Does the idea of preparing a balanced meal for your family nightly seem overwhelming? Have you gotten into the habit of getting take out or going through the drive through on most nights because it is easier or quicker? Maybe you feel that you don’t even know what is healthy anymore since there are so many different diet trends and you are on nutrition information overload: low fat, low-carb, gluten free, vegan, paleo. The best advice is moderation: eat a balanced diet, cut down on salty and sugary foods, and don’t overeat.
Parents and caregivers play a key role in not only making healthy choices for children, but also in teaching children to make healthy choices for themselves. But in today’s busy world, this isn’t always easy.
A healthy diet includes a variety of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (dried beans and peas), nuts and seeds. For additional protein, you can add in moderate amounts of fish, poultry, lean meats, and low-fat and fat-free dairy products. The food that you stock your house with directly influences your family’s food choices. Surrounding your family with healthier options will leave them no choice but to eat better food.
Here are five key areas to make small changes that can make a huge difference and add up to changes in your family’s eating habits:
1. Incorporate fruits & vegetables into your child’s meal. Kids should eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. You can serve fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables. Offer your child 100% juice, with no added sugar. Try mixing vegetables into dishes, such as adding peas to rice, or cucumbers to a sandwich.
Make it fun for kids to try new fruits and vegetables. Let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable in the grocery store each week, and figure out together how to cook or prepare it in a healthy way.
2. Reduce Your Family’s Fat and Sugar Intake. You can do this by switching to low or non-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, choosing lean cuts of meat like skinless chicken or extra lean ground beef, and bake or grill instead of fry. Also, when cooking substitute olive or vegetable oil for butter. Have your child drink water or low-fat milk for sodas or sweetened beverages. Switch to lower sugar breakfast cereals, and switch desserts like ice cream and cake for fruit based desserts.
Drink sparkling water, unsweetened tea or sugar-free beverages instead of sugar sweetened soda or tea. Add lemon, lime or berries to beverages for extra flavor.
3. Reduce the number of snacks served each day. Leave a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. Incorporate fruits and vegetables into every snack, such as fruit or carrot and celery sticks with hummus. Differentiate between snacks that require permission (cookies), versus snacks that kids can take freely (fresh or dried fruit). Save “treats”, such as cakes and cookies, for special occasions like birthdays and holidays.
Package your own healthy snacks. Put cut-up veggies and fruits in portion-sized containers for easy, healthy snacking on the go, without the added sugars and sodium.
4. Reduce portion sizes. Children are smaller than adults and should therefore eat smaller portions. Use smaller plates when serving dinner to your children. Don’t force your children to clean their plates if they are full. Remember, you child’s portions should be about the size of the back of their fist. Begin dinner with a small portion, your child can have seconds if they are still hungry.
When you cook at home you have more control over ingredients and portion sizes, so aim to cook at home more often than eating out. Try making a pot of soup, stew or a casserole on the weekend that you can re-heat later in the week. Double the recipe and freeze meal sized portions for times when you’re just too busy to cook.
5. Eat together as a family. Family meals should focus on eating and enjoying food and quality time together. Eating together as a family a chance for you to model good behavior. Lastly, regular scheduling meal and snack times will help kids learn structure for eating and mealtime.
Get your kids in the kitchen! They’ll be more excited about eating healthy foods when they’ve been involved. Give them age-appropriate tasks and keep a step-stool handy.