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Your Family's Food Culture and Nutrition

Food culture is typically thought of as habits, practices, and values around food in a somewhat macro context. For example, you might think about how you ate certain foods your grandmother made on the holidays. Or you might think of foods typically consumed in a certain city or country. Perhaps you are thinking religious customs and practices around eating specific foods at specific time and in specific settings.

family eating dinner together

I'd like to expand your concept of food culture by approaching it at a more micro scale--in a family rather than in a community. Each of our families has a family food culture: habits, practices, and values around food. Growing up, you may have noticed differences in how other families approached food compared to how your family did. Our families' food culture directly influences how what we eat, when we eat, how we eat, where we eat, and who we eat with. All of that can impact our nutrition.


I talk about this concept a lot when I am working on nutrition with families with young children. Parents can create, adjust, and change their family's food culture. It takes intentionality and effort, but parents do it. Usually the impetus to make changes in a family's food culture come from nutrition needs. But some families opt to do it as a preventative measure. They want their kids to grow up in an environment that more naturally leans to good nutrition.


Examples of Family Food Culture


Here are some examples of food culture. You may recognize some of these from your own home. You may recognize others from your friends' homes. Think about how they might impact your family's nutrition.

  • My kids get food rewards for good behavior

  • We always have an active activity planned on Sunday

  • Every weekend we eat out for dinner

  • My kids have been riding bikes since they were old enough to sit on a toddler riding toy, and that is what they do after school when the weather is nice.

  • When we pack lunch for school, it always includes a fruit

  • When we go on vacation, we do not plan where we will eat, instead we just stop somewhere when we get hungry

  • My toddler is always standing on a chair next to me watching me when I am cooking

  • My teenager helps me with dinner preparation and knows how to cook some dishes on his own

  • Snack time is always chips, crackers, or fruit snacks

  • After school snack is usually a yogurt

  • My kids make an instant noodle soup or reheat a frozen dinner when they get home from school

  • I always bake a cake for my kids' birthdays

  • My kids know that at grandma's we get to have juice with dinner

  • Our refrigerator does not have juice in it

  • Our refrigerator always has fruit and vegetables

  • We eat dinner together as a family most of the time

  • I am so busy in the evening, so I always pick up takeout on my way home from work

  • On busy evenings, we have scrambled eggs or tuna sandwiches for dinner

  • During the summer, we go out to get ice cream every week or two

  • I love serving dessert with dinner on Friday night to start the weekend with a treat

  • Our cabinets always have many types of snack food

  • Dinner always includes a vegetable

  • I typically buy 100% whole grain bread

  • We are a family that likes to try new flavors and recipes

  • I usually stick to the same foods that my kids eat

  • I buy plain yogurt

  • It is my teenager's job is to put dinner in the oven from the fridge on Wednesday night when I work late

  • When I know I will have a late day at work, I put up a crockpot dinner in the morning so that we will have supper when we get home

  • The kids just eat whatever they want when they are hungry in the evening--we don't really do dinner



  • I try to have quick dinner sides available for busy evenings, such as frozen vegetables or instant grain dishes.

  • My children eat sweetened cereals for breakfast

  • Everyone takes dinner and goes to another place to eat--their bedroom, to the TV, or to the couch

  • Breakfast and dinner are always in front of the TV

These examples of food culture are neither good nor bad. They all serve some purpose in our families. If you see that an aspect of your family's food culture is not serving your family well with their nutrition, the good news, is that with effort, you can make a shift in your family's food culture.


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