit and vegetable consumption. Distracted eating also tends to make people eat more, which is associated with overweight and obese children. This often results in obesity in adulthood as well. 

“It’s important to take time when you’re eating to notice when you’re hungry and when you’re full,” said Dr. Casey. “When children and their caregivers are engrossed in their screens, they’re not being mindful of their body’s physical and emotional needs.”  
Ideas for involving children 

Eating together is more likely to happen when everyone gets involved. And children are more likely to try the foods they help you to prepare. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Ask children for meal ideas and incorporate the foods they like.

  • Let children pick out fruits and vegetables at the store.

  • Let children pick vegetables and ingredients during the cooking process (Do they want broccoli or carrots?).

  • Let children choose what goes in their salad or sandwich by having them choose from cut ingredients at a “salad station” or “sandwich station”.

  • Involve children in the preparation of meals. If they’re new to the kitchen, they can help in the following ways: take foods out of the fridge, tear up lettuce for a salad or help wash fruits and vegetables.

  • Kids with more experience in the kitchen can do the following: crack eggs, measure ingredients, stir ingredients in a bowl or toss a salad.

Developing cooking skills

Whether you’re learning your way around the kitchen or sharpening your knife skills, there are resources to help you and your children develop cooking skills together.

Community centres – check your local listings as there are often cooking or nutrition classes available for children and families 

Private companies – The Dirty ApronThe Dizzy WhiskNourish CookingNutriFoodieWell Fed offer classes for children and families

BC Children's has also produced a cookbook that includes basic cooking terms, food and safety tips and meal recipes.

BC Children's Hospital; healthy eating; Kids; mindfulness
Children's Health
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