Shared Meals Matter Blog

Jul 30th

Home cooking and shared meals: modern day survival strategy

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As I reported in my book, The Shared-Meal Revolution, studies have shown that a routine shared-meal practice (five or more meals in a week) has a positive impact on children’s eating patterns and diet quality (citing improvements like more fruit and vegetables and fewer soft drinks). Even better,  if you promote healthier eating in your kids when they’re young, these benefits tend to continue into adulthood.

Do you gain those benefits by simply eating inside your home? Well, no, as common sense shows us that to eat nutritiously, we’ll need to choose whole food, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and avoid highly refined, processed, and sugar-laden foods.  Overall, Americans have chronically unhealthy eating habits. We often focus on what is easily accessible versus what can bring our bodies long-term health.

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The food industry naturally plays a big role in supporting these unhealthy eating habits.  There are GMOs and processed food in abundance. As this video I found from Nutritionfacts.org aptly states, “The food industry is a business, not a parent; it doesn’t care what we eat as long as we are willing to pay for it.”

Eating at home is no longer something your mother or grandmother does for you while she shoos you out of the kitchen. For people of all ages, it’s a skill that takes a little bit of time to acquire (I’m still at a beginner level, but I’m learning every day), but it is also a lot of fun, it stimulates creativity, and you gain better control of healthy eating.  Cooking classes should be a required course in every school around the country as it’s a basic life skill (as stated in this video, “Home cooking these days has far more than sentimental value; it’s a survival skill.”)

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As this video also points out, cooking our own food (when choosing quality ingredients) can help us live healthier and longer.  We need to pay attention to the ingredients we’re using to get the healthy benefits, and we need to find ways to make healthier eating taste better too, to keep everyone in your shared-meal plan craving more. Sugar, fat, and salt are common ways the food industry makes our food appealing, but there are better ways.

Here are a few ways you can create healthier eating habits inside your home:

  • Develop a 1x a day shared-meal plan (or at least 5 meals a week—breakfast, lunch or dinner — whatever meal works best for you). Focus on a committed, collaborative plan from planning to shopping to cooking, and of course enjoying meals together. Click here.
  • Show leadership with the food choices you make; select foods you know are higher in nutritional value (such as berries and sweet potatoes) and taste good too. Aim for lots of color on your plate.
  • Research what’s in your food with sites such as Food Babe; become educated so you can “vote” for healthier food each time you make a food purchase
  • Get appealing recipes that focus on adding natural flavor from healthier eating websites such as the Food Network’s Healthy Eats
  • Give your kids a head start on cooking skills by inviting them into the kitchen to help you (kids of all ages can help with age appropriate tasks)
  • Take a cooking class with people in your shared-meal circle; this kind of adventure can motivate you to find new delicious recipes using healthier ingredients

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Remember, it is unrealistic (and boring, and emotionally unhealthy too) to try to achieve perfection when creating healthier eating habits.  I’m certainly not perfect when it comes to my food choices, but I have a mindfulness and that helps me to make healthy decisions most of the time.

Try to focus on one simple improvement, such as using whole grain bread or pasta instead of white/processed, and when you’re ready, move on to the next improvement you’d like to make.

Explore different foods together, such as finding a new recipe using jicama; doing this exploration with those in your shared-meal circle will help inspire you all collectively to make better choices.

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To learn more about developing a shared-meal plan, and the many benefits, including better physical/health, visit my website or find my book here: Amazon.

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Jul 8th

Does snacking get in the way of your shared meals?

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Have you noticed in a typical grocery store how full the snack aisles have become?

Whether it’s marshmallow crispy Oreos,  sour watermelon Peeps, rosemary and olive oil flavored Triscuits, or something healthier like a Kind granola bar, Americans seem to be having a major snack attack. And it’s wreaking havoc on shared meals in many homes.

In this Wall Street Journal article “Forget Dinner: It’s Always Snack Time in America”, a 2013 survey found that nearly half of Americans (48%) skipped meals at least three times a week.  The article offers that the trend towards heavy snacking is gaining momentum because of the rise in people living alone, hectic schedules of dual-career families, and managing the schedules of our kids’ activities.

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I add other pitfalls such as many people don’t take a lunch break while at work, so they mindlessly snack at their desk throughout the day. Then, they may not have an appetite for a meal when they get home. Many people work very long and hard days and are too tired to think about making a meal. Others like the lifestyle of being constantly wired so they need something portable they can eat/manage with one hand so they can be using their smartphone, TV remote control or computer mouse with the other.  Some people want something efficient so it doesn’t disrupt the speed at which they feel they must travel throughout the day.  Parents use snacks as a way to keep their kids occupied while they are busy taking care of other responsibilities.

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I’m not against the idea of snacking but I believe there needs to be some boundaries around the quality of snacks, and how frequently you are eating them. And as this article points out, it’s great that some of the snacks being produced are healthier, but that doesn’t solve the problem that we are at risk of losing a meaningful ritual if we choose snacks over meals together. Why would we want to let the habit of persistent casual snacking get in the way of a relaxing, joyful shared meal with people we love? There are so many reasons to preserve a shared-meal ritual.

Sharing at least one meal a day offers us the opportunity for rich socialization, healthier nutritional role modeling for our kids, and maintaining social connection with each other, to name only a few benefits.  Sharing meals with each other is an important human act–it’s one in which we accomplish so much more than just satisfying our hunger. Sharing meals with others offers a richness in experience that random snacking just doesn’t replace.  Sharing meals keeps us together versus isolated, and it keeps our lifestyles in balance, focused on nurturing relationships vs. (only) work or (only) things.

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Sometimes we get into bad habits because we get too busy to stop and think.  As the saying goes, “The best way to break a negative habit is to cultivate a positive one.”

Here are a few suggestions to keep positive eating habits in relation to snacks and sharing meals. I hope some of these are useful to you:

-Build a half hour into your schedule each morning to eat something at home (even if this means getting up at 6:45a instead of 7:15a ). Starting the day with an energizing, satisfying breakfast will set the tone for healthier eating, and less persistent snacking, throughout the day.
-Pack a light, healthy snack (such as a small handful of almonds, or a half cup of yogurt and blueberries) if you need a little something mid- morning or afternoon.
Set a calendar reminder for a lunch break in advance. Set yourself up for success: if there’s no reminder, you may easily get caught up with work at the office (or at home) and skip it.
If you live alone, invite a neighbor or a friend to share a meal with you regularly. Start with one specific night a week (how about Monday?)
Get your kids involved in age-appropriate activities in the kitchen with you; incentivize them to hold off on unhealthy after-school casual snacking by teaching them how to prepare their favorite meal with you.
Focus on the highest quality of food that you can and resist filling your diet (and your pantry) with food (or food products) that are portable for portable-sake.
Get others involved in making meals with you. Let’s stop reaching for the convenient solution or thinking we need to take on all the responsibilities of preparing meals on our own.

Preserve your shared meals by working with your spouse, significant other, children, neighbors–anyone you want to share meals with–by creating your own shared-meal planAccount for who you want to share meals with, schedules and flexibility, and sharing in the responsibilities (from planning to shopping to cooking) to lighten the load for everyone.

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If you’d like to learn more about how to develop your own shared-meal plan, join The Shared-Meal Revolution and read about all the benefits in my book. If you’d like to read more from my blog “Shared Meals Matter”, click to subscribe. I’d love to hear from you!

 

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