By: Amina Khan (Founder, Amanah Fitness) & Rafik El-Werfalli (Community, Success, Amanah Fitness)
Busy moms, picture this:
You come home to a messy house, children yelling, and the pressing need of preparing dinner so nobody starves. As you survey the work ahead of you, you sigh as you realize you won’t have time to exercise tonight. And that healthy meal you were considering to make? No time! You make a quick decision to salvage the evening, and opt for a tried-and-true family favorite recipe like pasta or an oily curry. Not the healthiest but… oh well. Maybe tomorrow can be a “healthier” day.
Sounds familiar? Despite every busy parent’s best efforts, the stress of maintaining a household and raising wonderful children may inadvertently lead us to neglect important factors such as our family’s health and eating habits.
But not to worry – in this article, we’ll give you 5 easy tips to promote health in your family’s life without adding another chore to your already busy to-do list! All it takes is a little mindset shift to encourage a healthy environment at home!
Healthy Mommy Tip #1: Make Your Home “Healthy HQ”
Most moms want to provide their children with the healthiest lifestyle possible. But, that task can sometimes feel overwhelming… or even impossible! There are parties and school meals, busy nights and take-out food.
Everywhere you look outside your home, it seems like someone is peddling something sugary or a delicious-looking dessert! With all this temptation, how can you protect you and your children’s health?!
Luckily, as it turns out, it doesn’t matter too much what temptations await outside… it’s what you are consistently eating INSIDE your home that has the biggest impact. Research has shown that your HOME and FAMILY environment has a strong influence on the eating habits of all family members, especially children .
Our bodies represent the majority of our health decisions – not the exception. If you make sure the majority of the meals your family eats at home are wholesome and healthful, you can be confident that your family’s healthy lifestyle is robust enough to withstand the occasional parties, treats and goodies that await you “in the outside world”.
If you think about the general types of foods you feed your family on a consistent basis, what foods come to mind instantly?
Many moms confuse healthy eating as meaning throwing all your favourite foods out and start living on salad. But, that isn’t necessary! The BALANCED approach to health in your home is to understand the types of foods you want to have more of in your home, versus the type of foods you want to limit, and try to get a close to the ideal as possible.
At Amanah Fitness, we like to help simplify all the “DO’s” and DON’Ts” of health with the Circle of Integrated Nutrition.
The Circle of Integrated Nutrition highlights just 4 easy areas to know if you are feeding your family healthy food:
- HOW you are eating (Food consumption)
- The TYPES of food you eat (Food production)
- WHAT is DONE to the foods you are eating (Food processing)
- How is your food PREPARED (Food preparation)
In all these 4 areas, you want to try and get as close to the GREEN area on the circle as possible! Here’s what that looks like…
- Food consumption: Eating mindfully and PRESENT whenever possible. Eating as a family instead of eating with the TV (more on this later!).
- Food production: Eating sustainable, local, fresh foods when possible. Organic is the highest level of food production but is not always required if it’s not right for your family; eating natural, seasonal foods like fruits and vegetables are more than enough to keep your family fueled with food produced the right way.
- Food processing: Try to eat food that is as MINIMALLY processed as possible. This means getting rid of the processed lunch meats and trying to get as close to eating the foods the way they exist in nature. This “unprocessed food diet” is one of the best things you can do for your family’s health!
- Food preparation: Try to eat foods in their natural states much as possible, especially when it comes to vegetables and fruits! Get used to enjoying these foods the way God created them. For foods that require cooking and cannot be eating raw, like many types of meat and proteins, food preparation also includes choosing healthier preparation and cooking styles such as baking/steaming/boiling over frying, using minimal oil in cooking, etc.
The Circle of Integrated Nutrition is an easy way to ask yourself is you are getting closer to the GREEN IDEAL in your family’s eating habits! That’s how you make your home a HEALTHY HQ!
Healthy Mommy Tip #2: Become a Stealthy Healthy “Swappa-nista”!
Providing healthy options at home is a key factor to beginning your healthy lifestyle as a family. The goal is to provide “stimulus control” by limiting unhealthy food within your home. The act of substituting unhealthy foods for healthier options (closer to GREEN on the Circle of Integrated Nutrition!) has been shown to be a major factor when aiming to improve nutrition within your household .
So, how to transition to healthier choices in your home?
When children and adults are hungry, they are more likely to be less picky as to what they will eat and will likely choose the healthy options available if they are convenient and look appetizing at home! Try gradually making the healthy swaps more available in your home, and as your family learn to enjoy them, gradually reduce their unhealthy counterparts. This way, you don’t have to make a sudden change that your family will resist.
Always introduce healthy foods before you eliminate unhealthy choices.
Here are some examples of easy food swaps to slowly implement at home:
- Replace chips with nuts
- Replace sweet candy with sweet fruits like dates, raisins, mangos, bananas and grapes
- Replace sour candies with sour fruits like kiwis and pineapples
- Replace sugary cereal with whole grain, low/no sugar options
Healthy swaps also include reducing the consumption of ‘outside’ foods, including fast food restaurants, and increasing the frequency of homemade foods as discussed in Tip #1. These steps continue to make your home a place of health – a Healthy HQ!
Healthy Mommy Tip #3: Modeling Healthful Food Choices
Let’s face the difficult truth, parents:
How can we expect our children to be healthy if we ourselves are not?
You don’t have to be perfect, or live a double life in your food choices in front of your kids. But be consistent and understand that “Healthy HQ” applies to YOU, too!
Parents often complain that their children are unhealthy when they personally bring unhealthy food into the home, thus setting a poor example.
Your children don’t buy the food available to them in the home… you do! Be fair to your children and make it clear that healthy eating is a project for the WHOLE family – parents included! This consistency will go a long way towards modeling healthy behaviors at home.
Modeling healthy behaviors
Children look for role models in life and as a parent, you are the best example they look up to. It has been shown that positive parent modeling, modeling a healthy lifestyle, has a positive impact on the types of healthy foods children consume [1 ].
The starting point is YOU! If you want your children to quit the junk food, then you must take the first step! Model a healthy mindset and attitude.
Modern culture has set a norm where we are taught to think a certain way towards different foods. Let’s say for example if you would scrunch your nose and turn your face away from a salad (or complain about your diet and that you can’t wait to get off it!)… but when a plate of cake is placed in front of you – we get so excited, right?!
This attitude and mindset are also carried on to our children as well. So instead of turning away from salad, get EXCITED and enjoy the meal with your family. Get the whole family involved in the meal preparation – teach them where the food came from and the importance eating healthy. Small mindset changes can go a long way in making Healthy HQ a reality if everyone isn’t subconsciously conditioned to hate healthy food, to begin with!
Healthy Mommy Tip #4: Make Healthy Eating a Learning Experience
What can you do to create a CULTURE of appreciating healthy foods in your household?
In Muslim communities, often children are forced to eat their veggies – which further emphasizes that healthy eating is something unpleasant. Kids become excited about eating chocolate and cake, but dislike even sitting down at a table with vegetables on it! To change this attitude, try creating a culture of learning and appreciation around the healthy food choices in your home.
Try discussing and exploring the following health-related topics with your children, to get your kids fascinated with healthy eating:
- Discuss plants with your kids and make a family activity about learning more about the amazing life cycle of plants and how Allah SWT has created them to be eating by us, and many other animals, too!
- If your kids like animals, talk about why animals like plants and the benefits found in different vegetables.
- Talk about the different colors of each vegetable, and how the colors mean the vegetables have different nutrients in them which make our body stronger in different ways. For example… why are carrots orange? What benefit do carrots have on our bodies and our eyes? What are examples of other orange vegetables?
- Help your children pick their favorite fruits and vegetables. Take them to the local farmer’s market and let them sample different fruits and vegetables until they find their favorites!
Another major teaching opportunity when preparing at-home meals is getting the kids INVOLVED with the preparation of healthy meals. When children get involved, they understand what their food consists of and also where it came from. This is a great learning opportunity to go grocery shopping together as a family as well!
This way the family are not passive recipients of the food but rather become ACTIVE players in the meal preparation.
Healthy Mommy Tip #5: Engage in Portioned, Family Meals
After preparing and learning about healthy food together, it’s time to enjoy it together as a family! Eating together offers immense benefits.
Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet SAW said, “The food for two persons is sufficient for three, and the food of three persons is sufficient for four persons.” [Sahih ul-Bukhari]
There are so many pearls of wisdom in this prophetic guidance — and just one of them is the HUGE benefit eating with others has on our health and appetite. Studies show eating with others makes us to SLOW DOWN when eating.
When we gobble down our food too quickly, we eat FASTER than our brains are able to realize we are full so we end up overeating! Eating SLOWLY allows our brain to register fullness cues to tell us that we are SATISFIED. Eating with others is an automatic way to SLOW DOWN and feel MORE full while eating LESS.
So when we slow it down, we realize that we DON’T need to eat as much, which makes a lot more food to SHARE – just as our Prophet SAW told us!! SubhanAllah!
Portion control strategies are another way of controlling eating practices at home. Controlling the amount of food intake on a child’s plate is central to healthy eating.
There are many nutritional benefits in having family meals, including:
- An overall increase in daily fruit and vegetable intake in children. 
- Improved nutrient intake. 
- Lower rates of eating disorders. 
- lower odds of overweight and obesity. 
Make sure that every person in the family has the RIGHT PORTION SIZES for their body instead of the common open buffet style dinner.
Pre-portioning meals on plates for every member of the family allows everyone to learn what portion control looks like and how much food their body can handle, instead of mindlessly eating out of endless pots of cooked foods. Studies show that eating from large containers cause individuals to eat more without even realizing it. To avoid bottomless eating, always portion control your meals FIRST — you can always take more food if you’re still hungry!
Bonus tip: Fulfilling the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW)
As Muslims, we should strive and aim to achieve the sunnah of our Prophet (SAW) and bring it into our households. Let’s take some lessons taught to us by our Prophet (SAW):
Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: “Indeed the first of what will be asked about on the Day of Judgment – meaning the slave (of Allah) being questioned about the favors – is that it will be said to him: ‘Did We not make your body, health, and give you of cool water to drink?’” (Tirmidhi Hadith 3358)
Al-Miqdaam reports that he heard the Prophet SAW said, “No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. It is enough for the son of Adam to each some morsels to keep his back straight. If he must, then one-third should be for his food, one-third for his drink and one-third for his breath.” [Jami’ at-Tirmidhi]
Narrated Ibn `Abbas:
The Prophet (SAW) said, “There are two blessings which many people lose: (They are) Health and free time for doing good.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 6412)
Al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110 AH) said, “The test of the Prophet Adam, peace be upon him, was food and it is your test until the day of judgment. It used to be said, ‘Whoever takes control of his stomach gets control of all good deeds.’ And, ‘Wisdom does not reside in a full stomach.'” [Jami’ Uloom wa-al-Hikam]
This goes to show that as a Muslim it is our responsibility to implement these eating strategies above into our homes. We always have to remember the standard and set way of eating begins at home. So get started today and JUMPSTART your health inshaAllah!
But… what about exercise?!
Moms, as we work on healthy habits are home, don’t forget your exercise! To learn more about common exercise mistakes MOST women are making, and to also get a free ladies-only workout with Coach Amina, be sure to sign up for Amina’s free workshop on How to Make This Year Your Healthiest Year Ever & Avoid The Common Exercise & Weight Loss Mistakes: www.amanahfitness.com/free-workshop
1.Loth, K. A., MacLehose, R. F., Larson, N., Berge, J. M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2016). Food availability, modeling, and restriction: How are these different aspects of the family eating environment related to adolescent dietary intake?. Appetite, 96, 80-86.
2.Watts, A. W., Loth, K., Berge, J. M., Larson, N., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2016). No Time for Family Meals? Parenting Practices Associated with Adolescent Fruit and Vegetable Intake When Family Meals Are Not an Option. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
3.Trofholz, A. C., Tate, A. D., Miner, M. H., & Berge, J. M. (2017). Associations between TV viewing at family meals and the emotional atmosphere of the meal, meal healthfulness, child dietary intake, and child weight status. Appetite, 108, 361-366.