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The Family: An Example to Follow

Por Lic. Isabel C. Rodríguez R.* -

We know that family genetics do play a part in overweight and obesity, but we also know that it is much less significant than the eating exercise habits that are taught to children by their family.

In other words, a child may be genetically predisposed towards overweight/obesity, but whether or not that child actually becomes overweight or obese will ultimately depend on the habits he/she learns at home.

If someone has the predisposition to be overweight or obese but is taught the importance of regular exercise and a well-balanced diet at an early age, they will most likely maintain a healthy body weight throughout their life. If that same person grows up in a family where most members lead a sedentary lifestyle and have poor eating habits, they will be more likely to become overweight or obese early on in life.

Because of the significant influence the family's eating habits can have on the development of overweight and obesity, we have provided below examples of elements related to healthy eating in the home:

Food shopping

For the family to have a balanced diet, shopping for groceries should be planned in advance.

Make a list of what you really need before going to the supermarket. It will prevent you from succumbing to the temptation to buy things because they are on sale or have attractive packaging. When possible, ask other family members to participate in making the shopping list. By doing this, you will know that everyone’s preferences will be satisfied and you can ensure there will be enough healthy food in the house when it is time to prepare and eat a meal. You can also use this as an opportunity to discuss healthier options to higher fat/salt/sugar foods, as well as the importance of limiting the frequency with which you buy less healthy food items.

When buying food, keep the following recommendations in mind:

  • Buy enough food. But, don’t buy too much. If you purchase large amounts of a particular food because it’s on sale, store it in a special place. Before making bulk purchases, decide how the food will be stored without it going bad. Also think about whether having such large quantities in the house might affect the serving sizes of your meals.
  • Buy a variety of food items. No single food item is good enough to be eaten exclusively or daily. Make sure you buy different kinds of products (meats, cereals, fruit, and vegetables) so you can get a healthy, well-balanced meal when you combine them.
  • Choose carefully. Check the labels of all the products you buy. Look for "light" versions of the items on your shopping list.

Food preparation

Once you have your ingredients, do your best to prepare healthy dishes with them. Efforts to maintain a healthy body weight are often hindered during the food preparation stage. Chicken with potatoes and coleslaw is a well-balanced meal, but if the chicken and potatoes are fried, and you add a lot of mayonnaise to the coleslaw, the meal will not be healthy. To keep it healthy, grill the chicken, bake or steam the potatoes, and dress the coleslaw with vinegar and lemon juice.

Here are some tips for healthy food preparation:

  • Opt for roasting, steaming, or grilling food instead of frying.
  • Minimize the amount of fat (butter, oil, shortening) and sugar you add to food.
  • Use herbs and spices to flavor food and reduce the amount of salt you add.
  • Serve meals at the family dinner table. Preparing healthy food for the whole family is one way to teach healthy eating habits to children. .
  • Remember that children learn by example. Any comments made by family or friends about food or weight can affect the habits that children form.

Teach by example--it really does work! Here are some tips for what to do at family mealtimes:

  • Do your best to take at least a small portion of all of the healthy food items on the table. Actions speak louder than words. If you refuse the healthy items, such as fruits and vegetables, your children will probably do the same.
  • Control your portion sizes. Eating moderate-sized portions is equally as important as preparing food in a healthy way.
  • Keep mealtimes peaceful. If arguments flare up during meals, or if there is tension around the table for some reason, children may end up eating more or less than they should.
  • Eat meals in a place without distractions. Televisions and computers can distract people at mealtimes. They also disrupt family mealtime conversation. Because people are paying attention to these things, they don't focus on what they are eating, or if they feel full, which can result in overeating. Keep TVs, computer, and other items that interrupt conversation turned off while eating.
  • Forming good eating habits is an ongoing process. You have to teach children about shopping for healthy foods, how to prepare them, and the value of eating at the family dinner table.

*Nutrition counselor from the MyDiet TM  Team


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