After a summer of chaotic meals while trying to survive without a kitchen, my family was more than ready to get back to healthier fare. Around here we tend to sway one way, retract, and sway back. We might briefly reach either extreme on the pendulum, whether it be too strict a diet or too over-processed a diet, but we mostly reside somewhere in the middle.
I like to encourage healthy eating, but I'm not always great on follow-through. One thing I know, though, is my family follows my example. Since I do the grocery shopping and plan and cook the meals, I have more influence over our diet than anyone else.
Maybe you don't worry about your kids eating too many cupcakes and not enough fruit, but I do!
Here are some of the strategies I use to encourage healthy living in our house.
1. We talk about it.
No foods are ever off-limits in our house. I routinely buy chips, cookies, and sugary drinks; however, I also buy an array of fruit, vegetables, and whole grain foods. My kids are way beyond the toddler stage--they can make their own snack choices. But you can bet I remind and teach them about making smart decisions.
2. Make a list of appropriate "anytime" snacks.
I made a list of healthy snack foods. These are foods you can basically eat anytime. With two growing, very active kids, I don't want to be the food police. These choices are always acceptable in my house.
- any fruit
- nuts or seeds
- cut-up vegetables
- string cheese
- peanut butter with crackers/apple/etc...
3. Discuss proper portion sizes.
Sometimes kids just don't realize what a portion size looks like. Hey, I don't even know a lot of times! We read labels and watch shows like The Biggest Loser. We all find it inspiring to watch contestants take charge of their lives, and the trainers do a great job of showing what healthy foods and portion sizes look like.
4. Limit empty calories.
We set limits on junk food. You're thirsty? Have some water. You already had cookies? It's time to pick a snack from the above list. Sure, kids don't always like this, but they will thank me when they're older and not fighting bad habits and health problems.
5. Cook most meals.
Look, I understand how hectic and busy most families with kids are. We are too, and frankly we eat more fast food during the busiest sports seasons. I don't work outside the home, so I am able to spend more time cooking. But even on days when I'm out of the house, we're able to avoid ordering a pizza by utilizing a few tricks.
* Plan your meals ahead. I plan all the week's meals on Sunday, and I shop accordingly.
* Use that crock-pot! We all love walking in the door and smelling slow-cooked beef, chicken, chili, or whatever I throw together. I only use the simplest recipes. Often, it's a matter of throwing a bag of baby carrots and a chopped onion in the pot, covering it with chicken thighs and a 1/4 cup of broth, sprinkling salt, pepper, and paprika over everything and calling it good.
* Soup and sandwiches work too.
* Make easy favorites. English muffin pizzas take less than 20 minutes to make. A big Caeser salad is simple too.
Since I control what ingredients I'm using, our meals are much healthier than anything I could buy. I substitute 2% milk for anything that calls for cream. I substitute broth for higher calorie liquids. I add vegetables and cut back on meats. You'd be amazed at how delicious food can taste with simple, calorie-saving substitutions.
6. Encourage activity.
I'm active--always have been. Even when I gain weight, I'm exercising a few days a week. Honestly, though, 2 days no longer cuts it. I'm at a point where I have to exercise 4-5 days a week to maintain my weight. The kids might not always join me, but they see me walking our dog, jogging, playing a Wii game, or doing yoga, and it inspires them to get moving. Plus, they have an image of what being an adult looks like, and it includes taking care of our bodies.
We encourage them to try out for sports, to take bike rides, and to come to the park and hike with us. It's fun!
7. We try new foods.
I've yet to meet a parent whose child has loved every item ever put on her dinner plate. We have a rule in our house--if I've cooked something unfamiliar or that they don't like, everyone has to eat a small portion of it. My kids still gag at butternut squash, but I don't think it will scar them for life to eat a tablespoon of it. Experts say it takes 13-15 tries for our taste buds to adjust to an unfamiliar food. Maybe someday the kids will love squash! Maybe not.
I think the biggest challenge is staying motivated. It's too easy to slip into buying the same old things over and over. Every time the seasons change, we work at introducing different foods into our diet.
What strategies do you use to keep your family healthy?
Have a great day!