Good Parenting, Food, and the Holidays

The wisest piece of advice I ever received about parenting is that a good parent has the ability to see into the future and act accordingly. This bit of wisdom has strengthened my ability to mother on many fronts, from enforcing limits on TV (“No, dear, I don’t think you’ll be thanking me for all the TV I allowed you to watch when you can’t read well at 25.”) to inspiring good eating habits—especially around the holidays.

What are good eating habits? And how can you and your family cultivate them? Figuring this out can feel like an impossible challenge, but as a mother of five, I’ve come to depend on some basic guidelines rooted in time-honored traditions:

Have a regular routine. Children and most adults need to eat five to eight times a day. Establishing this habit—with regularity and quality—keeps energy levels and moods even, and avoids the “I’m starving” scenario, which usually ends in a quick, high-calorie, low-quality snack.

Avoid highly processed foods, foods that are far from their original source. These foods are not only devoid of nutrients, but they actually rob the body of nutrients to be digested. Whole foods—an apple, a carrot, a whole grain—are created perfectly and elegantly so you can digest them and be nourished.

Incorporate a variety of colors, flavors, and textures. Sweet flavors and white color tend to dominate our diet. Studies show that if you eat from the whole color and texture spectrum, you will have a balanced diet, and that toddlers allowed to choose freely pick foods from each category over time. How many deep green or orange vegetables have you eaten today?

Power snack. High-quality snacks provide a big opportunity to nourish yourself and your family. Think whole foods, protein, and sugar-free. Examples include vegetables with dip, soup, salad, bean spreads with whole grain crackers, nuts, popcorn, and fruit.

Enjoy your food and don’t create guilt. Guilt leads to fear and deceit. Enjoy everything you eat. I tell my children, “Nothing is bad for you unless you do it or eat it in excess.” Learn together to make dietary choices that help you feel great. When you model enjoyment of food and the good health it brings, your children will notice.

Food is so powerful. It’s not just calories; it’s information that affects your gene expression, your hormones, and the protein communications in your body—almost instantly. Processed foods send one set of instructions to your genes; whole foods send a different message. So does the way you eat. See what happens when you slow down, sit down, chew your food well, and eat with appreciation.

During a time of year that’s often frosted with as much sugar as snow, eating mindfully can help you stay grounded and clear. Encourage your children to help out in choosing and cooking healthy foods so that holiday treats don’t become the winter’s main course. Children are masters at challenging us and finding our weakness, but you can draw strength from seeing into the future. Envision your child as a healthy, happy, productive adult and act accordingly.

Joan Dwyer owns All That Matters Yoga + Holistic Health Center, which offers 60 yoga and meditation classes weekly, workshops and professional trainings, a retail store, and healthcare services from acupuncture and chiropractic to massage therapy and spa treatments.

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