“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” —Alan D. Wolfelt
Coming from a long line of women who have loved and nurtured their families with food, I love providing food for my family. It makes me feel like I am caring for them and meeting their needs. According to a recent poll by NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation I am not alone. More than 25% of families polled considered food to be an important way to show affection. Our dopamine system becomes active when we look at our favorite foods, just as it does when we look at someone we love. So, our brains really do appear to connect food to love and a sense of wellbeing.
If we truly desire to love and care for our children -– to nourish them — it’s important to give them foods that will love them back: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts. If your child is a picky eater, this task may sound daunting. The good news is that taste buds are adaptable and change with exposure to new foods. It may take several exposures before they develop a liking for new foods, but by repeatedly offering and modeling healthy food choices, parents can help children develop a love for foods that love them back.
And portion control is also important. More food does not equal more love! Children should be encouraged to eat in response to their inner cues (hunger) and not in reaction to emotions, stress, or environment (most young kids are far better at this than adults).
Family dinners – cooking and eating together — expand the love expressed through food beyond just physical nourishment, to the heart and mind. Research has shown that family meals have many positive effects on children and teens including healthier food choices, better grades at school, lower risk for depression and disordered eating, and lower risk of smoking, drinking and drug use.
Here are some of my favorite tips for nourishing your kids with food that loves them back:
Family mealtime: Turn off the electronics and commit to eating at least 3 meals a week with your family. Check out the Family Dinner Project.org for ideas.
Veggies on Tap: To keep up your veggies on rushed weekday evenings, use pre-washed salad, pre-cut veggies, frozen fruits and veggies, canned fruits and veggies, and keep long-lasting produce like carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, or cauliflower in stock.
On-the-Go Meals: Find some favorite “just wrap-it” recipes that your family loves and have the ingredients on hand. Tacos to-go, wrap sandwiches, pitas stuffed with salad: the possibilities are almost endless!
Cook Once—Eat Twice: Always make extra, fill your oven every time you turn it on, double it up and freeze one half for later. Plan meals for great leftovers – a roast chicken becomes chicken salad, chicken-fried rice, or chicken curry for lunch or dinner the next day.
Favorite Online Recipes: for meals that your family will love, check out Cuisinicity.com, Kidseatright.org or Mealmakerovermoms.com.