Tips for helping to get your family to eat healthier

As a full-time working dietitian and mother to a toddler, I have some simple tips that can make it a little easier to help your family eat more healthfully.  The tips I give are tried and true from my family to yours since we prepare most of our meals at home and I pack my son’s lunches for him at day care.

  • Food lists: We plan out our meals for the week.  This is a must if you want to use your resources (time and money) in the most efficient way possible.  We will make out a list such as:
    • Saturday – Pasta sauce,
    • Sunday – homemade whole-wheat pizza,
    • Monday – wild fish,
    • Tuesday – Pasta sauce,
    • Wednesday – pizza again,
    • Thursday – fish again,
    • Friday – whatever leftovers we have or out.

 

  • Shopping lists: We use an excel spreadsheet to lay out a grocery list-a few columns wide, in the basic layout of the store itself.  Once we know what we are cooking/eating, we enter it onto our grocery list and/or cross of what we don’t need.
    • This is helpful as it guides your purchases so that each week you do not need to reinvent the list.
      • Start with a list of your basic weekly staples.
    • Shopping with your child/children is a good idea to get them interested in produce (fruits/vegetables).
      • When shopping with my son, (he is not quite 2 yet) I find that he enjoys picking up different fruits and vegetables, touching them, looking at them, smelling them, and trying to say them.
      • Frequently when we do this, it makes him want to taste that food item. This is something you can do with your children.  Take them to a farmers market, or the grocery store and let them explore the different fruits and vegetables.  Then take a new one home each week and have them help you to prepare something with it.

 

  • My son loves to help cook in the kitchen. We will frequently pull a chair into the kitchen that he can stand on, so that he can see what we are doing and assist (such as stirring the pasta sauce).  His desire to be helpful along with the sensations of touching, feeling, smelling, and tasting the healthy food item helps encourage him to want to eat it; plus, it is a good way to get the parents in the kitchen, cooking, and eating healthy foods with their children.

 

  • Use your weekends: I cannot stress this enough.  Making meals on the weekend that you can eat more than once during the week is so important (see 1 above).  By planning and creating healthy meals on the weekend, it makes healthy family meals doable during the week when time is so short.
    • I also use the weekend to make all of my son’s lunches for the week. I will package anywhere between 3 and 5 days worth of food in glass jars that are easily microwavable.  I typically give him leftovers from what we ate for dinner that night.  So, on Monday he will eat Saturday-night’s leftovers, Tuesday – Sunday-night’s leftovers, etc.
    • I also mix his 5 jars of yogurt (because I like to put his vitamin D and probiotic in the yogurt), and cut up and prepare his French toast or whole-wheat pancakes.

 

  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are your friend.
    • There are times where the fresh produce just does not look oh so great, or that I want to supplement our meal with another vegetable. In instances such as that, I use frozen vegetables.
    • There are some really lovely ones available in grocery stores now.  The nice thing about these frozen vegetables is that they are picked at the peak of their freshness and then flash frozen, retaining their vitamins and nutrients. By microwaving or boiling them, they can be ready to eat in minutes.
      • Some of my favorites are: frozen organic green beans, frozen organic edamame, frozen organic corn or peas, and others.
  • For the newly minted eater (ie. Your 6-8 month old), you can take these frozen vegetables (or fresh), and puree them in a blender. That way you give your child a 1-ingredient food, which is strongly recommended when first trying out new foods for your baby.

 

  • Eating a healthy meal together and reconnecting is one of the best things we can do for our body.  To ease away stress and tension from the day.
  • Make the dinner table a no-tech zone. We eat with our senses first.  We smell the food, we see the food, we feel the food with our tongues and teeth.  When we pay attention to what and how much we are eating we become satisfied more easily.  We enjoy the textures and the flavors of the healthy food.  We tune into each other.
  • Stress and tension tend to make us want to eat less-healthy food, and to eat too quickly, and to store the unnecessary calories as fat. So, by tuning out of tech, and into family and conscious eating, we make better choices, and only eat as much as we need.

 

  • Trust your child’s appetite. If your child tells you that he is no longer hungry, even if he only ate ½ his plate, believe him.  Children, young-children in particular, have an amazing ability to self-regulate their appetites.  So, it may very well be true that when your toddler pushes his plate away, he is done.
    • The best way to test this is to offer a different food item, one that you already have prepared (I do not believe in short-order cooking. Your child eats what you are eating, or food that has already been prepared).  If your child still declines, he is done!
      • For those of you worried you will be sending your child to bed hungry, it’s ok. (my pediatrician says that your child will not go hungry if he does not eat one meal).  It’s true.  Your child will eat again when he or she is hungry.  There is no need to offer “junk” or “juice” or your child’s “favorite gummy” just to get your child to eat something, because that can teach your child unhealthy food associations and unhealthy food behaviors (eating when not hungry).
      • So, my advice, if your child indicates she is not hungry or does not want what you are offering, let it be.

 

Other advice available at:

Pefect Baby Diet

 

 

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