Ready to run: how sports and family meals fit together with The Feed Zone Table cookbook

Is your family getting ready to run this summer? With sports season in full swing, it’s the perfect time to get out there and get moving together—but with a family that's on-the-go, how do you fit in sit-down meals? Enter Feed Zone Table Cookbook: Family Style Meals To Nourish Life And Sport, with some science that might surprise you: not only is eating meals together fun for you and your young athletes, but it can actually improve everyone's health and performance. Read on!

Photo Credit: Simon Kellogg "Girls Running" (Original Image: CC License 2.0

We got inspired to check out Feed Zone Table after dietitian and runner Meghan Molnar told us about it.  

BT: Meghan, can you start by telling us a little bit about what you do? And how does that intertwine with the sports you enjoy?

Meghan Molnar: I'm the Public Health Community Dietitian for Sunshine Coast and Powell River. The community is my client. So, I do some education and resourcing of public health nurses and teachers, and I work a lot with the early years here on the Sunshine Coast—I’m on the Early Years Council. I do education and messaging about how to eat, and about sitting down to eat as a family. I also do a lot of running and mountain biking... I like getting out into the mountains! Because I’m interested in that and sport nutrition, a few teachers have invited me into their classes—I’m actually going into a fitness class soon where I’ll talk about nutrition for sport and life, and also how I got into the sports I do for lifelong fitness and health. 

BT: What's so revolutionary about the idea behind Feed Zone Table, and how does it relate to family dinner? (especially when you have athletes in the family?)

MM: How we eat is just as important as what we eat—if all we focus on is the idea of food as fuel, then we miss the real nourishment. A great quote from (the book) is “Food isn’t just a source of fuel—though it often seems to be during training and competition—it’s also a source of belonging.” If you’re just looking at the nutrients of food, rather than the holistic value of food, then you’re losing something. It’s about who you’re eating with, and taking the time to eat and sit down and have a meal instead of just grabbing that bar on the run that has all the nutrients you need but it doesn’t have that social value that you need. Loneliness is really detrimental to the health of athletes and to everyone. I find families are less likely to eat together these days, and kids are “fussier”—but that’s partly because we don’t take the time to sit down and eat with them. 

BT: As summer heats up we're hearing from lots of families who are training to run together—or just gearing up enjoy a game of soccer in the park. What are the big takeaways you'd share with them from Feed Zone Table?

MM: Get out and run and move and do things with your family, and then come home and share a meal together or get a picnic in the park, or even have water and a snack together—instead of just the grab-and-go, be more mindful of where you’re eating and who you’re eating with. It doesn’t take a lot to make a family meal—even a sandwich that you all sit down and create together can be absolutely delicious when it’s super simple. There’s all the nutrients you need, it’s fast, and you can eat it together. 

To find out more about the philosophy behind the book, we talked with with the cookbook’s co-author, sports scientist Dr. Allen Lim. Dr. Lim built his work on cooking from scratch for athletes when he realized that synthetic sports drinks were making the professional cyclists he was working with feel sick to their stomachs. The real-food-from-scratch approach improved everyone’s health so much, he writes, that he actually toted a rice cooker and a frying pan to the Tour de France so that he could keep cooking for his team. “But making drink mixes in my kitchen or assuming the role of a short order cook in cramped hotel rooms across the world only solved part of the problem,” he writes. “The bigger issue was teaching athletes fundamental life skills so that they could take better care of themselves all the time.”  Working with Chef Biju Thomas, he wrote Feed Zone Table to share his research on the social and physical benefits of sitting down to a meal together—as well as some tasty recipes. 

BT: You mention that your journey to figuring out how athletes could enjoy cooking again began with your own mom—could you tell us a little about that?

Dr. Allen Lim: Ultimately, it was my mom who taught me how to cook when I was a kid. I had forgotten a lot of those early lessons when I left home and fell into the habit of eating a lot of my meals out and alone. So when I realized that the bottleneck for many of the athletes I worked with was solid home-cooked nutrition, I turned back to my mom to help remind me of all of the recipes and meals she used to cook for our family when I was younger. It was passing on that knowledge and joy that really started me on this path of recognizing that optimal performance starts with an apron, not a lab coat.

BT: What advice do you have for on-the-go families who have trouble making time to eat together?

AL: My warning is that not overcoming the trouble of making time to eat together will only lead to more trouble in the future, especially for young girls. There's strong evidence that kids who eat regularly with their families do much better in life. They have lower rates of depression, they do better in school, they have lower rates of risky behaviour, and they're healthier. Interestingly, the protective effect of eating together is stronger in girls than it is in boys. Unfortunately, the negative effect of not eating as a family is also greater for girls than it is for boys. My advice is to make it a priority and to recognize that if it is a priority that your family feels is important, to make the changes necessary to make it happen. Often times, this is easier said than done in our very complicated lives. To that end, there's a psychological technique called "mental contrasting" that can help make it easier. It starts with making a Wish, visualizing the Outcome, making a list of the Obstacles, and then creating and acting on a plan to overcome those obstacles for the desired outcome. The acronym for this technique is W.O.O.P. Wish, Outcome, Obstacles, Plan. Woop it up, slow down, and sit down for dinner.

Worked up an appetite? Try Dr. Lim’s favourite recipe for cooking with kids: chicken fried rice - or, check out our tips and resources section for more inspiration to cook together! More favourite family-tested recipes from our archive are all available here - and don't forget to follow us on Facebook for updates and ideas!

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