As individuals, our relationship with food starts when we are babies. Many babies are fed at certain times, some even being awoken so that they can be fed. As a child grows it will often be given something orally to soothe it if it cries, to calm it down and, in this way, it learns how to get fed on demand.
Many foodstuffs are regarded as treats. These usually come under the sweet and confectionary banner of biscuits, cakes, toffee, and chocolate. Children are often rewarded with these things for good behaviour and learn to expect these items frequently and spend their pocket money on them.
Other foodstuffs are used as quick fixes. Mealtimes are often rushed affairs, with many children and adults having limited time available to sit and dine together in the evenings because of other activities. Many families eat separately with fewer and fewer homes even owning a dining table. People often eat in front of the television or in their bedroom whilst on the computer. Supermarkets pre-chilled dinners or takeaways are used as a convenient answer to the problem of finding a quick ready meal.
Over time, bad eating habits have been found to be the reason behind many physical and behavioural problems. Relying too heavily on meals that are laden with fat, sugar, salt and chemical preservatives, full of poor quality ingredients eventually impacts on general health and well-being. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease are just some of the obvious examples, but skin conditions, stress, insomnia, behavioural problems, can also be exacerbated by poor diet too.
So let us look at some simple ways to take back control over what we are taking into our bodies and the bodies of our young people.
Try to plan meals for the week ahead. This means that the weekly food shop becomes more organised and efficient. By putting the schedule on the fridge door, everyone knows what is available to eat each night. Even if different meals are eaten on different nights at least the meal plan is known and the first person in can start preparing dinner. Maybe batch cook when things are in season, so that the freezer is stocked up with good, healthy dishes. Get the children involved in cooking. This way they learn how to prepare vegetables and meals and appreciate what is involved. Make it fun. Let the children plan one meal each in turn. They decide what to cook, make a list of the ingredients and get involved in the preparation. Eat together whenever possible. Family meals are about more than the food. They are an important time to connect together, to notice if someone seems to be depressed or upset and to provide an opportunity to discuss things and build relationships. Find alternatives to sugar. Our bodies produce a hormone called ghrelin, which works on the brain and makes us crave high-calorie foods even when we are full. Understanding that this occurs enables us to learn to resist the urge to overeat.