05 Jan Interview with GYFS/HSG Pilot Program Participant Julissa Pinto De Gracia: Leading By Example
Originally from Panama, Julissa Pinto De Gracia has been living in the U.S. for the past ten years. Her husband is American and the couple’s two children are dual citizens.
Julissa and her family travel down to Panama as much as they can, and she has noticed that her three-year-old daughter often doesn’t eat as healthfully with her extended relatives as she does in the States. Julissa’s eleven-month-old son is mostly breastfeeding, but Julissa worries that her daughter might be picking up unhealthy habits.
“I am very interested in providing healthy foods to my family, but was lacking the guidance and support from people like me, who are trying to balance everything,” said Julissa. Elaborating on what sparked her interest in the pilot program, Julissa said, “I figured if I was in a group that was like-minded, I was going to be able to learn with them and to figure out a little bit about cooking and structuring.”
Through her GYFS-organized team of fellow pilot participants, Julissa found a sense of community and support. “We were already talking before the [team] challenge was announced, and had started an email chain about how we liked certain recipes,” said Julissa. “Community support was key for me.”
Julissa also thinks that “time is a big constraint” when it comes to families eating healthy. “We all lead very busy lives. There are a lot of things that are more convenient than cooking; we can have Thai food delivered within fifteen minutes. Even though you know it is not the best thing, sometimes there is trouble with time,” explained Julissa.
She has also noticed that proximity to quality grocery stores is an important aspect of encouraging family health. Even when there are good supermarkets and farmers markets around, there are usually unhealthy options present as well.
Julissa felt she benefited from the structure, organization, and planning that the pilot provided. She found “having help to plan the meals and to choose what we are going to do the entire week” was immensely helpful.
“It wasn’t until the entire family was going to start eating that I started to revisit what do I need to do to make healthy eating a habit at home,” said Julissa. “I’m very family oriented and really think that families should lead healthy eating efforts.”
Julissa has become a positive example for her own extended family. “I come from a different culture. Healthy eating has always been a goal in our family, but it was very difficult for me to explain to my extended family that I didn’t want to give my kids candy or mac and cheese, because they are not used to it.” Through ongoing efforts, however, Julissa was able to help her relatives change the way they think about healthy eating—and to realize that “healthy eating doesn’t mean eating salad all day.”
Hope Street Group Policy Insights
Ever wondered what the best way is to model good eating behavior for your family? While a number of steps can be taken to influence healthy eating in the present, it turns out many children start adopting food preferences as early as in the womb.
According to a 2011 article by NPR, one study, published in Pediatrics, showed that a pregnant woman’s amniotic fluid “is actually flavored by the foods and beverages the mother has eaten in the last few hours” (NPR)—and that “prenatal and early postnatal exposure to a flavor enhanced the infants’ enjoyment of that flavor in solid foods during weaning” (Pediatrics).
The research suggests that exposing your child to a wide variety of healthy flavors even before birth can have a significant influence on their food preferences as a child.
For older children and teenagers, try to focus nutritional discussions on the importance of healthy eating, rather than the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. This 2013 article in Time magazine explains that, according to a study by University of Minnesota researchers appearing in JAMA Pediatrics, “kids whose parents focused only on how to eat healthy and avoided judgmental statements about their weight were less likely to have eating problems.”
For practical everyday tips on how to encourage younger children to eat healthy, please see this useful list from PBS Parents.