Healthy Families

When it comes to food and eating, parents can have a huge impact on their family’s health.

That’s because our kids look to us as role-models.  So, what they see is often what they do!

Parents are also the gatekeepers to what food is available to their children – at least while they’re young.  So, we need to be selective about the types and amounts of food we bring into the house.Healthy eating behaviours learned in childhood can help decrease risk of chronic disease later in life, so it’s important our kids learn healthy life- skills early on. 

Did you know :

  • The majority of Canadian children and teens do not eat nutritionally balanced or adequate diets.
  • In recent years, children and youth are getting less of their food intake at home and more at restaurants and fast food outlets.
  • Fast food meals are associated with increases in soft drink and French fry consumption and decreased daily intake of fruit, vegetables and milk. 
  • Eating dinner as a family is associated with healthy eating patterns, including more vegetables and fruit, fewer fried foods and soft drinks, less saturated fats, lower levels of sodium, more fibre and more overall nutrients from food. 

To help your family develop healthy eating behaviours, consider adopting these six simple steps to healthy eating:

Six Simple Steps to Healthy Eating

  1. Eat together as a family as often as possible.
  2. Have breakfast.
  3. Include two vegetables servings at each meal and a vegetable or fruit with snacks.
  4. Limit foods high in sugar, salt and fat.
  5. Watch portion sizes – keep them reasonable and listen to your body’s cues.
  6. Choose whole grains instead of processed grains more often.


Eat together as a family as often as possible

Research has shown that eating dinner as a family is associated with a more healthful diet. Yet, studies report family dinners have been declining over the years.  While busy schedules can often prevent families from sharing meals every night, making a conscious effort to increase the number of family dinners you share each week can make a real difference.  And sharing more family dinners at home may also help children learn valuable food purchasing and cooking skills for life.  Here are some tips to help make family dinners easier:

  • Designate at least one or two nights each week as family dinner nights – or commit to one more night a week.
  • Consider a meal plan for the week or at least have 4 or 5 recipes in mind. Make double recipes on the weekend and freeze half for the following week.  See meal planning section for more time-saving ideas.  
  • Get your kids involved in meal preparation – have specific jobs that kids can do to help make the preparation time faster.  Younger children can set the table or wash and peel vegetables.  Ask older children to plan and help prepare their favourite family meal once per week.   
  • Ask your children to help with meal planning ideas – try one new recipe a month.
  • Keep meals simple – even a take-out meal with the addition of a home prepared salad and/or added vegetables counts.
  • Invest in a slow-cooker.  It can ease the ‘what’s for dinner?’ stress we often feel after work. 
  • Create a relaxing and supportive environment.  Keep serious discussion for another time. 
  • Don’t forget to turn off the TV and cell phones. 

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Have breakfast

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.  People who eat breakfast are more likely to meet their daily nutrient needs and maintain a healthy body weight. Eating breakfast is also associated with improved school performance in children.  Be a good role model –choosing a healthy breakfast demonstrates its value to your children.  Click here for healthy recipes.

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Include more vegetables and fruit in your meals and snacks

We all know we should be eating more vegetables and fruit each day – but how do we do it?   Try these simple suggestions:

  • Commit to two servings of vegetables at lunch and dinner and fill half your plate with vegetables. 
  • Include a piece of fruit or some cut-up vegetable as your snack.
  • Try a fruit smoothie for breakfast or afternoon snack.
  • On the weekend, roast whole vegetables like peppers, onions, eggplant and zucchini and use them in recipes throughout the week. 
  • Top pizzas with more vegetables like broccoli, spinach, peppers, mushrooms and zucchini. 
  • Make a vegetable-based soup –  there are many easy recipes that take very little time.  Click here for healthy recipes.

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Limit foods high in sugar, salt and fat

Foods high in sugar, salt and fat are often low in important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and add extra calories to our diets.  Foods such as baked goods, desserts, condiments and many convenience foods fall into this category. Limit these foods by:

  • Getting rid of the competition – don’t bring high calorie snack foods and drinks into your kitchen. 
  • Stock your fridge and pantry with more fresh and dried fruits, vegetables and low-fat dips, unsalted nuts and seeds, plain lower salt crackers and lower fat milk products.
  • Read food labels and menu ingredients.  Choose foods with less sugar, salt and fat

For more information on reading food labels click here

Fats and Oils … less is better
Shake and Habit ?… Some simple tips to lower salt in your diet
Aren’t You Sweet Enough?  – Getting by with less sugar

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Watch portion sizes and listen to your body’s fullness cues.

For some people, mismanaging portion sizes is what’s keeping them from maintaining a healthy weight.  Typical serving sizes have grown over the years and it’s this ‘portion distortion’ that is often the cause of overweight. 

Helping your family understand serving sizes could be as simple as reviewing Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.  Learning to estimate serving sizes will help you determine whether you are eating too much or too little of specific foods. 

Here are some tips to help you and your family manage food portions:

  • Serve younger children smaller portions, and allow them seconds if they are still hungry. As parents, it’s our responsibility to provide healthy meal options, but how much is eaten should be left up to the child.
  • Learn to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.  Young children are actually pretty good at judging when they are hungry or full, it’s adults who might need to get back in-touch with this basic skill.
  • When eating out, don’t be fooled by super-sized, meal deals – they may save you a few cents, but not your health.  
  • Eat more slowly – it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you are full.  This is where family meals come in.  Enjoying family meals together, rather than on the run, may not only encourage valuable conversation and a sense of connection, but may actually encourage healthy eating behaviours in children and youth. 

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Choose whole grains instead of processed grains more often

Whole grain foods have many healthy advantages over refined grains. A diet rich in whole grains may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and the fibre in whole grains can help us feel full and satisfied longer.  That’s why Canada’s Food Guide recommends we make at least half of our daily grain product choices whole grains.  

For more information on how to incorporate whole grains into your family’s diet see Grain Product Tips

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