Lee Edition

Benefits of Family or Household Meals

By Chrisanna Harrington, MA, RDN, LMHC

Benefits of Family or Household MealsYou know one of the memorable conversations I had with my adult daughter was when she told me that she remembered waking up to the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls on holiday mornings. Associating positive food memories and experiences helps us to attach positive associations with food and those around us. I was preparing something special for my family, nurturing my family and my daughter was able to carry a strong association of special foods that are associated with holidays.

The National Association of Health has a specific program related to family meals called Early Childhood Health Lessons. You can download the booklet at (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/

Studies have shown that cooking together and eating together improves family interaction, listening skills, and can even enhance the child’s cognitive abilities! Yes, research published in Child Development by Daniel Miller, Ph.D., and team show that frequent family meals with children and teens; specifically breakfast and dinner, are associated with:
• Development of healthy eating habits
• Prevention of Obesity
• Increased fruit and vegetable intake
• Increased fiber intake
• Increased family communication
• Improved socialization
• Transmission of values and culture
• Enhanced academic performance
• Decreased mental health and substance abuse problems

Passing on healthy family nutrition values shows children and teens that eating is an essential aspect of self–care.

The opposite is exact as well; much research has tied a parent’s eating disorder, such as restrictive eating or binge eating to unhealthy eating habits in children, teens, and young adults. Researchers are finding that there is a complexity of factors that trigger eating disorders in children and teens. The National Institute of Health associates genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors to trigger an eating disorder. Indeed we learn how to eat in our families and per Pia Mellody, (internationally known author and lecturer on childhood origins of emotional dysfunction), “We do what we know to do until we as adults learn something different.”

What exactly makes up a healthy meal? Well yes, there is a need for foods that provide the three macronutrients carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Each macronutrient has a job in the body, and if you eat them together, the meal will digest better, reduce spikes in blood sugar, and give the body a sense of satisfaction. An example would be a dinner of Roast Chicken, with buttered rice, sautéed spinach or roasted carrots, a salad with dressing and a whole wheat dinner roll with butter. We also need fiber, both soluble (from fruits and vegetables) and insoluble (from whole grains). We need to eat vegetables and fruits that have a rainbow of color to eat phytonutrients that help our body to function and fight disease. Can you be a Vegan and get enough protein? Yes, there is much information out there to prove that a Vegan Lifestyle is supportive of a healthy body. The only nutrient that is missing in a Vegan Lifestyle is Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is vital for functions in the brain and nervous system as well as red blood cell formation. In Vegetarian Diets, Vitamin B 12 supplementation can be acheived with a vitamin tablet. How about meat, fish, and poultry? These are excellent sources of protein and can provide micronutrients of iron, B vitamins and in fatty fish, such as salmon, anchovies or sardines; you will also receive Omega 3 Fatty acids. Short on time, many grocery stores are doing whole food meal prep for the customer, and all the customer has to do is warm it up.

Choosing non-processed foods is the key to teaching good eating behaviors. Processed foods have additives that can cause gastric irritation, and packaging can change how our GUT functions. Obesity rates are rising in the United States. In 2015-2016, The Center for Disease Control showed the prevalence of Obesity in adults was at almost 40% of the population. In youth, the incidence is at 18.5%. Key contributors to the Obesity epidemic are our dependence on processed

food, fast foods, decreased exercise, and poor habits around eating and food choices. Health consequences of Obesity are glaring, Diabetes Type 2, Insulin Resistance, Poly Cystic Ovary Disease, Hormone Dysregulation for both males and females. We are also seeing younger adults with cognitive difficulties related to insulin resistance in the brain.

When gastric hormones become dysregulated, the body feels like it is always hungry, and it never fills up. This constant hunger leads to Binge Eating Disorder, an eating disorder found in the DSM-V. Research has also linked the micro-biome of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract to the exasperation of depression and anxiety. Yes, there is a gut-brain axis (GBA) showing communication between the brain and the nervous system found in the gut. So, what does this mean? It means that when the gut is healthier, the brain (emotions and cognitive processing) is healthier too!

So, how can you demonstrate healthy eating habits to your family? How can you encourage attachment and bonding around the dinner table and promote health? The first thing one must do is know what you need for yourself. It is like in the airplane safety drill, “put the airbag on yourself first and then help your child or those next to you.” You must get healthy first, and through your work, others around you will pick up those good habits. You can even work in cinnamon rolls on a holiday morning. Notice, we did not have cinnamon rolls every day. Knowledge is power, and at PASWFL we can provide a nutrition plan that will not only help you lose or gain appropriate weight, we will also help you to improve your blood sugar, lipids and learn to know what food works with your body. We will take away the fear of eating or the guilt about overeating. We teach you to eat real food and plan it within your lifestyle. We also help you set goals to change your behaviors around food and give you nutrition lessons, so you finally understand, just why it is essential to eat some carbohydrate and to eat some healthy fats! Through cognitive behavioral therapy, we will help you to set attainable goals to make changes in your eating habits. Everyone loses weight and you can even eat out! No diets, no drugs, no gastric surgery, you can start setting a legacy of health versus a legacy of illness today.

We look forward to continuing to serve SW Florida in a compassionate and technologically sound manner.


6804 Porto Fino Cir #1, Fort Myers, FL 33912
Office: 239-332-4700

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