Establishing healthy family nutrition habits
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By Andrea Holwegner, Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc.

We are juggling more responsibilities and commitments than ever before. We have more work worries, job stress and obligations that steal time and energy away from our families and personal fun. Recent research suggests workers spend 45 minutes less with their families on workdays than two decades ago. Based on a 260-day work year, this amounts to 195 hours less or the equivalent of about five 40-hour work weeks per year.

No wonder we feel time strapped!

Outside of juggling busy work schedules and family commitments, taking care of our personal health has also become challenging. Despite the willingness to make healthful changes in their diet, half (51 per cent) of Canadians find it difficult to do so. Four in 10 (41 per cent) agree that their “life is so hectic they find it hard to include healthier food options on a daily basis.”

While it is certainly challenging to keep every member of your family healthy in these busy times, it is not impossible. Below are a few important ways you can help them feel healthier as well as happier.

Fight for the family meal I grew up in a family of five where we were all expected to be home for dinner at 6 p.m. to eat together. When I think back, I don’t remember ever begrudging this even as a moody teenager. It’s probably because it was just “normal” and an expected part of the day. Supper was likely the only time of the day where all of us got together and actually communicated amid busy schedules, sports, and school or work commitments. I reflect back now and realize how lucky I was to have parents (especially a Mom) who fought to make sure we ate together as a family.

2008 research review article found that only about one-quarter to one-half (25 per cent to 57 per cent) of adolescents consume meals with their family regularly (five or more times a week).

Could this be partly the reason that over one-quarter of Canadian children and adolescents are overweight or obese?

Do dwindling family meals have anything to do with the fact that eating disorders rank as the third most common chronic illness in adolescent females? Could simply eating together as a family help the estimated 50 per cent of girls and 30 per cent of boys who report they are dissatisfied with their bodies?

I believe it can!

While I am not saying it is easy, I do believe fighting for your family meal is critical not only for health, but also for happiness and success over the long term. There are stacks of stats to show eating together as a family has substantial benefits:

What positive changes could happen in your family if you made family meals a priority? Make it your goal to eat at least ONE meal every day together as a family. Try supper or even breakfast. If this sounds overwhelming, remember that any of your efforts will help. Try starting with Sunday dinner or Saturday brunch and build from there.

The importance of role modelling

You can’t assume that your kids are going to learn the critical healthy eating messages they need outside your home. Modelling good eating habits and teaching them basic cooking skills starts at home. If you don’t eat enough veggies throughout the day and make them out to be undesirable, then why would your kids want to eat them?

Over the last 10 years of working with families, I am always amazed that many children have never tasted a fresh mango or fresh steamed asparagus since it was never offered.

I have also seen a real disconnect in understanding where food comes from. Many children don’t know how a carrot grows in the ground since they have only ever seen perfectly even bullet shaped carrots in a plastic bag. I have also been shocked that many of the university students I have worked with, including Olympic athletes, have very little cooking knowledge. Many lack basic cooking knowledge to make simple nutritious meals for themselves since they were never taught as kids.

Your kids’ likes and dislikes will change regularly. Some kids need to try a food 10 to 15 separate times before they will accept it. Be patient and don’t give up offering different options. It may come as a surprise to you that your job as a parent or caregiver isn’t to determine the quantity of food your kids eat. Kids should decide HOW MUCH to eat and even if they will eat at all. The job of parents and caregivers is to decide WHAT, WHEN and WHERE to offer food to kids.

Don’t leave it up to fast-food restaurants and food marketers selling high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt convenience foods to tell your kids what to eat. Also remember that at home, you can armour your kids with a strong body image and sensible habits. Otherwise, you will find your kids susceptible to the crazy diet messages from the media or you may find them searching for answers in magazines profiling “perfection” for females or unrealistic muscle maniacs for males.

You have a critical role in shaping the health of your family. It is up to you.

Andrea Holwegner, the Chocoholic Dietitian, is founder and president of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc., a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and a media expert for the Dietitians of Canada. 

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Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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