As a Registered Dietitian and mom of 3, I have lots of experience in both the nutrition needs of a family as well as my family’s total rejection of anything I might try to plan for dinner. So, if you’re finding yourself worrying about whether or not you’re “doing it right,” or “feeding them the right stuff,” be encouraged and keep reading. Here are 3 things to remember when gathering your family around a meal.
Let go of perfect.
As a mom, it’s easy, and I mean so easy, to compare ourselves to a standard that we’ve identified as the goal. The clean house, the balanced meals, the tidy children, the lavish vacations, the serial volunteerism, the list goes on. When you’re gathering your family around meals, you must let go of the Normal Rockwell, perfectly plated, homecooked meal ideal. That’s just not a reality for most of us, though if it’s the reality in your house, please invite me over for dinner. Like, invite me a lot. For the rest of us, focus on creating an environment that your family wants to come to. A few easy ways to do that are to include at least one food that each person will like, focus on positive conversation to encourage and reaffirm your family members, and be okay with take-out food or paper plates. Think of a meal together like a meeting with your boss. Would you look forward to going if you knew that at every meeting, you’d be reminded of how you’re not doing your job right or getting scolded? Same thing here. Create a space where your family members feel welcome, even if that’s over bowls of cereal in the kitchen or with fast food after sports practice. Focus on the environment and relationships first.
Recognize diet culture.
Okay, here’s the deal. Diet culture is pervasive. It’s everywhere- shows, advertising, food marketing, recipes, blogs, influencers, everywhere. While I’m not suggesting having unhealthy routines or habits, be mindful of what you’re deeming as “healthy.” One of the sneaky parts of “diet culture” is that it’s always changing. When one theme of messaging gets too old, diet culture moves on. To the new “it” food, or the new food to avoid, or the new secret to health and wealth, etc. Often, these ideas are deeply rooted in wealth privilege. By creating the idea of a superior diet, or superior food, then it creates the idea that consumers are therefore superior for eating in that pattern. Coincidentally, these fads are often expensive, involve uncommon foods, and create a dread around eating the way your body naturally wants to eat. So, be careful in how you’re choosing foods for your family. Are you falling victim to the wealth privilege-based diet culture messaging? Are you enjoying your routine? Does your family look forward to your meals together and do they believe in your reasoning for what you serve? These are all important things to consider when deciding how to feed your family.
Don’t label yourself “good” or “bad” based on your food.
We cannot talk about food without addressing what is “good” or “bad” to eat. Here’s the deal, food is not good or bad. Food has no moral value, and we, therefore, cannot label ourselves as good or bad based on the foods that we eat. We know some foods give us more of the nutrients we need, like vitamins and minerals. We also know that other foods are just favorites that we enjoy, but that might not fuel our bodies well. We need both kinds of food. I for one, am not a fan of raw vegetables- yes, even as a dietitian. However, roast them up with salt and pepper and I’m in! Or serve them with a sauce like ranch or hummus or guacamole, and I’m a happy girl. That’s not bad. The fact that I prefer veggies with a sauce, or that I don’t love quinoa, does not make me “bad.” Same for your family. Once we realize that some of our foods aren’t “bad,” they’re just foods that have no moral value, then it makes it easier to fully enjoy food-related experiences with our families. Like ice cream sundaes for dinner because it’s 100°F or hot dogs and popcorn for lunch at the baseball field. Food is so much more than nutrition. It’s culture and experience and heritage and gathering and traditions. How can those things possibly be bad?
So, dear fellow mom, if you’re finding yourself overwhelmed at the thought of feeding your family, remember that you need to let go of perfect, be mindful of diet culture, and don’t label yourself good or bad based on the foods that you’re eating. If you’re just learning to find a routine for your family to eat together on purpose, start with what works. Then build from there towards your family’s goals. But always start with what works and be encouraged. You’re likely doing much better than you think.
Heather Campbell, RD, founder of Glory Nutrition, is a Registered Dietitian, mom of 3, military spouse, and a family and child nutrition expert with over a decade of experience in the field. You can learn much more from Heather on her website.