While enacting a lifestyle overhaul is simple when you are young and single, doing so with a spouse and children at home is much more difficult. Here are some ways to ease your family into healthier eating habits.
1. Healthy eating starts at the store. When faced with aisle upon aisle of glossy packaging, it’s easy to start tossing pretty or familiar labels into the cart. The best way to shop, however, is to stick to the perimeter of the store. Fresh meat, dairy, produce and other staples are usually located in these areas, and these whole foods should make up the bulk of your diet. Venture into the inner aisles for dried beans, rice, low-sugar cereals, oats, flour and other dry goods, but avoid the highly processed foods. Purchase zip-top bags for portioning out snack-size servings of whole-grain crackers, homemade baked goods and raw veggies in your children’s lunch boxes.
2. If you don’t know how to cook, learn. Once you have unloaded the carload of whole foods, you have to do something with it! Cooking at home is one of the most important aspects of eating healthily, because you can control what goes into the meals you create. Learning how to roast, sauté, braise and steam veggies and meats can lead to loads of delicious meals for your family. Also, experiment with different seasonings; herbs and spices add lots of flavor to your meals without the calories of condiments or fatty sauces.
3. Explain the changes to your kids. Without an understanding of the purpose, your kids may turn their noses up at new, healthier foods. Using age-appropriate books or other resources, explain the importance of healthy eating to your kids, or have your pediatrician discuss nutrition with them. Once they understand why their bodies need a balanced diet, they may surprise you by getting on board.
4. Eat together as often as possible. Not only do family-style meals give you a chance to bond with your children and spouse, but they allow you to model good eating habits for your children. In addition, you may need to reconsider some of your dinnertime “rules” about eating. Rather than expecting your kids to clean their plates, offer small portions and allow them to help themselves to more if they are hungry. Help your older children to fill their plates with appropriate portions, and model portion control with your own plate.
5. Talk about the changes with your spouse. While he or she may be reluctant to change his or her eating habits, you need to present a united front if your lifestyle change is going to stick. Remind your spouse of your motivations for wanting the family to eat better, from improving your health to staving off weight gain.
6. Be smart about eating out. While cooking at home is ideal, eating out on vacation or for a weekly reprieve from kitchen duties doesn’t have to be a bust, nutrition-wise. Many restaurants offer a variety of lighter fare, including fish- and veggie-rich dishes or salads. Avoid ordering sodas or high-fat appetizers, and allow older children to make healthy choices from the menus themselves, with your approval.
The tips outlined above will make a transition to a healthy diet easier for your family. The benefits of proper nutrition are well worth the initial period of adjustment, and by setting good examples for your children, you may provide them with the wonderful, lifelong gift of knowing how to make smart food choices.