Better Eating for the New Year

This year, more than most, we are all in need of nourishment. 2020 was a hard year and while the beginning of a new year signals the possibility of hope and a fresh start, we no doubt will carry the lessons of 2020 into 2021. 

Distancing has shown us the value of connection, and perhaps one of the most meaningful ways we have to maintain connection is around our dinner tables. This year, instead of focusing on fad diet trends that overtake beginning-of-the-year headlines, we can look for ways to nourish ourselves and our families in ways that support our health and our values, forgoing quick fixes for meaningful progress. Here’s how:

  • Focus on real foods. Meals cooked and prepared at home tend to have higher nutritional quality. This doesn’t mean you need to prepare gourmet, made-from-scratch meals every night or that restaurant meals cannot be enjoyed. But making a commitment to cook more at home using wholesome ingredients is a sure way to get the year off to a good start. Consider cooking one more meal at home than you are used to and add on gradually. Dinner can be as simple as lentil soup with salad and bread, or chickpea pasta with store-bought marinara and broccoli.
  • Eat together. Studies consistently show that families that eat together do better. Children participating in regular family meals have lower rates of anxiety, substance use and other high-risk behaviors, a greater sense of family connectedness, and improved self-esteem and academic performance. For many families, COVID-19 has allowed for more family dinners (as well as breakfasts and lunches!), and that is a trend worth continuing in the new year. 
  • Eat for long-lasting health not gimmicky weight-loss schemes. Dieting behavior puts children at risk for eating disorders and even excessive weight gain in the long run. Instead, structured meals and snacks (without screens!) made from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are a delicious and nutritious way to fuel your family. 
  • Eat sustainably. The bushfires in Australia, the burning of the Amazon, the California wildfires, and the barrage of floods and hurricanes are a constant reminder that our food choices are intimately connected to our climate. Animal agriculture has a devastating impact on our environment. Some experts estimate that it is responsible for more than half of green house gas emissions. Eating a more plant-centered diet not only cares for our individual health, but the health of our planet. 
  • Eat compassionately. More than ninety percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food should not suffer. This is incongruent with the reality that ninety nine percent of the 10 billion farm animals slaughtered for food each year in the United States come from factory farms. Additionally, a tremendous amount of resources in terms of antibiotics (80 percent of antibiotics in the U.S. go toward animal agriculture) and foods raised to feed farm animals divert much needed resources. Many experts contend that if we ate a more plant-centered diet, we could largely solve the problem of world hunger. 
  • Eat joyfully. Eating a diet that favors plants not only cares for our health, our planet and animals, but is also delicious way to feed your family. Over the last decade plant-based cookbooks, blogs and products have made it easier and tastier than ever to eat a plant-centered diet. 

6 Steps to Nourish Your Family and the Planet 

  1. Slow and steady wins the race, whether it’s family meals or working towards eating a more plant-based diet. Gradually work on building your way up.
  2. Start with what your family already enjoys and do more of it. Most families already have many plant-based meals they enjoy – pasta with marinara sauce, tomato soup and (plant-based) grilled cheese, oatmeal, bean chili – try serving them more often.
  3. Make easy swaps. Tofu in your stir fry instead of chicken, beans in your burritos instead of beef, and oatmeal instead of eggs to name a few. 
  4. Try plant-based alternatives. Veggie meats and plant-based milks and cheeses have grown in popularity and are becoming more widely available. Discover new plant-based products and weave them into your weekly menus.
  5. Do a little exploring. Whether you check out blogs such dreenaburton.com, enjoy cookbooks and starter guides such as kickstart.pcrm.org/en, or experiment with different cuisines, having a sense of curiosity and adventure can make the process more enticing. Many ethnic foods such as Indian, Thai, Ethiopian and Middle Eastern are heavily plant-based and simply delicious. 
  6. Find and build support. Including family and friends (both in-person and virtually!) can be a great way to create a sense of community and enjoyment around your efforts. 

Try some great recipes from this book. 

 

Tagline Reshma Shah, M.D., MPH, is an affiliate clinical instructor at Stanford University School of Medicine and has been a practicing pediatrician for nearly 20 years. She is co-author with Brenda Davis, RD of Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Guide for Families (HCI Books).