Whether you're getting back into the routine of a new school year or just adding more tasks to an ever-growing to-do list, it's easy for mealtime to take a backseat. In fact, mealtime often gets moved to the backseat—nothing makes a drive-thru more appealing than a packed schedule and a car full of empty bellies.
If dinnertime feels like a battle and fast food beckons, it's probably because a lot of tired, hungry voices are chiming in. But what the local burger joint has to offer isn't worth the cost financially or to your family's health. By focusing on healthy eating throughout the day, you can help ease the way to a peaceful dinner.
Here are three steps for a positive eating routine that will serve you and your family well for life:
Step 1: Do breakfast right.
How you finish your day has a lot to do with how you start it. Breakfast sets your metabolic tone for the day, and popular choices like high-sugar cereals or frozen waffles put your blood sugar on a roller coaster, creating late-morning brain fog and fatigue. The fastest way to a 10 a.m. energy crash is to eat a muffin for breakfast!
You and your family need the right nutrients to steady your blood sugar so you stay full and focused all morning. That means plenty of protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
Think outside the cereal box with turkey and avocado wraps or pasture-raised hard-boiled eggs. Chia pudding with coconut milk and berries is another great option.
A protein shake also makes a fast, nutritious breakfast. Let kids choose from healthy ingredients like almond butter, frozen berries, and cacao nibs, and make the process fun. Skip the milk and juice in favor of almond or coconut milk, then add chia seeds or freshly ground flaxseed for a protein boost. It's the perfect way to make a balanced, filling breakfast in less time than it takes to heat up a toaster tart.
And as integrative pediatrician Dr. Sheila Kilbane explains, "Find a variety of healthy breakfast recipes, and you will see how much better everyone feels—you may even notice your kids don't pick up every virus that hits their classroom!"
Step 2: Eat by the clock.
Nobody makes good decisions when they're starving. The temptation to snack between meals or order up a deep-dish pepperoni usually comes from screaming hunger hormones and tanking blood sugar levels.
In this case, prevention is the cure. Establish family mealtimes and stick with them. Meal timing is vital to developing lasting healthy habits, and consistency always pays off with your kids.
Helpful meal timing rules:
- Eat a balanced breakfast within an hour of getting up.
- Adults eat every four to six hours, while younger kids eat every two to three hours.
- Adults stop eating about three hours before bedtime.
Schedule regular meal times and sit at the table without technology whenever possible. Instead of hitting the taco shop after soccer practice, try to spend some time every weekend making healthy options you can eat on the go during the week.
Step 3: Limit snacking.
Kids love to snack, but that urge doesn't always come from genuine hunger. Maybe they're bored and watching TV when a commercial for their favorite sugar-loaded gummy snack comes on—suddenly they're craving something sweet.
Children do need to eat more often than adults because little tummies can't hold as much, and there's a lot of important growth happening during childhood. But mindless eating with nutrient-empty foods sets the stage for obesity and other health problems, not to mention creating bad habits.
Keep fresh apple wedges and celery sticks with almond butter, sliced veggies with hummus, and slow-roasted nuts on hand for those occasions when dinners two hours away, but they (and maybe you) need something to munch on. Be sure everyone stays hydrated, too — it's easy to mistake thirst for hunger. Drinking plenty of water consistently will also help with brain function and energy levels.
Snacking can be especially tricky before bedtime. Make a rule that the kitchen closes after dinner each night for adults and older children. Who knows: Your kids might even learn to load up on veggies at dinner to stay full!
Do breakfast right, eat by the clock, and limit snacking: These three steps don't require a lot of drastic changes, but they can have a huge impact on your whole family's health and happiness.