We’ve just returned from a short family holiday and it’s had me thinking a lot about food. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me “ohhh you’re a dietitian, I bet your kids eat well!”.
Well yes and no. If you saw me on holiday I’d suspect that dietitian wouldn’t be the first thing that sprung to mind. That’s because on holidays I’m completely happy to live in the moment and enjoy plenty of occasional food. After all, that’s the very definition of occasional food..it’s eaten occasionally, and that’s what holidays are.
Food isn’t just about nutrition. Food can also act as a wonderful memory. Cast your mind back to your own childhood and I’ve got no doubt that you can instantly identify both positive and negative memories that you have of food. Perhaps your nana made a particularly good chocolate cake and now every time you eat cake you think of her? Maybe you made pancakes on the weekends and they are now symbolic of family time for you? Did you have a particular food that you shared with your family at Christmas?
Rituals represent an important part of family life that bring happiness to children’s lives and give them something to look forward to. Many rituals in family life revolve around food and the benefits that come with this have nothing to do with nutrition.
So back to my holiday, let me tell you what we ate. For my children the day started with either cocopops or nutrigrain, two cereals that would generally NEVER make their way near my pantry. But do you know why I do this? Because it’s a ritual my husband had as a child. He has fond memories of this and therefore it’s something he wanted to repeat with his own children. My kids have to agree on what two choices of cereal they want and when it’s gone, that’s it. My kids don’t ask for these foods outside of holidays because they know it’s simply not what we do.
Beyond breakfast there was generally no planning and we ate as saw fit in the moment. Our five days away certainly weren’t balanced and we definitely didn’t eat enough vegetables. Will it kill us? Absolutely not. One of the most important things to remember about diet, is that it’s your overall pattern that matters, i.e. what you are doing most of the time.
Some of the biggest studies that have been conducted looking into which diets are best for cancer prevention and heart health such as the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) or Women’s Health Study (A large prospective study looking at risk factors that predispose women to heart disease), look at say fruit and vegetable intake over a prolonged period of time, and then break it down into groups with the highest and lowest intakes. What we see in these studies is that those people in the highest groups of intake have significantly lower rates of disease (eg heart disease or specific types of cancer). If you monitor your diet and try to get your 2 serves of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables, preference wholegrains and a moderate intake of lean meat and dairy, you are doing a really good job and the occasional ice cream, cheese platter or cake won’t really make any difference.
Some people might argue that I’m putting these foods on a pedestal, but I disagree and feel that I am simply reminding my children that some foods are only occasional. I could pretend that many of these processed, high sugar, low nutrient foods don’t exist or I could prohibit my children from consuming them. But do you know what? Research has actually shown that the stricter you are with your child’s (or your own) diet, the more they (or you) are likely to binge on these occasional or “junk foods” when they have access to them. I’m a realist, these processed foods exist, and I don’t see them leaving our supermarket shelves anytime soon. I know my children will be introduced to all of these foods eventually, so I might as well do it in a manner that pleases me, and truly teaches them that occasional foods are just that. I also spend time teaching them what good nutrition looks like and how to cook. Learning where processed “occassional” foods fit into your diet is just as big a life skill as learning what good nutrition is and how to cook!
So this holiday season quite worrying about your diet! Eat mindfully and enjoy the food you are eating with your family. The ice cream won’t kill you, but the memory your kids have of that time Mum and Dad let us eat 2 ice creams in one day, will last a lifetime.
Julia @ Bloom