This post was written by guest bloggers Crista Hawkins, RDN and Erin Hirte, RDN of Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council and Jennifer Young, MPH, EdD, RDN of Oregon Department of Education Child Nutrition Programs.


We all come to the table with our own traditions, beliefs, and reasons for choosing what we eat. We each think about healthy eating differently. One person’s idea of a “healthy diet” may be quite different than another’s. Healthy eating is more than just about food intake; eating behaviors are equally important. Eating well does not have to be expensive. Here are some ideas to think about how to nourish yourself and your family on a budget.

Eating for Your Best Health: Good nutrition is important at every age. For a variety of nutrients, try to include 3-5 food groups at each meal.  How many colors are in your meals? Colorful meals are pleasing to look at and often have the most nutrition.  Preparing and eating at home costs less and is often more nutritious. To help your budget and decrease food waste, plan your meals and create your grocery list before you shop in the store or on-line.

Snacking Pros and Cons: For adults, check in with yourself: are you really hungry or just snacking out of boredom or habit? Snacks are not treats. Kids often need snacks to meet the needs of their growing bodies; plan their snacks between meals so they are not snacking right before a meal!  Keep a bowl of fruit on the counter and washed vegetables in the refrigerator for quick snacks for all ages. Try to include 2-3 food groups for each snack – plan your snacks.  Sit down and enjoy the food, try not to eat on the go. When we eat on the go or while we are doing other things, we tend to eat more and sometimes don’t even remember what we’ve eaten!

Cooking for One or More: Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or take a lot of time or money. Preparing and serving food is a great way to be creative and show you care. Check out Food Hero for tasty, easy to prepare, affordable ideas and recipes.  Freezing leftovers in individual servings for future meals also helps your budget and decreases food waste.  As you can, spend time in person or virtually cooking with friends and family. Take turns cooking with others or create a cooking exchange network. Mealtimes need a boost? Ask friends and family what they like to cook and share your favorite meals.

Teenager cooks on the stove with mom's supervision

For people of all ages, sharing meals with family and friends provide social interaction and meaningful activity. Studies show that eating together improves nutrition, reinforces social relations, builds a sense of resiliency and decreases risky behaviors in children and adolescents. Shared meals can be breakfast, lunch, dinner and/or snacks depending on your schedules. Here are some helpful hints:

  • Try turning off the television while eating; people tend to eat less and enjoy their food more when the TV is off.
  • Begin meals by going around the table and having each person share out the best and worst part of their day.
  • Conversations getting dull? Have a question or picture or a theme to talk about during the meal.

Eating with Kids: How you feed your child is as important as what you feed your child. Children and teens learn about food variety, mealtime habits, family and cultural traditions and celebrations at home. Children and teens who share meals with families and caregivers tend to have better emotional health and do better academically. Start early, children learn from watching you. Model the behaviors you want your child to learn and let them know you enjoy the food you expect them to eat. This can start in infancy, even before babies are able to eat solid food, because mealtime brings their senses alive with sights, sounds, aromas and the feeling of being included. Remember, often kids need to see a food up to ten times before they will try it so keep offering new foods! Food Hero has kid approved recipes, videos and activities.

One of the best activities to help kids try new foods is to cook with them. It is never too early to have your child help with meals. Even young children can set the table or help in the kitchen. Another great way to help kids eat a variety of foods is to start a garden of any size, even in a windowsill.

Each of us has our own definition for health that includes a balance of healthy eating behaviors, nutritious foods, physical activity, sleep and social-emotional wellness activities. Healthy behaviors help each of us as individuals and as role models that can influence others for lifelong impact.

Small boy feeds grandfather a tomato while father laughs