Eating healthier is often a New Year’s resolution, but what does it mean anyway? Is it more fruits and fresh vegetables? Leaner meats? Fewer fats? More grains? Whatever it means to you adjusting your diet, and that of your family is a process, and it takes time. It’s also very much worth it!
Every family gets into eating ruts, and after the indulgence of the holiday season, the parental desire for healthier family eating is common. Regular reevaluation of eating habits throughout the year can help you maintain the healthier eating goal – and not fall into those same ruts year after year.
First, identify your goal
Decide what you want to achieve in adjusting eating habits and be ready to make those changes in stages. If you want to reduce or eliminate processed foods in favor of fresh foods (which is great!), remember that doing it in stages is much more likely to result in success. Much like exercise goals, this is a process. You won’t feel healthier instantly, but you will soon. Patience!
Get family buy-in, or at least acceptance
When deciding to make a change to eating habits that will affect the whole family, include them in the process, and do it in steps. When your family understands what is happening and why, there are less likely to be groans at the dinner table. I’m not saying there won’t be groans, but they will at least be groans with some understanding behind them.
For example, if your family it used to having certain chips available for snacks, talk to them about reducing the amount of chips they eat and substituting favorite fresh fruits – and give it a time frame. Likewise with favorite meals. They may resist at first, but after a while they get used to the change. My kids have completely forgotten about a certain brand of chicken nugget I used to buy – in part because we haven’t had them in so long and in part because the marinated chicken strips I make are much tastier (and healthier).
There will be stumbles along the way – there will! But keep at it. Before you know it, your kids will ask for one of your healthy meals over a processed former favorite – and that’s a great feeling.
Give yourself a pantry makeover
I hate wasting food, but I also don’t believe in eating food just because it’s there. There are some silly, impulse purchase items in my pantry right now, and I need to get rid of them. At least once a year, I go through the pantry and get rid of past date, weird, or generally unusable items. There are often a few non-perishables that I can donate to a food bank, but mostly they are just buying mistakes. While I feel dumb about having wasted money in purchasing them, if we aren’t realistically going to eat them, they have to go.
Plan your meals – all of them
Detailed meal planning is one of the ways I ensure we are eating healthy foods in balance – and keeping the food budget in check. I have dedicated time on Sunday afternoon to prepare a meal plan for the week, write a grocery list and do the shopping. Using the market circulars, Sunday coupons, and favorite healthy recipe sources, I plan for a week of meals for all of us and hopefully very little waste.
In making my meal plan, I do get input from the family. I try to consider the kids’ favorites and try not to go too esoteric on them. But then again, trying something new is great practice for everyone and you never know what might stick!
While my marketing is heavy on fresh foods, there are some canned and jarred items that necessarily make their way into my cart. In those instances, I read every label. Sometimes I like what I see. Sometimes I don’t.
When, for example, sugar is high on the ingredient list for frozen meatballs, they go back in the freezer case in favor of a brand with more “real” food than fillers. I also try to avoid partially hydrogenated soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup. Those simple guidelines have made a real difference in the quality of food in our house.
Sometimes those less than desirable ingredients are very hard to avoid, however. There are times it’s a toss up between keeping the grocery budget in line and better ingredients. I’ve gone down either side of the line at various times – and that’s okay. Establishing healthier eating habits for myself and the family is a process – and sometimes budget plays into that process. (Though it still makes no sense to me that less-processed foods often cost more!)
These simple steps, among others, can help you feed your family healthier and more diverse foods. There may be a bit more effort at first, but soon enough healthier eating will be a habit for all of you.