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Changing Family Mealtime Traditions

family dinner

“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.” W. Somerset Maugham

Most people have family traditions which often include food and celebration because food can allow us to connect and socialize with each other. Family reunions, holiday gatherings, and potlucks, are all examples of family traditions, which often include extended family. But a family tradition can are also be your daily routine at home with your nuclear family.

As a child, these traditions provide experiences and memories, but you may have never thought about how these family gatherings are centered on food. So take some time to think about, what was your food culture growing up and how did family traditions affect your relationship with food?

Here are a few additional questions:

  • How big were the food portions?
  • Did you have to clean your plate at dinner as a child at the request of a parent or family member?
  • Were you allowed to eat multiple times or were there restraints to how much food you could eat?
  • What type of food did you grow up eating e.g. fried foods, pastas, vegetables?

It is always helpful to understand why we behave the way we do and what may have influenced those behaviors, but the goal moving forward is to maintain family relationships and make it a healthy experience.

Here are five strategies that you can use to introduce subtle changes at the next
holiday event and at home to start new family traditions:

  1. Cook a healthier version of your famous family dish that you always bring to an event, which will include less fat and fewer calories. It will require substituting ingredients and changing the cooking method e.g. grilled versus frying.
  2. Introduce a new healthy dish to your family at the next outing. You have learned new recipes so share them with your family.
  3. At home cook and eat meals together instead of dining out. Everyone has a busy schedule however this is a time for family fun and home cooked meals are healthier than dining out.
  4. Suggest that the next family outing be an activity such as a walk/run for charity, skating, skiing, or rock climbing. Show your family that fun can include exercise and doesn’t have to be centered
    on food.
  5. At home, as a family, plan the weekly meals and go to the grocery store together. This is a good time to discuss why vegetables and fruits should be included on the menu.

Preserving tradition is important and by making suggestions, having more structure in your household, and adding healthier dishes at family gatherings should not disrupt these traditions. If we want our family to make healthier choices, it is important to lead by example and expose them to a healthy lifestyle so that they can pass these new traditions on to future generations.

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