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Re-imagining the Family Plate

We nourish them in the womb; adding, avoiding, watching and waiting. We draw them to the breast and marvel at the continued connection between lives and bodies, need and nutrition. We near that time of first “real” foods and look forward to sharing the table with the young lives within our home, seeking to offer the most wholesome options upon their plates as they experience taste and sustenance and grow toward forming their own philosophy of food.

Within the pleasure and responsibility of nourishing our children, also present is the weight of questions and controversy.
What really constitutes a balanced diet?
What role should the voice of governing food authorities hold within our pantries?
As we venture down the grocery aisle and ponder the array of grain-based starter cereals, rice crackers and “whole grain” snacks, along with the words and warnings of our peers and partners, how do we choose what is truly good for the health and development of today’s family?

These are difficult and multi-faceted questions, rife with opinion (and often conflict) as well as opportunities for education and informed choice.

As a starting point, consider the following choices and the role they might play upon your kitchen table.
Including fats and animal products as part of a “whole food” diet
Practicing ancient traditions instead of only applying modern tastes

When observing the recently updated FDA Food Pyramid, there is a focus on a “balanced diet”. Families are encouraged to partake from the various food groups, and to be sure to place an emphasis upon grain-based options and a lesser focus on options such as solid fats. The plate commonly pictured as the visual reference point includes fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and a side of dairy. In sum: half of one’s meal should consist of produce, a quarter should be lean protein, and a quarter should come from carbohydrates. (Note that the recommended dairy portion is to originate from low-fat options such as 1% milk or low-fat yogurt.)

While the offered plate is attractive and, at first, seems to make sense, there are some severe points of deficiency, especially when considering young consumers with rapidly developing brains, bones and immune systems. Essentially, the FDA avoids any support of or recommendation for GOOD fats: whole foods such as coconut oil and grass-fed butter, products that are essential for a functioning immune system, cellular strength and regeneration, effective digestion, serotonin production and overall maintenance of the human body. Actually, when reviewing the dietary guidelines of our nation, the only mention of fat intake comes through a casual mention of oils. Consequently, our children continue to be filled with breads and pastas tossed with margarine and “trans-fat free” canola oil, while their bodies silently plead for the addition of the fats necessary for building their bodies toward strength, maturity and defense.

A positive approach to reimagining the family plate is to focus on whole and real foods instead of simply shopping by the guidelines of government recommendations. Instead of asking, “Have they eaten enough bread? Do they need more grain?” ask yourself:

“Is my child receiving healthy saturated fats that are not hydrogenated or homogenized on a daily basis?” (Positive examples: cold-processed coconut oil, grass-fed butter, whole raw milk, pastured lard or tallow)

“Is my family consuming products that are true foods (minimal steps in processing and ‘value addedness’), such as organic vegetables, unaltered fats and complete grass-fed meats?”

“Is our household eating in response to convenience and cravings, or nutrition and whole-living?”

The second major “new” consideration for those desiring to bring health and wholeness back to their family kitchen is to consider the move towards more ancient traditions in food preparation instead of presenting food based only on the tastes and cravings of current culture and tastes.

While our modern food guides support the belief that advanced technology and medical breakthroughs will propel us toward new and effective ways of eating and health, your family will gain much more health and wholeness by looking back to the beautiful food traditions of many ancient cultures. As rates of cancer, heart disease and auto-immune deficiencies continue to rise, a reciprocal trend can be observed that is moving away from ancient practices such as lacto-fermentation, as well as the consumption of organ foods, raw milk and dairy products, and bone broths. Implementing these practices and products into your household diet will benefit overall health as well as increase the pleasure and satisfaction that comes naturally with eating complete and nutritionally whole foods.

Pausing to ask questions while allowing yourself to be open to new-old answers in the midst of meal planning, grocery shopping and filled schedules will bring you one step closer to filling your table with whole nutrition and pleasurable eating, instead of simply pursuing the consumption of calories. As you discover the incredible benefits found within whole foods and the adventure of eating beyond the recommendations of the nation’s diagrams, you will find nourishment which naturally promotes maturation of the body, defense against illness, clarity within the mind, and pleasure upon the palette.