Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series about National Nutrition Month.By Sherri Halsell Texas AgriLife Agent
What is National Nutrition Month? National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.
This year is the 40th anniversary of National Nutrition Month. The National Nutrition Month 2013 theme is “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day” which encourages personalized healthy eating styles and recognizes that a variety of influences impact individual food choices.
Food choice influences one’s health. It is of vital importance to understand the processes by which choices are made. In particular, only with an adequate understanding of the reasons for people’s choice of foods can we attempt to change choices and hence influence dietary patterns in line with recommendations from those involved in promoting health. With an increasingly plentiful and varied food supply the issue of the reasons for food choice becomes extremely important for the area of nutrition. Food choice, like any complex human behavior, will be influenced by many interrelating factors. These factors include food preferences, cultural and ethnic traditions, lifestyle, and health concerns, etc.
The early home environment in which eating occurs is believed to influence, in important ways, children’s eating regulation and the development of food preferences. Early experiences with food have the potential to establish healthy eating habits.
Parents can influence the development of food acceptance patterns by structuring children’s early eating environments. They decide the types and amounts of food that are served to their children, determine the timing of children’s meals and snacks, and provide the social context in which eating occurs.
Parents influence their children’s eating by exerting feeding practices which may either be conducive or hindering to the development of healthy eating and growth patterns. For example, data have shown that those children whose parents exert much control over their eating or restrict certain desired foods from them; tend to show a weaker intake regulation or have less self-discipline over food.
Cultural and Ethnic Traditions influence food choices
The sense of identification that a cultural group collectively has is largely based on the group’s common heritage. Their culture is based on a set of values, beliefs & traditions that are held by a specific social group and handed down from generation to generation.
Nations or countries are frequently associated with certain foods.For example, many people associate Italy with pizza and pasta. Yet Italians eat many other foods, and types of pasta dishes vary throughout Italy. Methods of preparation and types of food vary by regions of a nation.
Some families in the United States prefer to eat “meat and potatoes,” but “meat and potatoes” are not eaten on a regular basis, nor even preferred, by many families in the United States. In fact they would not be labeled a national cuisine.
People connect to their cultural or ethnic group through similar food patterns. Immigrants often use food as a means of retaining their cultural identity. The ingredients, methods of preparation, preservation techniques, and types of food eaten at different meals vary among cultures. The areas in which families live— and where their ancestors originated—influence food likes and dislikes.
Food items themselves have meaning attached to them.In many Western countries a box of chocolates would be viewed as an appropriate gift. The recipient of the gift would react differently to a gift of cabbage or carrots than to chocolate. In other countries chocolates might be a less appropriate gift.
Contact Sherri Halsell, Clay County agent for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, (940) 538-5042 for more information.