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Family Meals: A Valuable Choice

Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD

As a child family meals were a daily ritual for both breakfast and dinner in my home. My mom prepared these hot meals for our family every day of the week. When I was in high school and she returned to work full-time, I helped her both in the planning and preparation. We sat down once a week to plan the week’s dinner menus, which made it easier for us to prepare after a busy day at school or work.

Enjoy togetherness

To highlight the importance of family meals, The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Foundation led the charge to designate September as National Family Meals Month. Family meals may not take several hours to prepare anymore or be something busy families with lots of activities can do every single day but they are important for several reasons.

Savor the benefits

Sitting down and sharing a meal lets families relax and catch up after a hectic day as well as help children learn conversation skills and good table manners. According to FMI, regular family meals are linked to higher grades, better self-esteem and positive behaviors like sharing, fairness and respect. In addition, research has documented that kids who share family meals at least three times a week have healthier eating habits and are less likely to be overweight.

Involve them all

Getting the entire family involved is a great way to make sure meals represent everyone’s favorites and food preferences. When they help plan, shop for and prepare meals, children learn how a variety of foods can create nutritious, balanced meals. Using the USDA MyPlate as a guide, each family member can plan dinner for one day of the week. Parents can teach kids how to balance food choices with a meal that pairs grilled meat with fried potatoes, a steamed green veggie and whole grain roll. Likewise, enjoying fruit for dessert after most dinners allows the family to splurge a couple of nights a week on a piece of cake or an ice cream float.

Making balanced food and beverage choices starts with parents teaching their kids at home, including around the family dinner table, and a much better strategy than trying to regulate or tax people into better eating habits. There are many choices in life. Choosing to make family meals a part of the daily routine will reap benefits for parents and kids now and for years to come.

 

Neva Cochran is an award winning registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant in Dallas, Texas. A veteran media spokesperson and popular speaker she was also a 20-year freelancer for Woman’s World Weekly magazine. She is a past president of the Texas Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and a past chair of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation. Neva is also an advisory partner to the Food and Beverage Industry. Follow her on Twitter at @NevaRDLD


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Accentuate the Positive

Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD

So often food and nutrition messages come in the form of scary headlines like “5 foods you should never eat” or “10 common nutrition blunders and how to prevent them.” But do frightening, negative messages or warning labels and taxes on perceived “bad” foods really help people make better food and beverage choices? Probably not, say recent studies.

Cornell University research presented at the July 2015 Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior Annual Conference found that people tend to respond best to positive messages rather than negative, loss-related messages. For example, instead of “eating fried foods will make you gain weight,” people are more motivated by “eating lean, grilled meat helps you shed pounds.”

Likewise, a study conducted at Arizona State University had similar results. Researchers compared negative and positive messages in dieters and non-dieters consumption of snack food. They discovered that negatively worded food warnings are unlikely to work because non-dieters ignore them and dieters do the opposite. That is, they actually eat more of the food!

While politicians try to legislate people’s eating habits by requiring warning labels or taxes on sugar and soda, these initiatives are usually doomed to fail. In a new report from the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institute, the authors conclude, “Taxes are an imperfect instrument for addressing nutrition and health concerns.….they are no substitute for efforts to identify and help people at the greatest risk from obesity, diabetes, and related conditions.”

As a registered dietitian nutritionist whose goal is to help people enjoy eating a variety of flavorful foods and beverages for health and wellness, I much prefer a positive approach of education to a negative one of regulation.

 

Neva Cochran is an award winning registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant in Dallas, Texas. A veteran media spokesperson and popular speaker she was also a 20-year freelancer for Woman’s World Weekly magazine. She is a past president of the Texas Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and past chair of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation.


References

  • “Which Health Messages Work Best? Experts Prefer Fear- or Loss-Related Messages, but the Public Follows Positive, Gain-Related Messages” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 2015; 47:S93
  • “Messages from the Food Police: How Food-Related Warnings Backfire among Dieters” Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2016; 1:175
  • Should We Tax Unhealthy Foods And Drinks? Report from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, December 2015

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Food Fear: Will Warning Labels do More Harm than Good?

Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN, LDN

Over recent weeks and months, there has been chatter about placing warning labels on sugary beverages in an effort to improve the health of Americans. Food activists are claiming that warning labels on products such as soda will help consumers make healthier choices and reduce incidences of obesity. Really? It’s highly debatable whether a warning label will deter soda sales, but I am quite certain that a warning label on groceries will not improve the health of Americans.

Ideas like the proposed warning labels emphasize to me how illiterate many food activists are about human behavior and what people across the country actually eat. Encouraging people to embrace a healthy lifestyle will take more than singling out and discouraging a single calorie source; and it’s not something that will happen overnight or with excessive red tape. People are more successful at behavior change when they have access to appropriate guidance, education, and long-term support.

Obesity prevention isn’t about telling people what to eat either. It’s about helping people learn how to engage in a balanced lifestyle (and truly value it) - which includes finding ways to be more physically active, managing stress, as well as learning how to choose options from each food group in a balance way.  In other words: helping people figure out how to balance their activity with their diet that provides a variety of foods that they can enjoy, in moderate amounts.

So how would a simple warning label on soda teach consumers what to place in their grocery cart and how to reduce stress or fit in exercise?

Don’t underestimate the consumer -- they understand that treats can be enjoyed in moderation and that all calories count.

In addition to being the mother of 3 sons, Rosanne has nearly 30 years of experience in the food and nutrition field. She is the coauthor of several books, including DASH Diet For Dummies®, which all share her philosophy of balancing healthy eating with exercise and an enjoyment of life's little pleasures. Check out her blog, Chew The Facts, for more on this topic.

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