- At the pinnacle of family nutrition is the fact that food is our body’s number one source of energy.
- Regardless of your gender or age group, nutritional needs for most people are largely the same.
- A family diet and meal menu should be in place for an optimal nutritional outcome when creating a family nutrition program.
Nutrition For The Whole Family
When was the last time you sat down with your family to enjoy a good meal together? Mealtime is an essential part of establishing healthy connections and communication habits between family members (1). In a relaxed, joyful environment with the presence of good food, each member of your family can feel encouraged to share their feelings or some details about their day. In the midst of busy or hectic schedules, sitting down together even just a few times a week to share a meal can be a great way to bond and create memories together.
Along with its ability to deepen our connections, food is the energy source that gives each member of your family the drive to get things done. Providing nutrition for the whole family may seem like a daunting task at first, but there are plenty of family nutrition tips to help you on your journey, as well as overall goals to keep in your sights. The American Dietetic Association recommends a “total diet approach” when it comes to nutrition, which means that rather than focusing on single meals, you should aim to better your eating habits in the long term (2). Therefore, you shouldn’t stress yourself too much over each individual meal or having to deviate from your plan at times. Simply keep your long-term nutrition goals in sight and make gradual changes to work towards them.
Of course, every family is unique, so you may need to make adjustments to your regimen according to your schedule, financial situation, or dietary restrictions. However, by learning more about child and family nutrition as a whole and following some basic guidelines you can easily create the personalized family nutrition program that works best for you.
What Is Family Nutrition
So what is the definition of family nutrition? Basically, to practice good nutrition for your family means to provide everyone with enough food to meet their nutritional needs and establish healthy eating habits for the long-term. The overall nutritional needs for most people are largely the same, regardless of gender or age group (3). This means that eating well is not only essential for children who are still developing, but for the adults in the family as well. The importance of family nutrition hinges on the fact that food is our body’s number one source of energy. In fact, healthier food not only increases energy levels, but it also helps the body build up strength to fight off future or existing health conditions like diabetes and heart disease (4).
When adhering to a family diet, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of each food group every day. One of the most reliable nutritional resources for understanding food groups is the food guide pyramid. This helpful graphic divides the different food groups into sections of the pyramid according to how much of each food group you need to consume every day in order to stay healthy (5). For example, foods at the top of the pyramid, like animal products, sweets, and salt, should be consumed sparingly. Your body needs less of these and more of the foods located at the bottom, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The pyramid can be thought of basically as a shopping list, encouraging you to buy more of the lower foods and less of those on top. It is also a fun and easy way to help children understand the basics of eating healthy.
Nutritional Needs Of Family Members
While there are some slight variations here and there, the nutritional needs of family members are largely the same, resulting in a similar recommended diet plan for different age groups. Regardless of age, every human being needs nutrients from all the different food groups each day. Keep this in mind when creating your family diet chart or plan.
For example, many Americans consume an excess of macronutrients, such as protein, saturated fats, and sugar, while not getting enough of their micronutrients and fibers from fruits and vegetables (6). Therefore, a general rule of thumb to follow that goes along with the food guide pyramid is to increase your fruit and vegetable intake to about half your meal and lower the amount of sugars and animal products you regularly consume. This applies for all age groups, from toddlers and children to teens, nutritional needs for adults, and those advanced in age as well.
Any variations in nutritional requirements usually come in terms of how much of each food group your family members require. Though the overall nutritional needs at different stages of life are the same, the serving sizes may vary according to age groups. Toddlers and children will require only 3-4 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, while adults need up to 5 servings. Deficiencies can sometimes occur with anyone who is menstruating, pregnant, breastfeeding, or who has a pre-existing health condition, so check with your physician to be sure your family is receiving the balanced diet that works best for their special nutritional needs. In these cases, adding vitamins or minerals to your diet plan can be a great way to boost nutrition across all family members, regardless of age groups.
Family Diet And Menu Planning
An excellent helper for family diet and menu planning, especially as a guideline when you’re whipping something up in a hurry, is the healthy plate model created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The handy graphic divides your usual plate into a few different sections according to how much of each food group you should aim to consume each day.
Half of the plate belongs to fruits and vegetables while the other half is divided between grains and protein, featuring a small side of dairy as a reminder to include milk, cheese, or yogurt in your daily meal plan (7). The goal is not necessarily to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner look like the food plate, but rather to make the entire day’s worth of food match up with it. Breakfast can feature more fruits, lunch some dairy and grains in the cafeteria, and dinner with more protein and vegetables.
You can easily make a nutritious meal for your family using the food plate as a guide, and the food pyramid as well. However, keep in mind that they are just guidelines. Part of planning meals for the family is personalizing the general guidelines like these in order to better satisfy your specific needs. For instance, if you have a picky child who often refuses vegetables, try supplementing them with more fruits at first and slowly add in veggies over time. Don’t feel restricted by guidelines when making your healthy family eating plan. Instead, use them as an overall goal and take gradual steps to better your family diet plan in the long-term instead of stressing to do it all at once with every meal.
Types Of Family Diet
With the balanced meal plate and food guide pyramid in mind, there are many types of family diet plans available that you can personalize to meet your family’s unique needs. Selecting an already established diet or meal plan to follow is a great way to get started, especially for anyone who is making the switch towards eating healthy for the first time and doesn’t know all the ins and outs of nutrition. Expert dieticians have written hundreds of books on different types of diets you can follow, but we will list two here that are particularly useful for feeding the whole family without too much fuss.
Ideally, a diet that is designed to feed the whole family should be flexible. It should allow substitutions to be made when children are particularly adamant against a certain food and have a wide variety of readily available ingredients so you can avoid making trips to special stores. The Mayo Clinic diet is very flexible and doesn’t call for any difficult or controversial ingredients. This diet focuses on the long-term goal of breaking old unhealthy habits and building healthy new ones that will allow you to maintain a healthy weight throughout your whole life (8). It is a great way to begin teaching your kids healthy habits that will stick for life and gradually introduce them to healthier foods as well.
Most kids, and many adults, have a lot of trouble adjusting to a typical vegetarian diet. If you feel that an entirely plant-based diet isn’t right for your family, consider trying the flexitarian alternative. A flexitarian diet allows you to cut out meat and animal products gradually or as much as necessary rather than all at once (9). Essentially, you can be vegetarian most of the time while still enjoying dairy and meat in moderation. The flexitarian diet, the Mayo Clinic diet, or any other nutrition regimen you deem fit for your situation can be used to plan out some healthy family meals for a week or two in advance, lessening the stress and worry about what to make for dinner as well.
- Zelman, Kathleen M. “The Family Dinner: Nutrition and Nurturing.” WebMD, 4 June 2008, https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-family-dinner-nutrition-nurturing.
- “Food Guide Pyramid.” https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-clinics/cancer-nutrition-services/reducing-cancer-risk/food-guide-pyramid.html.
- Johnson, Andrea. “Is Your Body Trying to Tell You Something? Possible Nutrient Inadequacies and Deficiencies.” 15 March 2021, https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/is-your-body-trying-to-tell-you-something-common-nutrient-inadequacies-and-deficiencies.
- Orenstein, Beth W. “Healthy Eating the Whole Family Can Enjoy.” Everyday Health, 12 September 2011, https://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/family-nutrition-guide/healthy-eating-for-whole-family/.
- “Healthy Eating Pyramid.” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-pyramid/.
- “Nutritional Requirements throughout the Life Cycle.” PCRM’s Nutrition Guide for Clinicians, 9 December 2020, https://nutritionguide.pcrm.org/nutritionguide/view/Nutrition_Guide_for_Clinicians/1342043/all/Nutritional_Requirements_throughout_the_Life_Cycle.
- “MyPlate Food Guide.” Kids Health, January 2018, https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/myplate.html.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “The Mayo Clinic Diet: A weight-loss program for life.” 16 January 2019, Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/mayo-clinic-diet/art-20045460.
- “The Flexitarian Diet.” U.S. News, https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/flexitarian-diet.
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