Small changes: Improve your family’s eating habits
We constantly hear about the obesity rate in the United States -- how children today are far heavier than they should be and how they’re not eating the right foods. Perhaps you know you need to improve your family’s meal plans or habits, but don’t know where to start. Keep reading for expert tips on how to make small changes that add up.
Keri Gans, Registered Dietitian, ADA Spokesperson & Author of The Small Change Diet, says, "Too many people try to bite off more than they can chew. If you really try to tack one thing at a time -- making it become a part of who you are by actually changing the habit -- then it can be something you can keep up for the rest of your life." She shares several tips for making small changes to your diet.
Create a healthy eating schedule
Gans says that one of the first things families should do is create a healthy eating schedule. "There is a lot of meal skipping going on in families," explains Gans. This includes not eating dinner as a family. Try sitting down together at the table twice a week if you only eat as a family once a week. Or, if you never eat breakfast together, pick one weekend day and enjoy a family breakfast.
Brighten your plate naturally
Brightening your plate naturally is as simple as adding fruits and vegetables to every meal. Gans says she often talks to parents who insist that their children won't eat vegetables, and that's fine. But what's not fine is never bothering to serve them. "It sometimes takes several attempts to get children to eat vegetables," explains Gans. "But if they don't see parents eating them, how are they going to learn to eat them? The first step is to serve vegetables!"
One way to encourage children to eat vegetables is to get them involved with meal planning and preparation, suggests Gans. Take your kids into the produce section of the grocery store and allow them to choose vegetables that they think look good or interesting.
Gans doesn't believe in disguising vegetables in food, but she does believing in adding them to food. "Toss some broccoli into the pasta," she suggests. It doesn't have to be complicated! Remember, you're making small changes.
As for fruit, Gans stresses the importance of having a variety of fruit accessible to your child. If it's not in the house, he's not going to eat it! And definitely make sure it's within reach. Gans says it's a good idea to also purchase fruit that doesn't need to be refrigerated and keep it in a bowl on the counter.
Watch your liquids
Cut empty drink calories by reducing or eliminating drinks like soda, encourages Gans. If you or your kids are drinking 100% fruit juice, Gans says that's not a problem, but always watch your serving size. If your family drinks milk, make small changes – switch from whole to 2%, then 2% to 1% and eventually 1% to skim milk. And always remember: Water, water, water!
Whole wheat and skinny meat
Make the switch to whole wheat -- whether it's pasta, bread or anything else where you have the option -- and purchase skinnier meats. "Don't forget fish when you're grocery shopping," reminds Gans. "Serve more chicken breast and stay away from fried - go with baked, broiled or grilled." Gans doesn't say that you can't have red meat if you enjoy it, but instead choose leaner cuts such as sirloin or flank steak. And remember: Always watch portion sizes!
>> Need more ideas? Read about healthy ingredient substitutions for family meals
Gans' quick tips:
- Fat isn't the enemy. It's a part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. Just make sure you're eating the right kinds of fats. "In the absence of allergies, encourage nut intake, cook with olive oil and introduce your children to avocado," says Gans.
- Slow down with the saltshaker.
- Tame your sweet tooth. "I don't believe kids should not be allowed sweets, but they should not replace other foods," Gans notes. "Watch serving size, and only allow them if the daily fruit or vegetables have been eaten. " Also, balance a sweet treat. For example, have a glass of milk with a cookie.
- Sharing is caring. Gans suggests sharing food at restaurants or during holidays with family or friends. This is an easy way to cut down on portion size and to avoid overindulging.
- Go easy on the extras. Watch the small additions that really add up, says Gans. Sugar on cereal, butter on a baked potato and high fat mayo in tuna salad can become excessive. Gans recommends cutting back or making healthier substitutions: Add fruit to cereal, hummus on the potato and olive oil in the tuna salad. Easy, right?
Remember that it's all about the small changes. Take baby steps toward a healthier diet and you're less likely to become overwhelmed or give up. You can do it!
More on healthy eating as a family