The Part Time Plate: Mixed Family Dining Guide
Over the last several decades, family dynamics have changed for many. Mixed families are now as diverse and beautiful as the colors of the rainbow. Varying family structures can add unique experiences to the day to day of children and parents alike. However, one important variable in our day-to-day that may lose priority with the hustle and bustle often implied in mixed families is the nutrient density of our plates.
Dietary discussion is too frequently neglected as a topic of choice priority when we are facilitating our kiddos needs with co-parents. I think this is unfortunate, as dietary intake is alongside the importance of dentist and doctor visits in achieving optimal wellness and development. Here are a few topics of conversation you may consider when your children are spending time with other family members surrounding the composition of the plate:
What are the typical meal times in the household? Consistent meal times enable our bodies to know when to expect a meal, and thus trigger hunger/satiety hormones such as leptin and grehlin in the body. Keeping steady meal times will help kids be able to intuitively eat according to their bodies natural needs. Having the discussion about meal times can help kiddos develop positive relationships with food life-long.
Consider drop off/pick up times. Do these occur when a child would normally be engaged in a meal? Are there long transportation routes involved? If so, how about packing some healthy snacks that keep for the trip such as carrots, chopped bell pepper apples, or nuts. Small coolers may even be beneficial for longer trips to include things like wraps, cheeses, or small sandwiches. This appropriateness of these items of course will depend on the age of your child. Creating this type of regimen will help assist in kiddos not going for long periods of time without eating.
Encourage co-parents to think of the structure of the plate at meal time. While preferences and dietary patterns will likely vary from household to household there are many healthy choices that can carry over. For example, you may encourage family members to agree to always ensure a whole grain, protein, and half a plate of fruits/veggies is served at every meal.
Food is one of the largest components of socialization in our society. Parents may incorporate food frequently as a tool for bonding with kiddos. This may become even more frequent and may include less nutrient dense foods if kiddos are spending a smaller quantity of time with certain family members. While sharing piping hot pie a’ la mode, or a trip to the arcade with sky high pizza pie is certainly an experience worth having, remember that moderation is key. Try to focus on a mix of fun activities that are not always focused on high calorie, low nutrient density choices. Treasure the bonding experience rather than a food first focus.
Encourage co-parents to try preparing foods with kiddos. This can be a fun bonding experience as well as teach kids valuable cooking skills. Kids as young as age 3 can begin basic cooking such as measuring ingredients, tearing salad or mixing.
Discuss sitting down to eat a meal versus grabbing and going with food. This sets the example that food is meant to be enjoyed, shared with family, and is the event itself at meal time. It gives us time to focus on our foods and the nutrients it is providing to our bodies.
There will likely be shifts in meal timing as well as cuisine when kiddos are shifting from one environment to the next. This is perfectly okay and can also be a very positive experience for kids as long as overall nutrition adequacy is still considered. Facilitating with a co-parent and their choices can really be helpful to ensure kiddos nutritional needs are being met.
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