Summertime is a great time to address challenges and bad habits around family food choices and eating. Food is such a fun part of summer: think picnics, grilling out, fresh local produce and ice cream!!! And it is also a great time to try out new things in preparation for the next school year.
Having just returned from Tucson, Arizona where I got a taste of summer weather and attended a national Nutrition Professionals conference, I have a personal renewed sense of enthusiasm toward food. Namely, REAL FOOD. Several of the presenters touched on how much new research is being done around the endless benefits of the nutrients in food. Seems like common sense, but so many people take for granted that their family’s nutrition needs are being met with fortified, packaged food products, conventional meats and dairy and a couple gummy vitamins.
Real food just can’t be beat for packing nutrition. For example, the simple root turmeric, used for centuries in Indian cuisine, now has over 2500 documented medical benefits. Another example is researchers have found that fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins D, A, and E, are taken in by the body through shared receptor sites (in some cases), and they are conveniently packaged together in fat-based foods, butter (from grass-fed cows) in particular.
There are so many great ways to experience real food in the summer. Farmer’s markets, gardening and home cooking are my personal favorites. And all of these activities can be wonderful learning experiences for children. Just letting a child select a vegetable from a farmer’s market or grow their own in a backyard garden and have the experience of eating “their vegetable” for dinner creates a whole new openness to a food they might previously have disliked.
This is the perfect time to set family goals for improving nutrition. I encourage you to make a plan to reduce or eliminate some of the processed, packaged foods from your family meals over the summer. One great resource is a website called 100daysofrealfood.com. This site was created by a mom who wanted to do just that, make the change to real food for her family.
Also, it is the perfect time to learn about local, quality meats and produce. Plan a Saturday morning family experience at the farmer’s market. Talk to the farmers, have the kids talk to the farmers. Ask for recipe suggestions. Try to find the most unusual vegetable. Sample, learn and enjoy. You’ll find out why grass-fed meats, free range poultry and local produce have better nutrient density and healthier fat composition than conventional, and asking farmers for that information is much more enjoyable than reading a nutrition book.
Or get your kids involved in growing a home garden. Even if the only space you have to grow in is a container. I helped a classroom of kindergartners start their summer with their own cherry tomato plant in a decorated sand bucket. Several of the kids came back to me the next fall and told me how big their tomato plant had grown, how many tomatoes it produced and how delicious they were!
Lastly, do some cooking with your kids. Teaching your kids to cook is the gift of a lifetime. Start simple by letting them toss the salad, stir the pancake batter or peel leaves off of a fresh stem of herbs. Help them experience the difference between freshly home made foods and less flavorful processed items.
Mastering summer nutrition is easy with the resources we have in Boulder County and right in your own back yard. Involving the kids is the best way to get buy-in. Have fun with it, experiment and set some goals.