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HEALTHY LIFESTYLES: Food fraught with tradition, emotion -- even on vacation

Recently I was on vacation with my extended family and discovered food choices can be difficult to agree on in families. In our case, we have three small children whose grandparents, aunts and uncles like to give them lots of treats. We see the e...

Recently I was on vacation with my extended family and discovered food choices can be difficult to agree on in families.

In our case, we have three small children whose grandparents, aunts and uncles like to give them lots of treats. We see the effects food choices make on attention and body function. This does not mean we are food warriors by any means, but our choices and those we make for our children do cause tension.

It also creates opportunities for dialog between generations about food, the ways it satisfies, the meaning created by certain meals, food choices, and the rejection of traditional family food choices or recipes. This is where much of a person's food behaviors come from -- the meaning we place upon what we eat, when we eat, and how we use food to satisfy us.

When trying to get others on the same page for food choices, it is important to tread lightly. Food is loaded with meanings and the rejection of food and those meanings -- known it or not -- can wreak havoc on the family bond. Many grandparents were parents during an age of incredible growth in food choices. With these choices came prestige, fun, freedom and different tastes, which replaced the old standbys as "better." Regardless of any personal opinion, many of our snack foods replaced more nutritious ones, revealing direct correlations in escalating disease and obesity rates.

When on a family vacation understand your limits. What food choices can you relax during vacation time? This will differ based on where you are going, the vacation's length and if others will be in charge feeding you or your children.

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It is important to plan for high calorie meals and treats. Can you portion out foods? Our extended family likes to use pop as a treat. We know we will not always be able to keep auntie from giving our children pop. Instead we ask her to respect our decision to limit our children's pop consumption to one, 8 ounce glass or less per day. If she doesn't we can make the decision to not allow pop for our children in the future, but at least we made an effort to compromise.

What are your limits? Do you want to limit sugar, artificial colors or flavors or price? It may be possible to compromise with one small box of grandma's choice of sugary "fun" cereal and once it's gone, it's gone with a healthy option ready.

Try to find ways to allow grandmas and grandpas to treat with healthier options. Sometimes it is just a matter of introducing them to a food or a concept, such as showing them a cereal the children love without all the sugar. Or helping them see by example that your children really do prefer fresh fruit to "fruit" snacks when given the option in an enticing way.

Letting extended family see the children making their own choices helps grandparents and others understand that children do not need processed, colorful, sugary, and well packaged foods in order to get them to eat. We have found it more effective than telling. When my oldest child asked for pasta with pesto at the restaurant instead of chicken nuggets and fries grandma was going to get her she were blown away and we did not have to say another word.

Bottom line is it's your body, your children and your lifestyle. You get to decide even when it's difficult. However, it can be made less difficult with education and leading by example. Many food questions are partly relatives trying to seek out alternatives and trying to understand changes you have made in your life. They are learning to know you with new food meanings, rituals, and traditions. Who knows, maybe they'll become your biggest supporters at the next family reunion!

Lifestyle challenge

When on vacation look for alternatives to unhealthy options. For example, choose 100 percent juice instead of one with only 10 percent juice. Add a spritz of carbonated water for "pop" instead of sugar-loaded sodas. Nix chips for fresh, crunchy veggies and artificially flavored candies for fresh fruits all with low fat dips or sprinkled with spices. Ask for juice, water, milk or tea instead of pop at restaurants. Substitute a salad, veggies, rice, etc in place of fries or chips. Don't just order the standard fried foods and Sprite for the kiddos.

Many times alternatives are readily available. It is just we tend to eat on autopilot because it is easy and we are already out of our comfort zone by being on vacation. Also, don't forget exercise! Try to find active vacation options, also very available and many times hiking, picnicking, walking around downtown are free!

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Stacy Reuille-Dupont is owner of Superior Balance Fitness Center and Personal Balance Consulting. She can be reached at 392-9860.

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