family making food in kitchen

Taking the right nutritional steps towards a more healthful family lifestyle.

In a time when society is saturated with diet quick-fixes, innumerable fast-food options, and unsubstantiated health products, it can be easy to lose sight of basic nutrition principles. For many individuals, the very idea of “keeping it simple” is far-fetched amidst hectic schedules and on-the-go eating habits. However, returning to the basics via simple changes is one of the best approaches you and your family can take for positive, long-lasting improvements to your nutritional health and wellness.

Understanding personal nutrition

While every individual’s needs slightly differ based on factors like genetics and activity levels, there are general requirements for each nutrient the body relies on. However, as individuals progress through various life stages, certain nutrients become more crucial to support bodily processes that keep health in check.

Andrea Falcone, a registered dietitian and certified fitness professional whose practice services individual and family clients, schools, and corporate wellness sectors, highlights some important age brackets where nutritional needs shift, as well as some easy-to-incorporate recommendations.

Age Gender Nutrients to emphasize Whole-food sources Why?
40+ M and F Vitamin C Strawberries, kiwi, figs, broccoli, red bell peppers Antioxidants prevent free-radical damage, which occurs more with aging and is aligned with a number of chronic diseases.
Vitamin E Almonds, sunflower oil and seeds, hazelnuts
Beta-Carotene Spinach, kale, carrots, sweet potatoes
50+ M and F* Vitamin B12 Game meats, fish, dairy products Generates new red blood cells and nerves.
Vitamin D Minimal food sources; opt for supplement form – 800 IU Promotes bone health and healthy tissue/cell activities; protects against diabetes and chronic diseases.
Calcium Dairy products, dark green vegetables, almonds, salmon, trout Combats age-related bone loss and osteoporosis; promotes heart, muscle, and nerve function.

*Women’s calcium requirements are slightly higher than men’s at this stage, due to menopause.

Promoting healthy habits within the family

Beyond individual nutrition is prioritizing health and wellness on the family level. Unfortunately, Canadians are living in an era where obesity rates are still on the rise, with childhood obesity rates nearly tripling in the last 30 years.1

And while youth are definitely influenced by their peers, their environment, and the media, the roots of their nutritional habits are established at home. As Falcone notes, “It’s important to lead by example. Parents sometimes don’t think their children are watching or identifying how and what they eat, but this is not the case. Even situations where parents talk about weight or dieting, that has a huge impact on a child’s overall perspective of health.”

Falcone advises that one of the main ways parents and family members can establish healthy nutrition patterns is by involving the younger generation in food-related activities.

  • Weekly meal planning: Set aside 30 minutes as a family on an evening or weekend to map out meals and recipes.
  • Structured snacking: 63 percent of youth have after-school snacks, the majority of which are energy-dense and nutrient-poor,2 making it an ideal opportunity to promote more healthful choices.
  • Canada’s Food Guide: The Health Canada and Government of Canada Healthy Canadians websites offer customizable and interactive tools (including a downloadable mobile app) to help each family member better understand food and nutrient needs.3
  • Grocery shopping: While it may not always seem convenient, family trips to the grocery store can be very educational.
  • Meal preparation: Involve kids in the kitchen with age-appropriate tasks; even a small responsibility offers a sense of accomplishment.
  • Family dinners: Carving out time to sit down for dinner as a family, with screens and phones turned off, has an incredibly positive impact on health habits.

Family health and wellness doesn’t need to be an “all or nothing” decision; rather, it’s about incorporating gradual change in a sustainable way. As Falcone stresses to her clients, “If we can recognize that health is our ultimate lifeline and how both food and fitness affect that, then it may just be the perspective needed to embrace positive changes.”

  2. Jo-Anne Gilbert, PhD, Doris Miller, MMath, Shannon Olson, RD, Sylvie St-Pierre, PhD, RD. After-school Snack Intake Among Canadian Children and Adolescents. Can J Public Health 2012;103(6):e448-e452.

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