Generation We

For all the challenges facing today’s children, there are also endless opportunities to nurture their minds, bodies and spirits in naturally healthy ways.

Generation We
Pin it Dominick Guillemot

7. Make meals meaningful Now for some good news: About 75 percent of children and adolescents eat meals with their families at least four times per week, according to the HHS National Survey of Children’s Health—and a review of 17 studies published in the June 2011 issue of Pediatrics found that children who share family meals three or more times a week are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier dietary and eating patterns than those who share fewer family meals. “Research suggests kids who regularly eat dinner with their families are also more emotionally stable and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., a sociologist in Berkeley, Calif., and author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents (Ballantine Books). “Adolescent girls especially have fewer depressive symptoms—and family dinners even trump reading to your kids in terms of preparing them for school.” If schedules, food preferences or other factors seem like insurmountable barriers, cook meals on the weekend so you can heat them up and serve them during the week, suggests Behan. Involve the whole family in meal planning, too—asking little ones to vote on their favorite fruits and vegetables, and having older kids help with the preparation. Or foster even more love for food—and the environment—by growing it yourself. “Organic gardening will not only be a foundation of good nutrition, but also a natural, empowering experience kids will always remember,” says Rodriguez. “When children choose seeds, plant and watch them grow, and finally harvest food for their own meal, they understand it on a whole new level.” Don’t have an outdoor area for a garden? “Grow herbs and vegetables on your patio or even in a window box,” suggests Rodriguez. “It’s a lesson in life, a study on how nature provides for us if we nurture it.” Mealtimes also provide the perfect opportunity to create or reinforce family and cultural traditions and beliefs. “These kinds of rituals give children a sense of predictability and identity, which helps them feel more secure and confident,” Carter says. It’s also a good time to practice gratitude, which studies find makes people more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, determined, strong, kind and helpful to others than those in control groups, notes Carter. “I suggest keeping a family ‘gratitude journal’ or lists of things family members are thankful for,” Carter says. “Anything can go on the list—people, places, toys, events, nature—and at mealtime you can ask each family member to talk about three good things that happened that day.”