The warm weather is inviting outdoor activity, so it’s the perfect time to focus on family, and continue the “take flight” series. How do you keep your family connected, with all of life’s activities and demands? What time do you set aside to discuss the day’s events? Does your family gather for a meal or two every day, and how do you involve everyone in food preparation? How many meals do you really make in a week, if you cater to varying tastes and requests?If these questions leave you wondering how other families embrace family time and good nutrition, and you want to improve the meal-time vibe, you are not alone. Back in the old days (pre-technological revolution), families enjoying home-cooked meals was as commonplace as fast food runs are now. It was a ritual, a custom, and an expectation. When I was growing up, if a child rang our doorbell during our dinner hour, a common response from my dad was “Why is Johnny not at home eating dinner now? Ask him what’s wrong. If he’s ok, tell him to go home.”
Do we label the historic change as progress or the demise of the family unit? Well, the latter is a bit extreme, but the benefits of a nutritious meal accompanied by pleasant conversation far outweighs eating on the run, eating alone, or eating fast food. How do we make healthy emotional connections to food and how did we form so many unhealthy ones?
Sugary snacks, for instance, provide little fuel for our bodies, yet they are a source of comfort for many people. Was the habit fueled by the call to action from commercial advertisers starting in the 1940’s on those “modern” televisions and in full-color magazine ads? If you behaved well at the dinner table and cleaned your plate, you got a little something extra called dessert. Housewives were always baking a lovely dessert or Jello mold while pictured in their finest dress, high heels, colorful apron, and haired coiffed to perfection.
Nowadays, we use sugary treats to bribe our kids for just about everything. “You sat through a church service without fussing…let’s go get some chocolate chip pancakes.” Maybe sweets serve as a reward for good behavior, good grades, participating in sports. (Back in the old days, you only got a reward if you won – and even then, it was more likely a pat on the back.) I remember my grade-school basketball team, not because we were any good, but because we had this cool machine at the back of the gym that dispensed bottles of Coke and Orange Crush. I’d spend my last dime (yes, a dime) to catch that cold liquid sugar rush after a workout. You get the idea.
So, what is my point, and what does it have to do with flight? Well, to make it to any destination, we require a heading, a map, and the ability to navigate unfamiliar territory. Some folks are good navigators, while others are great problem-solvers, and will tackle challenges head-on. Some people enjoy analyzing facts, and find great satisfaction letting the numbers dictate efficiency.
Why not think of your family as a team, and set your collective site on a healthy destination. Let the “analyst” come up the best options for timing of meals, and planning food runs. Encourage your “navigator” to lead the charge at the grocery store, keeping focused on the shopping list and not on the candy aisle. If a team member veers off-course, enlist the “problem-solver” to come up with a re-routing strategy. The “pilot-in-command” can come up with the actual menus, but should enlist the help of any interested travelers.
Changing a family regimen keeps things fresh, and can be fun. Create non-food, non-monetary rewards- ride bikes or take a walk after dinner, and consider the power of games and puzzles. They provide some of the best, most memorable, and stress-relieving ways to connect.
You say your lives are too busy to even consider such a strategy? I would say re-think what you value most for the physical, spiritual, and emotional health of your family. If it is energetic, intelligent, compassionate children you want to raise, this is one of the best investments you can make. Our fast-paced lifestyles take a toll on our young. Increasingly, children are stressed-out, overwhelmed, overweight, disconnected and sleep-deprived. As a result, they do not have the tools to tackle life’s challenges. Will their unhealthy bodies allow the care-free and happy lives we envision for them…or our grandchildren?!
Great leaders are often chastised for innovating change, yet they remain committed to take action, rise above obstacles, refine their goals, keep positive-minded supporters close by, and do not quit until they succeed. We, too, can and should be great leaders for our children, especially when it comes to their health and well-being. And, taking a proactive stance does not involve dictating, over-reaching, or becoming an embarrassment. The idea is to set the bar where your family decides it should be, then manage your time and energies around it. The goal is to teach our children how to manage their own decisions and lives.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. The most impactful life changes take time and commitment. Be all in. Let your children see you rise to the challenge, and embrace their strengths to become a strong family unit. Encourage their success with praise and love. Leave the past in the past regarding unhealthy behaviors. Whether we fear condemnation from our peer group, feel helpless against mainstream media, or feel the challenge is just too great, remember those are excuses. Choose to let go of them. Chart a new heading, stay on course, reset your altimeter now and again, and let good communication guide a positive change in destination.