I remember the first time I realized that the food I ate affected how I felt. I must have been around age 11 or 12, and my family was returning from a week-long vacation. My head ached and my stomach felt vaguely unsettled. One of my parents made an offhand comment that I probably didn't feel well because of all the junk food we had eaten on the trip. This was a lightbulb moment for me. I, of course, understood that some foods were considered healthy, but I understood it more in the abstract way that someday, in my old age, my body would be healthier if I ate more vegetables. While that is true, I didn't realize that food could also have such an immediate effect on my overall well being. The moment we got home, my mom fixed me a healthy snack of fruit and a big glass of water to offset the sugary foods I had been consuming on vacation.
I often recall that moment on occasions where I splurge and enjoy rich desserts or holiday dishes high in sodium and carbohydrates. As much as I enjoy satisfying my sweet tooth or love of carbs in the moment, it almost always ends in a headache and a junk food hangover. I end up craving my daily routine and the healthier foods I consume on a daily basis. While there is no regret, for life without creamy mashed potatoes and chocolate pie is not a life I wish to be a part of, I am left with an appreciation for the knowledge I have gained about nutrition over the years, and the ability to afford nutritious food for my family.
Since it is the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend here in the United States, I would venture to guess that many of us are craving healthier meals to detox from the previous week's carb fest. Here is how my family prioritizes healthy eating during a time of year when we're surrounded by Christmas cookies, candy, and party food:
Meal Plan - We have a magnetic meal planning pad of paper on our fridge, and we map our our dinners for the week before making the shopping list. It takes an extra 20 minutes before heading to the store, but it saves us money and keeps us disciplined so we don't end up ordering pizza because we don't know what to eat. I love perusing websites that give healthy or clean recipes that are family friendly, or for picky eaters. I mainly use Pinterest as my inspiration and search engine for meal ideas.
Shopping List - Our family's shopping list this week included a few extra vegetables, fruits, and quinoa. I use the Cartwheel app from Target to plan my shopping trip aisle by aisle. I even write my list in order by grocery aisle. I avoid the candy, cookie, and chip aisles like the plague. I stick to the list and avoid impulse purchases like the plague. This is why my husband is not allowed to grocery shop - he loves surprises and treats. Not good for the budget or our waistlines.
Learn by Teaching - I've been sharing information with my three-year-old daughter about the food she eats, so she understands why I sometimes have to say no to something she really wants. In simple terms I explain that too much sugar might give us a headache or tummy ache. We discuss which foods have lots of sugar in them. I've recently introduced her to the concept of protein - which helps our muscles grow big and strong, and healthy carbohydrates in fruit and grains that help us feel full. I've found when I have to simplify it enough for a preschooler, it helps me better understand the basic concepts of good nutrition.
Healthier Snacks - I love baking my own healthier version of mini muffins, or whipping up protein bites for the family to grab on the way out the door or pack in their lunches. Healthy substitutions for baking include whole wheat or oat flour in place of all purpose flour, coconut oil for butter, maple syrup or agave instead of sugar, and adding flax seed or protein powder. Other healthy snacks we stock up on for the week are yogurt, string cheese, apples, baby carrots, berries, fruit and veggie pouches for the kids, and Annie's Cheddar Bunnies.
Structure and Accountability - Our whole family uses our favorite nutritional products on a daily basis. As the meal planner, grocery shopper, and chef for my children, I often get decision fatigue about food choices. This nutrition program helps eliminate a few choices I have to make for myself, and simplifies the process of eating healthy. On days when I know there will be a little extra temptation, I can fuel with an extra superfood shake. I know it will keep me full, because although it is low in calories, it is nutrient dense and contains the perfect balance of protein, carbs, and fats that we should be consuming at each meal. I also feed each of my children half of a superfood shake each morning. I love knowing that they are getting the vitamins and minerals they need, even if they're getting some extra junk food this time of year. My husband incorporates the shakes every single day - a must have for a busy teacher - and cleanses periodically. (I don't currently cleanse because I am pregnant. When I'm done nursing you can bet I'll jump back on the cleansing bandwagon! It makes me feel amazing!) We get accountability from our awesome private Facebook group that provides healthy recipes, workouts, and general inspiration. I love checking in each day to inspire myself to make better choices.
So that's it! That's what we're focusing on in the next few weeks leading up to Christmas to feel healthy and energetic instead of bloated and tired. What do you do as a family to make nutrition a priority?
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