Summer fun with food and family!

Courtesy Ethan/Flickr
Courtesy Ethan/Flickr

Let’s all shake off the snow and celebrate that winter is over! Now, I’m happy for the extra moisture, but the cold and snow was a tough one to stick out, especially since I enjoy being outdoors gardening and walking. But now that summer is here, so are outdoor gatherings and family celebrations. We just passed graduation season, Mother’s and Father’s Day and soon Independence Day will be coming up. Oh all the food choices!

And now, as I counsel my patients I’m hearing all the usual foods that go along with celebrations. As part of my sessions, I ask my clients to talk about what they ate yesterday to see what people enjoy eating, what their cooking skills are and how often they are eating. It is not a way to judge, but it tells me a lot about a person’s likes and dislikes and can give me an idea what small things they can do to make what they eat a little healthier.

With this small snapshot into their eating habits, it seems like everyone is eating hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwursts, frybread, fruit salad packed with marshmallows, potato salad, and ribs. There’s nothing wrong with eating these foods every now and then in the appropriate portions, but with summer celebrations around every corner it can be hard to stay on track with your health goals.

People often tell me it’s hard to eat healthier with family and friends around. It could be because their family makes them feel guilty for not eating enough, their family makes fun of their new eating habits, or they themselves feel guilty for not eating everything on their plate. As Natives, we don’t like to waste food and we never want to insult our elders and loved ones when they make food. So, we sit there and force ourselves to eat, even if it’s at our own demise.

But, hopefully as you are thinking about ways to eat healthier at family gatherings keep in mind a few things you can do to stay on track with your health goals.

First, if you haven’t already, tell your family and friends of your health goals and why you want to change. I can guarantee that you are not the only one at the event who wants to be healthier. Also, sometimes if we tell people out loud it makes us stick to our goals.

Second, bring your own yummy healthy dish to share! Sharing is not just one-way where you have to eat everything you are given. You can bring a dish that helps others eat healthier and at the same time make you feel okay about not eating everyone else’s dish. Maybe at a gathering, you can bring watermelon, broccoli salad, grilled chicken skewers, or grilled vegetables. And I’ve certainly been the one to bring broccoli and walnut salad and I’ve had a few aunts tell me it was delicious, even though they hate broccoli.

Third, if you still feel like you could have done better now that everything is over, be kind to yourself. Healthy eating is a slow journey and not a fast race. Eating healthier is a hard habit to build. So, if after the event you feel bad for not sticking to your plan, think about new ways at the next event to eat healthier. Maybe eating a healthy snack before going to the gathering would work. Maybe taking a walk before heading over might help. Maybe eating a healthy breakfast will help. Everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits all advice.

Summer is a great time to savor the variety of the season! Enjoy it with family and friends. I hope these tips sparked some ideas to help you with your own health goals.


Denee Bex is a Registered Dietitian and advocate for healthy traditional diets and home-grown foods within Native American communities.  She can be reached at



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