There are terrific benefits to eating a healthy diet. Not only does it support a healthy lifestyle while giving you more energy, but it can also reduce your chance of having chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Once you have decided to eat healthier, how do you get your family on board (especially the picky ones)? Here are some tips to make the process a little easier:
1. Tiny changes over time. It takes time to embrace a new way of eating and it takes a lot of mental effort to create a new habit…so start out slow. Pick just one goal for your family to tackle in the next week. Commit to something that you know you can accomplish. Perhaps start by including a vegetable with every dinner. Make it simple and easy to do!
2. If you don’t want to eat it, don’t bring it home. What you see is what you want to eat, so if you have food available at home sitting on the counter, your brain begins to anticipate eating it and you begin to crave it. Instead, place fresh fruit on the counter and have pre-sliced veggies ready to go when someone says they are hungry and looking for a snack.
When you are shopping learn to say no to the unhealthy things the kids want to bring home. Brainstorm new snack ideas like edamame (soy beans), veggies and hummus, nut butter with an apple or a handful of fruit with a slice of cheese.
3. Attitude is everything! Parents, you set the stage. Show your family the way. If they see you with a good attitude about eating a healthy diet, they will too. Don’t even say “I know you won’t like this but…” The rule in our house is to try at least one bite with an open mind and positive attitude. Keep an open mind and let them see that you are trying new things too.
4. Have fun and play with your food. Have fun with shapes and texture. There are an incredible number of fruits and vegetables to try and the crunch factor can make them satisfying. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes or have your kids create a picture out of the healthy food. Take a large cookie cutter to shape your child’s sandwich for lunch. Make an underwater scene or a tree with veggies or fruit or make a boat out of a potato.
You can create fun snacks that don’t take extra time. Lay banana slices on their side and add a little dollop of peanut butter on top of each to make fun little “appetizers”, apple slices with a little cinnamon, or ants on a log: celery stick with peanut butter and a few raisins across the top.
5. Get in the kitchen with your family. Create a special time in the kitchen making meals together. Most kids are eager to learn how to help and use different kitchen supplies. It can be a time to catch up on their day and know what is going on in their lives. If possible, sit down and eat together too, even if it’s just once a week. It may be fun to have a food cooking challenge like the pros if you have older kids around.
6. Let them choose what to eat. Ask your children or spouse to pick what they want for dinner. Offer healthy choices or make a healthier version of what they suggest. Themed nights like taco night or build your own pizza with a healthy crust and toppings are always a hit for family meals.
For picky eaters…match something they like with something that they don’t necessarily like. If you know they like cheese, mix it up with a new veggie and some whole wheat pasta or chunks of sweet potato. You can add extra nutrients to existing meals without much change in the flavor. Cooked carrots can be blended into spaghetti sauce or add veggies to chili; the spices usually mask any other flavors added to the dish.
7. Get Veggie Inspired! Experts say that a new food can take more than 10 tastes for a child to decide if they really like it or not. You can keep the food in rotation and over time your child may start to like it. Consider picking out different vegetables each week and trying different ways to prepare them. Go to the local farmer’s market or sign up for a local farm basket and put yourself and your family to the challenge of creating a meal around new vegetables.
8. All about the seasoning. Frequently when someone thinks of eating healthily, they think of a plain vegetable alongside a boring chicken breast. Think bigger…add spice and color to your plate. Add crunch and boost your flavor combinations. Your brain craves variety so that you seek and get the variety of nutrients you need to live a healthy life. Try new spice combinations or a new way to cook the basics.
9. Make family favorites at home. Eat your favorite foods but learn how to make them at home and make them more nutrient dense. If your family loves nachos, think about how you can add more vegetables and lean protein to it. Get back to making quick and easy home cooked meals.
10. Don’t say that it is healthy. Promoting food as “good for you” or “healthy” can backfire and lead to resistance. It may be better to ask your children to eat a balance of different foods, which includes fruit and vegetables some of the time. Think of sharing one fact about a nutrient-dense food on their plate, or consider not saying anything at all.
Remember, start out small…make tiny changes, and start with one idea that you know your family is likely to adopt. Here’s to healthy family eating!
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