5 tips for creating a positive food culture in your home

My husband and I love watching food documentaries, particularly the ones where they travel to other countries and explore different cuisines. We recently watched Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and it reminded me of the feeling I used to get every time we’d watch Anthony Bordaine’s show.

Call it nostalgia or whatever you want, but I’ve always felt a little sad that I don’t live in a different country or another time with a distinct food culture. You know the kind where it’s normal to make recipes your family’s been cooking for 100 years, where slow Sunday afternoon dinners are a constant, and you have regular exchanges with the neighbor about the best butcher in town, or the state of the tomato crop this year.

I want that. I want a little more culture, a little more tradition, and I don’t think I’m alone. Our generation was raised on fast paced living and instant gratification, and as a result, many of us are craving and seeking out a slower pace . It’s one reason why things like minimalism, backyard chicken coops and nomadic lifestyles are on the rise. There’s just something so appealing about it all.

But it’s not just traveling shows that stirred up this feeling in me. I have my own growing family now and with that, I’ve seen new desires and priorities take root. I’ve started looking back at times in my own childhood where I felt deeply loved and connected to my family and many of those memories involve food. As a nutrition counselor I see the impact family food culture has on my clients and their relationship with food and body (both positive and negative).

All of it makes me want to create positive food memories for my children— traditions and rhythms that encourage confidence with food and teach them to enjoy eating. I want to teach them to appreciate the privilege and magic of food and cooking. And sure, I want my kids to learn to listen to their bodies and respect their needs, but the way to do that is NOT through restriction nor is it through labeling foods as good and bad or even green, yellow and red (or whatever euphemism they’re trying to fool kids with these days)/

The way to do that is to give permission to eat or not eat, to offer variety, to set regular eating rhythms and finally, to teach them the beauty of enjoying good food with good company!

Even if you don’t have children, creating positive routines around food still has the ability to enhance your confidence with eating, decrease fear and stress, and increase happiness and connection, both to your body and to those you’re sharing a meal with!

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SO, without further ado, here are 5 tips for creating a positive food culture in your home

Pick one meal to eat at home together. If you live alone, pick one to eat at the table.

For us this meal is dinner. Our son is still young, and we’re all home in the evenings. My husband and I try hard to be home from work in time to have dinner at the same time each night (6 pm). Of course, this doesn’t always happen perfectly, but it’s what we aim for. For the most part, I try to cook in the evenings, even if that means hot turkey sandwiches or breakfast for dinner. This gives my son the opportunity to try new foods, as opposed to the same take-out (we don’t have many options in our town). It’s also increased my confidence in the kitchen (there’s something so empowering about throwing a meal together from random ingredients and having it turn out) PLUS it saves us LOTS of money.

If eating dinner together isn’t a possibility, maybe aim for breakfast. If only a couple of you can eat together at one meal, do it anyway. The other people in your household can eat together at another meal.

If you live alone, try setting a regular routine of eating at least one meal at your table. You can improve the experience by setting your table, turning on some music, having a fun drink, or lighting a candle. Even if you’re in recovery and eating is hard for you, work to make every other feature of the meal a positive, relaxing one. In this way you set yourself up to have better and better eating experiences, the more you recover.

Set seasonal rhythms for meal planning

I can remember the meals my parents would make based on the season. Meatloaf, roasts, creamy chicken, chili, and spaghetti in the fall and winter, hamburgers on the grill, corn on the cob, and fresh watermelon in the summer. I always looked forward to the changes in season and the new foods it would bring (and still do). If you’re listening to your body and eating what you’re craving, you’re likely already cooking foods based on the seasons. Our bodies are pretty smart, they know when tomatoes are going to taste like candy and when they taste like cardboard, and they respond accordingly.

You can create positive food rhythms by leaning into those cravings, making family favorite warm meals in the winter and fall and switching to colder dishes, fresh fruit and veg, and grilling in the summer. Of course that doesn’t mean that if you’re craving soup in the summer or salad in the winter you can’t have them— But switching up the meals you make based on the season is a fun way to add a little food tradition and variety to your life.

Start a weekend food tradition

Whether it’s brunch on Saturdays, lunch out after church, or Sunday night family dinners (or all three), weekends are the perfect time to do something out of your normal routine, to try new foods, and to connect with loved ones you don’t see during the week. Some of our favorite weekend traditions are making a big breakfast on Saturday or Sunday morning at home and if we can, hosting friends over on Friday or Saturday night for dinner!

Start some hands-on food traditions

Hands on food traditions could be anything from planting an herb garden in your window, picking blueberries at the local berry patch in the summer, starting a large scale garden or just learning to cook new dishes. Try making something from scratch that you’d normally buy, like bread or pasta. The more experience we have with cooking, growing and working with different foods, the more likely we are to eat them and feel confident around them (this goes for children too). Plus, it’s one more avenue to connect with and learn to appreciate our food.

Pick a weekly food task and involve the whole family

Finally, pick something you do weekly like grocery shopping, meal planning or cooking to involve the whole family in. Ask for input from your spouse or children on what meals they’d like to have during the week. If this feels overwhelming, maybe let them pick just one meal each. Take trips together to the farmer’s market, or if you’re really brave, take your kids to the grocery store and put them in charge of grabbing things on your list. If you decide to have a big family breakfast on the weekends, maybe get dad cooking or give the kids a task, like watching the waffle maker or mixing up the fruit salad. The more we let go of perfectionism in the kitchen and make room for our family to be involved , the more likely we create a food culture that the whole family benefits from. Plus, once everyone learns how to prepare food, mom (or dad) might just get a break every once in a while.

The more I think about it, the more I realize we DO have the ability to create a positive food culture. We can nurture confidence, create memories and encourage connection when it comes to food. No time machine necessary, no backyard chicken coop required (although I’m all for fresh eggs). I look at my little family and see the seeds of tradition starting already in the small every day things and it makes me smile.

What about you? How do you create a positive food culture in your life, in your home? It’s never too late to start!

Until next time, stay nourished body, soul, and spirit.