Improving your family’s eating habits can be a challenge, especially if you are already so used to less than ideal food choices in the first place. However, eating healthier is not impossible, even for families who are plagued with unhealthy eating habits since the beginning of time.
If you want your family to eat healthier, here are the best strategies that you can follow:
1. Start gradually
If you ask any health and fitness coach, suddenly switching to a cleaner diet does more harm than good, especially for families with young kids. It can be tempting to throw out all of your chips and sweets from the pantry to start fresh, but a complete overhaul can make it difficult for your family members to adjust. If anything, this strategy will only make your kids (and maybe even your spouse) more defiant against the healthier diet that you want to introduce.
Start incorporating healthier foods into your family’s diet gradually. For the first week, you can reduce the amount of junk food you buy for the weekly shopping. At the same time, you can start introducing healthier, home-cooked foods into the week’s menu plan. Then week after week, you can introduce more nutritious foods and cut out more of the unhealthy foods from your diet.
2. Cook more at home
Cooking healthy, home-cooked food at home is one of the best ways to get the whole family to eat better. Compared to take-out, convenience foods, and dining at restaurants, home-cooked meals are much healthier since you know precisely what you are putting in the dish.
“But what if I don’t have the time?” If you don’t have much time to spare to cook at home, opt for simple yet healthy recipes that will take no more than half an hour to prepare. During the weekends, you can also meal-prep your lunches and dinners for the rest of the week to save more time. Even if you are the busiest person in the world, you can make time for cooking if you want your family to eat healthier.
3. Avoid using food as a reward or punishment
Doing so can make your child develop an unhealthy relationship with food. If you use food as a reward, it can encourage overeating calorie-dense foods that are rich in sugar, salt, and fat. On the other hand, punishing your child with food (e.g., withholding dessert or making them eat something that they hate) can lead to poor eating behaviors that they can carry into adulthood.
4. Buy healthy snacks
If your pantry is stocked with candy, chips, crackers, soda, and sugary juices, it’s high time to find healthier alternatives for snacks. Buy more fruit and cut it up into more manageable pieces to encourage your kids to eat. If they want chips, make your own by baking potatoes in the oven and adding a dash of salt. To replace juices and sodas, juice real fruits and hold back on the sugar to keep the calories low. There are lots of ways to replace unhealthy snacks with healthier options. You have to be more creative.
5. Don’t cut out favorite foods completely
Eliminating your child’s favorite brand of cereal from the pantry can encourage them to find other sources of their sugar fix, possibly at school, where no one can stop them from buying a candy bar. Instead of banning your children’s favorite foods, regulate their intake so that the food doesn’t make up for most of their caloric consumption for the day.
6. Control portion sizes
If your family tends to overeat, decrease your portion sizes by using smaller dinnerware, pre-plating food, and keeping second helpings small. When done gradually, the family can get used to a more appropriate amount of food for every meal.
7. Hide food in other foods
Don’t force your child to eat something they don’t want to. Doing so can only increase their aversion to that type of food and make it harder for you to get them to try new things. Instead, hide vegetables or fruits in other foods. For example, you can mash peas and mix them with the mashed potatoes, or you can puree vegetables and add them to the spaghetti sauce.
Eating healthier as a family starts with you, so if you want the rest of your family to follow your lead, you have to be a consistent example of healthier eating. Show your family what to eat and how to eat. They will follow soon after with the right guidance and encouragement.