Healthy Living in the North

Food: a foundation for building relationships

Mother and daughter picking peas

Picking peas with mom? Cooking dinner with grandpa? An annual Canada Day family picnic? Food is a foundation for building relationships!

Take a moment to recall some of your favourite childhood memories. Do they have a theme? My fondest memories seem to have two things in common: they’re all associated with a sense of being loved, accepted, and cared for, and they all involve food!

Many of my childhood memories are of time spent at my grandmother’s house, which was always warm, inviting, and filled with the distinct aromas of freshly baked bread and sauerkraut. We raided the garden and gorged ourselves on raspberries, rhubarb, and garden peas – still among my favourite fruits and vegetables today. My grandmother constantly prodded us to “eat, eat!” more of her homemade perogies or honey cake and it was clear that was how she expressed her love for us.

I also have a great memory of peeling fresh peaches with my Mom to prepare them for canning. We had soaked the peaches in hot water and were using paring knives to remove the skin. This was my first attempt at wielding a paring knife, and I remember how my confidence grew as my Mom gently coached me. I also remember how special I felt to have been chosen to help her with that task.

Food-related activities provide many opportunities for personal connection, and research has shown that there are several benefits to eating and cooking with your family. Children and adolescents who have more frequent family meals tend to eat more nutritious foods, perform better at school, and have higher self-esteem. Getting your kids involved with meal preparation is helpful, too: teens who participate in food preparation tend to have healthier eating patterns.

Unfortunately, our busy lives can make it hard to find time to prepare and share regular family meals. But take heart – family meals don’t always have to be formal dinners around the dining table! The most important thing is to create opportunities to connect and to share your stories and attention.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start with what works for your family – even if it’s just one or two family meals per week – and build from there.
  • Plan ahead to make things easier on hectic weekday nights.
  • Host a make-your-own pizza or burrito night.
  • If gathering everyone together for dinner just isn’t possible, join each other for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
  • If after-school practices are scheduled around dinnertime, pack a picnic for the family to enjoy at the soccer field or baseball diamond.
  • Eating out? Ask everyone to put away their smartphones and tablets so you can focus on the meal and each other.
  • Start a new family tradition – maybe a brunch on Family Day or an annual chili cook-off on a summer long weekend?

For more inspiration, check out Better Together BC or the Family Kitchen.

Kelly Bogh

About Kelly Bogh

After spending many years in Ottawa and B.C.'s Lower Mainland, Kelly returned to her hometown of Prince George to complete her dietetic internship with Northern Health. One of the things she loves about Prince George is living in the "Bowl" and being able to get most places on foot! When she's not sifting through the research underlying dietary recommendations, she enjoys cooking, baking, and spending time with family and friends (including four-legged furry ones).

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The sit-down family meal: A thing of the past?

Family eating at a table

Is it really worth it to take the time to eat as a family? The answer is yes!

When I think back on my childhood, some of my best memories involve food: big family gatherings for holiday meals, unplanned barbecues in the summertime, baking with my grandmother. They all revolve around enjoying food together as a family. Even when my sister and I were busy with various after-school activities, my parents almost always made sure we sat down and ate together. Now that I have a family of my own, I make a point of having a sit-down dinner most evenings. Is it really worth it to take the time to eat as a family when we could just eat on-the-go? The answer is yes!

The way in which families dine together has changed from 20+ years ago. People are often distracted by technology and lead fast-paced, busy lives. But what are we missing out on when we don’t sit down to eat together? Research shows that family meals have a big impact on the health and happiness of children. Structured family meals can:

  • Serve as an opportunity to “catch up” with one another and exchange stories.
  • Engage children in trying a variety of foods in a safe setting where others are enjoying the same foods.
  • Teach children to come to the table hungry, and eat with pleasure. They will leave happily satisfied and energized to do other things.

Family meals don’t have to be elaborate. They can be as short or as long as your schedule allows. Even sitting down to enjoy a snack together is beneficial. Some meals might be missing a family member or two for whatever reason – and that’s okay. The key is to have everyone as often as your family can manage. To get started, try these tips:

  • Set a realistic goal. If you aren’t already having family meals, try for 2 or 3 meals a week and build from there.
  • Pick a time to eat that works for most family members, or alternate times so everyone has a chance to participate.
  • Communicate to all family members about the time and place. This avoids the “I didn’t know” excuse.
  • Set aside all distractions. Come to the table gadget-free, ready to eat and connect with one another.
  • Keep the mood positive. Don’t pressure children to eat; provide a variety of food and allow them to choose whether and how much to eat.

Remember: it’s not always about what you eat, but that you are taking the time to eat together. Start making plans for your next family meal today!

More tips and resources on family meals

The Ellyn Satter Institute:

Healthy Families BC:

Tamara Grafton

About Tamara Grafton

Tamara is a registered dietitian currently working with the clinical nutrition team at UHNBC and in long term care facilities in Prince George. Originally from a small city in Saskatchewan, she now lives the rural life on a ranch with her husband and young son. She has a passion for nutrition education, healthy eating and cooking. In her downtime, she enjoys reading food blogs, keeping active, and trying out new recipes on her family and friends

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