Eating Habits Die Hard
With all the news stories we hear about health problems related to our bad eating habits, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just tell people to eat a certain way or make them buy certain foods and fix this issue for good?
Nutrition education appears easy on paper, but it is not an easy fix. Unlike kicking a cigarette habit, we can’t just give up food. Food must be present in our body every day. And it has emotional and celebratory value as well: We plan special meals for our birthdays or holidays. We eat comfort foods to satisfy emotional or sentimental needs.
What we eat is often influenced by our sense of smell, sight and sound. Some food choices are a result of our response to an appealing advertisement. Sometimes we just want food that tastes good. Adding all that together, how do we change someone’s eating habits for a lifetime to promote health and well-being?
The Houston Food Bank is doing this from several different angles. First, we offer nutritious foods to clients who are food insecure. Our strategic goals now measure our success not as raw pounds delivered out into the community, but as the equivalent of nutritious meals. Nearly 40 percent of the food we distribute
is fresh fruits and vegetables to help promote a more nutrient dense diet.
We send out written information with food whenever possible in Spanish and English to help our clients make the most of the foods we are giving them. An example is canned goods. We know that canned goods are high in salt or sodium, which may contribute to high blood pressure in some individuals. Purchasing low-sodium
canned goods is not always a viable option, so we encourage clients to rinse their canned food items if possible to remove a portion of the salt.
We teach people how to make healthy foods at home, which also saves them money. One class series includes cooking demonstrations, tastings and grocery store tours to show our low-income clients that it is easy, simple and fun. We often encourage the whole family to participate so we can help families create an environment for their children to learn better eating habits.
The fast-food generation has a lot to learn about basic cooking skills, so our team of nutrition educators finds creative ways to incorporate these skills into the curriculum. In addition to good nutrition, we explain that healthy eating goes hand-in-hand with physical activity.
The process takes time, but the results will last longer – influencing and creating a new generation that will take control of their health and their well-being through better eating habits.