Do you want to eat healthier but struggle to get the whole family involved? If so you are not alone.
As a registered dietitian I am acutely aware of the challenges families face.
From stress and busy work schedules to budget constraints and limited food accessibility many barriers can hinder healthier habits.
Also family members may not always agree on what to eat.
Parents who follow a special diet may eat different things than the rest of the family. Toddlers who are prone to tantrums may refuse to eat while crossing their arms in disgust. Teens may stop on the way home from school and skip family meals.
While the combination of careful planning and a willingness to be flexible can feel overwhelming it’s possible to align your family with healthier habits.
Here are 16 real-world tips for eating healthy at home.
Although social media may lead you to believe that there is no perfect way to eat healthier.
This means your meals don’t have to be expensive time-consuming or picture-perfect.
Instead it’s important to be realistic and do everything you can to help your family make healthy choices.
Plus by taking the stress out of chasing the perfect diet you’re more likely to find healthier eating patterns that work for your family.
While some ingredients are definitely more nutritious than others it’s important to promote a healthy relationship with food by avoiding language like “bad” or “no-go.”
Also being too strict can create stress and tension during mealtimes.
Instead get this advice from the Aubrey Redd MS nutritionist and owner of Aubrey Redd Nutrition:
“Don’t think of any food as a fast. All foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle in moderation. Consider using the language of ‘always’ food and ‘sometimes food’. Fruits and vegetables are always good options for snacks but sometimes you just eat birthday cake on someone’s birthday. ”
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Not only is the diet unsuitable for children but discussing weight in front of children can also lead to disordered thinking and behavior around eating.
Instead of talking about a food’s calorie or fat content focus on its benefits such as how it tastes or the nutrients it provides.
Likewise be sure to talk to your child about loving their body and treating it well. After all hearing positive talk from parents can help children build and maintain a healthy body image and self-esteem.
Meal planning is a great time-saving strategy because you only have to go grocery shopping once or twice a week. However deciding which recipes to make can be tricky.
While there’s a time and a place to try the beautiful new recipes you find on Pinterest it’s best to stick to simple meal ideas throughout the week.
In fact Yaffi Lvova a registered dietitian and owner of Baby Bloom Nutrition recommends avoiding “new or complex meals on busy days” and “keep two or three spare meals in the refrigerator or pantry just in case. Something went wrong with the plan for the day.”
One way to simplify the process is to eat meals based on what you currently have at home. In addition to saving you time and money by using what you have on hand it also reduces food waste.
Another tip is to make meal planning a collaborative process by keeping a sheet of paper or dry erase board in the kitchen to create a running list of meal ideas the whole family can participate in.
Tired of cooking the same meals every week? Re-read old recipes that may be gathering dust in the basement or attic and bookmark recipes your whole family makes.
One of the most common obstacles I hear from family members is not having time to prepare home-cooked meals and snacks.
While taking an hour or two to prepare a batch of meals and snacks may seem like a lot of time it can actually save you time during the week.
The first step to making meal prep a priority is to check your schedule and block designated meal prep times.
Edith Yang RD SR CLT mom of two and owner of Mission Health Dietitian recommends something she calls 1-2-3 prep: “Take 1-2 hours a day to prepare one simple protein two fruits And two or three vegetables.”
In practice this looks like setting aside time on Sunday to make a batch of grilled chicken breasts a large fruit salad and a sheet pan of roasted zucchini and tomatoes.
You also don’t have to do all the work yourself.
Try to split meal prep responsibilities among family members or seek help from friends or family members to spend time with your children while you and your partner prepare meals together.
Also consider buying an air fryer slow cooker or rice cooker to cut down on the time you spend cooking.
Finally there’s nothing shameful about meal prep shortcuts like buying pre-cut fresh or frozen microwaveable whole-grain or cooked roast chicken.
Eating together as a family — without distractions — has many benefits including encouraging healthier eating habits promoting connection and helping with social and emotional development.
In addition research shows that children in families who eat together tend to eat less fast food and more fruits and vegetables.
Also good for adults. One study found that parents who attended family meals had higher levels of self-esteem and lower rates of depression and stress.
While eating together every night may not be practical try to make family meals a priority.
Here are some tips to encourage distraction-free meals:
- Make the dinner table a no-phone zone.
- Bring a conversation around the table by asking interesting thought-provoking questions. For example if you could keep any kind of animal for your pet what would it be and why? You can also take turns asking each family member to ask a question.
- Give each family member a task such as helping with cooking setting the table or washing the dishes.
One of the easiest ways to eat more vegetables is to incorporate them into meals that your family already enjoys.
For example if Friday is pizza night set each member with a variety of vegetable toppings such as chopped peppers mushrooms spinach artichokes fresh tomatoes and basil to use as pizza toppings.
By substituting vegetables for highly processed meats like sausage and pepperoni you can easily make pizza night healthier without going outside your family’s comfort zone.
Joby Neelankavil RDN shares another great way to add vegetables to your meals saying “I add chopped vegetables to minced meat dishes. This stretches the meat into servings and adds nutrients and fiber.”
This tip is especially helpful if you have picky eaters in your family.
Worried about fees? There are many ways to save money on produce.
For example seasonal vegetables are often cheaper and taste better than out-of-season vegetables.
Frozen vegetables are another good option because they are just as nutritious as fresh vegetables but have a longer shelf life. Plus frozen vegetables can be cooked quickly and in bulk making them more cost-effective.
Finally it’s also a healthy option if you have limited access to fresh produce or are looking for another affordable option for picking canned vegetables. Be sure to look for low-sodium or no-salt options.
Canned vegetables to carry around include carrot beets diced tomatoes squash corn and peas.
If you have the option of shredding vegetables as a snack or grabbing a bag of chips convenience probably wins out.
Encourage your family to eat vegetable snacks by having washed and chopped vegetables ready to go in the refrigerator. Just cut the vegetables into strips or strips and store them in a clear container such as a mason jar.
This way vegetables are easy to see and quick to grab. You can even serve nutrient-rich dips like salsa hummus or yogurt next to the veggie jar for a complete snack.
Dietitians at Josten Fish RD and Dietitian Meets Mom especially like this tip before dinner as chewing on fresh vegetables is a nutritious way to curb hunger in your family.
It can be tempting to keep the family happy by preparing more than one meal at dinner time. I see this a lot in families with picky eaters.
For example a child might eat a sandwich or a bowl of cereal while the rest of the family is eating a casserole.
While it may seem easier to eat the same meal these days it’s important to get your family into healthier habits.
However that doesn’t mean you have to force your kids to eat foods they don’t like.
For families with picky eaters Caroline Thomason who describes herself as “not your average nutritionist,” recommends “serving by deconstructing.”
“For example when making a taco bowl serve all the ingredients separately and have each member build their own bowl line style,” she added.
Likewise instead of preparing meals for each family member meals are provided in a family-style manner so that everyone can choose what and how much they want to eat.
If you have a baby at home you may also be thinking about how to include them in family meals.
For babies over 6 months simply mash or cut the food you prepare into the appropriate consistency based on your child’s development.
Just be sure to introduce only one new food at a time to help identify potential food allergies or intolerances.
If you have any questions or concerns about the type or amount of food to feed your baby be sure to consult your pediatrician.
A great way to get kids and even adults to eat healthier snacks is to showcase a variety of foods in new interactive ways.
For example instead of having one snack option in a bowl keep a snack tray or dinner plate together. You can also maximize the nutritional value of snacks by offering choices from a variety of food groups.
If you want to add dips like hummus or peanut butter to the muffin tins it’s a fun way for kids to mix and match different flavors and textures.
Here are some examples of foods including:
- apple slices
- mandarine orange segments
- sliced strawberries
- dried cherries
- sugar snap peas
- cherry tomatoes
- baby carrots
- bell pepper slices
- steamed edamame
- cheese slices
- lightly salted almonds or cashews
- pretzel thins
In order to develop a healthy relationship with food it is important for children to be able to identify their hunger and fullness.
So while it’s understandable to want your child to eat well and thrive forcing them to finish their plate or eat when they’re not hungry can damage these biological cues for health.
To reduce mealtime power struggles and encourage mindful eating I recommend following Ellyn Satter’s approach: Parents choose which foods to serve and when and children decide how much or if they want to eat.
It’s not uncommon to promise dessert in exchange for your child’s veggies.
However Dana Peters MS RD and owner of Dana Peters Nutrition explained that using sweets as a reward “creates a mindset that certain foods are better or more valuable than others.”
While desserts shouldn’t be used as a reward they can still provide a fun and delicious way to add more nutrition to your family’s day.
For example some nutritious options include roasted fruit-roasted watermelon chunks with a homemade yogurt dip or sliced strawberries topped with whipped cream.
Also keep in mind that traditional desserts like ice cream and brownies can also be enjoyed from time to time since all foods can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle.
Eating more plant-based foods has many benefits for your health as most are rich sources of beneficial nutrients such as fiber antioxidants vitamins and minerals.
Additionally many plant-based proteins are more shelf-stable and more affordable than animal-based sources.
Examples of plant-based proteins to add to your cart include nuts seeds beans lentils tofu and edamame.
Not sure how to incorporate these foods into your family’s meals? Here are some ideas:
- Swap half of the chicken in the stir-fry with tofu. You can also omit the chicken entirely.
- Substitute chickpeas for meat in your family’s favorite soup or stew recipe.
- Use hummus instead of mayo on sandwiches and wraps.
- Top oatmeal with walnuts and fresh or frozen berries.
- Add a tablespoon of flax or hemp seeds to smoothies.
Due to their nutritional value half the grains are recommended to be made whole.
Since refined grains are commonly found in foods like grain pancakes and muffins breakfast is the perfect time to add more whole grains to your day.
Simple ways to incorporate more whole grains in the morning include the following options:
- Whole Wheat Toast with Peanut Butter and Banana Chips
- Quinoa Porridge with Nuts and Fruit
- Oatmeal Yogurt and Frozen Fruit Smoothie
- whole grain breakfast cereals
- brown rice with veggies and an egg
Also consider keeping white whole-wheat flour at home to make waffle pancakes or muffins.
White whole-wheat flour is a softer form of whole-wheat that is nutritious and a great choice for picky eaters.
Plus it can easily replace all-purpose flour in most recipes. Just be sure to store white whole-wheat flour in the pantry or refrigerator to extend its shelf life.
To make breakfast easier throughout the week I recommend making large batches of whole-wheat pancakes or muffins and storing the extras in the refrigerator.
While it’s important to drink enough water sometimes you need something more exciting.
Mix sparkling water with a few ounces of 100% juice and get the whole family involved in making healthier beverages at home.
Making your own beverages is a fun way to cut down on high-sugar beverages — the leading cause of tooth decay in children in the United States.
Another great way to eat healthier for the whole family is to grow some of your own food.
Plus you don’t need a large backyard to do this. You can grow a variety of vegetables and herbs inside or in small pots on your balcony or patio.
Additionally some areas offer community gardens that you can sign up for.
Whether it’s a small basil plant in an apartment or a raised garden bed for growing food in the backyard it’s a great way to save money while increasing your child’s interest in fresh food.
While it takes some trial and error eating healthier has countless benefits for the whole family.
Just remember to think positively and encourage healthier habits without limiting or increasing stress.
By taking it step by step you’ll find that it’s possible to find a healthier way of eating that’s both realistic and sustainable for your family.