Article contribution by Natasha Asselstine, R.H.N.
Feeding a young family nutritious food seems to be both a top priority for parents, and their biggest struggle.
Gone are the days when a parent worked from the home and had the time to prepare meals from scratch using whole, nutritious ingredients. Instead, parents find themselves searching for the quickest ways to fill children’s bellies in between meeting work deadlines, wiping runny noses and changing diapers, responding to incessant texts and email alerts. Our work is never done, and our culture caters to us with take-out meals and boxed lunches. We indulge so that we can simply keep our heads above water.
I work with many young families who are learning ways of adopting healthy eating habits for their growing children, and I see firsthand just how difficult a task it is. However, there are ways to make it a little easier with a little effort.
Here are a few.
Start with you
Before thinking about what to feed your child, consider what would nourish you. Start there. Children tend to emulate what they see around them. Involve your children with the food prep – washing vegetables, selecting fruit from the farmer’s market, or tossing a salad! Inviting them into your world will speak to their palate more than the words, “Eat your brussel sprouts.”
What’s more is that children and adults don’t need to eat differently. A growing child may need more protein, or a super sporty kid may need more carbohydrates, but overall a child can eat like their parents, so start with you.
Make big batches
For the working family, time management is essential. I highly recommend carving out time every week to create meal plans and grocery lists. This will save a lot of time staring aimlessly into the fridge or making less healthy purchases at the store.
Most importantly, I suggest making time to prepare big batches of food so that they’re readily available. For example, having staples in the fridge like boiled eggs, cut up veggie sticks and washed fruit, are great afterschool and work snacks that everyone can enjoy while dinner is being prepared. Celery with almond, cashew or sun butter are great alternatives if peanuts are to be avoided. Other great batched foods that the whole family can enjoy are homemade granola or raw trail mix that can be portioned out in advance. Granola is a great breakfast sprinkled on a bowl of yoghurt, drizzled with honey and berries. Trail mix is a great snack for kids at school, and for parents to keep in their car, desk drawer or purse.
My favourite batched meals are ones that can be baked in large quantities (and extras stored in the freezer) like egg muffins and pumpkin muffins that are both delicious and full of whole, healthful ingredients.
Energy balls are highly nutritious and cater to both the adult and child palate. Children also enjoy making these and coming up with their own combinations!
Finally, the growing child needs good quality protein in their diet, and so I recommend making a batch of wild fish sticks that can be enjoyed alongside homemade yam fries (baked, not fried), while parents can enjoy an adult version: baked wild salmon filets alongside a whole yam or other roasted veggies.
Start with a common ground
Cooking separate meals for the parents and the kids can create overwhelm in the kitchen – especially when adding food allergies or specific diets to the mix. To ease the stress, I suggest finding a common ground.
Start off with smoothies. Smoothies are not only my favourite recommendation for parents who need to add supplements to their children’s diet, but also as an easy way for both parent and child to eat nutritiously without making two separate meals. The base can be the same (for example, yoghurt, almond milk, banana) and then different fruit (and greens) can be added for different tastes! The orange creamsicle smoothie is a sure hit amongst kids.
Dinner can be a little bit more challenging. Here I recommend starting with a simple curry or pasta dish that can be easily modified to suit the parents and the children. For example, the entire family can enjoy the same sauce (which can also be made in big batches and stored in the freezer). Then, children can enjoy the sauce with whole wheat spaghetti, lentil macaroni or brown rice, while the parents can plate it alongside cauliflower rice or zucchini pasta for a low-carb alternative.
Make it a priority
We can all develop quicker, more efficient ways around the kitchen, but at the end of the day, there are very few shortcuts to health.
The only real way to make nutrition a priority for your family is by making it a priority. This is my number one recommendation. In order to do this, I suggest conducting an audit of your time. For the next few days, record what you spend your time doing from the moment you wake up to the time you go to sleep, and see if you can find times when you could be preparing healthy food for your family instead of a less important activity. Often, it’s social media that people spend more time on than needed, but do the time audit and see what it is or you. When we become more aware of where our time is going, we can be more mindful of it in the moment, and shift around our priorities as needed.
If you do find the time to try out some of these tips, consider delighting the youngsters by starting with some delicious and healthful, homemade desserts like sweet potato brownies, chocolate pudding or my family’s favourite healthful popsicles – that can also be made in big batches.
Healthy eating at home can happen. And it can be delicious for everyone. It just takes some organization, preparation and prioritization – in the truest sense of the word.
About the author: Natasha Asselstine is a Holistic Nutritionist and works with many young families out of Vitalia Naturopath Clinic in Kitsilano. Later this month, Natasha will be partnering with Crowning Glory Doula to teach Nurture + Nourish: a 4-part course that focuses on the nutritional, social and emotional needs of the pregnant mother and growing baby. Learn more at tashelstine.com.