Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Healthy Family Starts with Mom

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
- yogurt
- string cheese
- salad
- 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!


  1. Great tips. I use the crock pot often. In a house full of seriously picky eaters, including my husband it's hard to maintain a balance. I'm going to get frustrated just thinking about it!

    1. It IS hard to maintain balance. Plus, it takes effort and energy to try new meals. Who knows if we'll even like the food? But we keep at it. :)

  2. Great advice. My kids are used to the healthy eating message. Not that they like it. The hardest thing for us is introducing new vegetables. So we're stuck giving them the usual fare.

    My husband tries to bake healthy, but often his made up recipes are all that edible. :P

    1. I hear you! Baby carrots and celery are staples around here. Bagged salad, too. And why is everyone so distrustful of a different vegetable, is what I want to know? They're never wary of a new type of cookie! Ugh!

  3. We've been encouraging our kids to exercise more by setting an example. The hardest thing for my husband and I are including the kids when we know our exercise intensity will take a dramatic hit.

    1. Oh, how I can relate!! When the kids are young, they just can't keep up. And with time being limited, it's discouraging to try to make exercise time family time. Wish I had a solution for that one!

  4. You sound really well-balanced in your advice! I always tried to cook our own meals as my daughter was growing up--baked things too but had healthy snacks around as well.

    1. I love baking, Terri! I make cookies and muffins a lot. I still think they're healthier than packaged foods. :)

  5. These are GREAT tips. I'm still figuring this out in my house. My problem is that *I* am a picky eater as well... like REALLY picky, so I know I'm a horrible example.

    One thing I AM a huge stickler on is snacks. After school snacks must be of the healthy variety. We get "dessert" once or twice a week after dinner, but NOT as a snack. many times, especially in elementary school, they'd have a birthday party or something and then come hope and have a snack too, PLUS we send a snack to school as well, and I noticed that they were putting on weight, specifically my oldest. We cut down drastically on snacks and it has super helped!

    This summer killed us Re: exercise. It was just so dad gum HOT and none of us, including me, wanted to venture outside for any natural exercise.

    1. Krista, Yes! To everything! To the extra snacks, the too-hot weather, and even the picky eating. I have a soda addiction. I'm not proud!

  6. Great tips, Jill. I only cook for myself, but I still have so much trouble eating healthy--I think it's the time. You have to think, make an effort and prepare to eat healthy...and I just get too lazy! I had this grand goal of trimming down before ACFW...yeah, didn't happen. Quite the opposite, I'm sure. But maybe after...yes...after... :)

    1. Oh, Melissa, let's not get started on getting-in-shape-for-conference! I waited too long. But I'm still amping up my workouts until next week. It can't hurt, right?

  7. Great tips, Jill! One thing I've found that works is making extra food and then freezing a meal, which is great to pull out on a busy day and pop into the oven. We aren't big left-over fans, but this too is a great way to keep eating healthy and save some money in the process.

    1. I started doing this with chili and goulash--it's sooo wonderful to have a freezer meal on hand. Great tip!!

  8. You know I'm a foodie at heart, Jill, and I can relate to this problem. Only in my case, I'm the "parent" trying to convince the head of the house (My grandmother) the joys of new ingredients.

    To my grandma, fresh cracked pepper is "gourmet" enough. It's hard to get her to see the value in great ingredients, and not everything has to be under 1-10 USD to be good value, and her new highly restrictively diet doesn't help.

    I need to write a story about that. While most people my age argue with their family over phone bills, student loans and co-signing loans on first homes, I'm playing "Devil's advocate" and "Let's Make A Deal" with my grandmother about fine cheeses and why all-purpose flour isn't the only flour worth having in one's pantry.

    I was also a fussy eater as a child, but for the most part, I grew out of it. There are still foods I don't like, but often it's a matter of trying the same food in different way, more often than not, something will work to your tastes, and still be healthy.

    Growing up around canned tuna salad, and the horrid smell, I thought I'd never love tuna, but one time I tried a fresh tuna steak in a restaurant, and I was joyously transported to the joys of fresh fish.

    But since I live a good 200+ miles from the nearest ocean if that, it's hard to find, and is pricey, but I will eat more fresh fish if I can find a place that has really good quality.

    That said, I think it's great you promote balance rather than outright banishment of certain food. I don't have to, nor should I, eat pizza every day. But I don't have to never eat it again, either.

    While I'm not a parent (as I've said often before), as having still been a kid on the other side of the equation, I do think parents need to at least acknowledge their kids don't have to like what new (or not so new) thing they try at any given meal.

    I'm surprised your kids gag at butternut squash, Kristi. I'd prefer that over say, collard greens. I may have southern ties, but I loathe collard greens, even now, so thank God and Rachel Ray I discovered Kale in my teens. That's a dark, leafy green I can make delicious.

    Between that, broccoli and cabbage (recently Spinach, I know, but true) I'm getting my greens fix in easier and more taste-pleasing ways.

    I strongly feel the more we turn meals into a "battlefield" the more harm we do to hearts and stomachs. With our kids living a frankly more controlled and regulated life out in the world than some of us may have had, the least we can do is give them some choice and freedom at home.

    Also, sometimes we like certain foods one way, but not others. Outside carrot cake, I prefer eating them raw whole or grated in salads.

    One recipe I recommend all you spinach haters try is a spinach chiffon cake. I made one over the summer and I was shocked, you'd never think "Spinach works in a cake" but it does.

    It's not the most low-cal way to cook with spinach, but if you're desperate for you and/or your kids to embrace spinach, this might be a way to do it. It's low enough in sugar it's a semi-healthy snack (no butter most of the fat comes from egg yolks and semi-mild amount of sugar)

    It doesn't smell weird, or taste like "Candied Spinach." It's really its own warm, mildly sweet flavor that's hard to describe

    Here's a recipe I used-

    I had to fudge through some of the measurements because I don't (Yet...) have a food scale to measure by weight.

    What I might try next is adapting a basic, plain chiffon cake and add the spinach puree to that next time. I admit the beating and folding egg whites is a bit labor intensive, particularly if you don't have a stand or hand mixer, but seriously, this might be one of "the" recipes to turn spinach haters into lovers.

    1. Good for you helping your grandma see the light of different foods! It's not easy. And thanks for the spinach ideas! I love raw spinach, but I'm not as fond of it cooked. In a cake form? I'm all in!! Thanks!

  9. Kudos to you on setting a good example in your family, Jill. Having healthy snacks on hand makes it easier for kids to choose them over junk food.

    1. Having healthy snacks on hand helps ME eat better too! Thanks, Keli!

  10. I've decided to try to lose 10-15 pounds by the end of the year, so I'll take all the healthy tips I can!

    The biggest changes we made were simple: whole wheat pasta/bread instead of white, ground turkey instead of ground beef, fat-free milk and dairy products, and lots of fruit. I try to only eat 2 desserts a week. If I hit my workout goals for that week (right now, that's jogging/running three times a week), then I can have a third as a reward.

    I find the biggest thing for me is accountability. My best friend and I have been texting each other every day with our successes and failures. Just knowing I have to text her that I ate a dessert when I wasn't supposed to, etc., is enough to keep me from it.

    1. Good for you, Lindsay! I, too, am determined to lose the extra pounds. Accountability is huge for me. I'm tracking calories in a cute diary. It works!


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