Ten Easy Tips to Get Your Family Eating Healthy

Does switching to healthier foods seem like an impossible chore?  It doesn’t have to be! Change your habits gradually with these 10 simple tips.

  1. Cut out trans fats. These fats are the worst for you, because they increase your chances of heart disease by increasing “bad” cholesterol and decreasing “good” cholesterol.  It’s easy to read food labels and eliminate trans fats from your diet.  To reduce other unhealthy dietary fats, try to bake, broil, or grill meats more often and avoid frying.  Also, try using cooking spray (it allows you to use less oil) or olive oil instead of other oils.
  2. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are good for you and also help to fill you up so you won’t feel hungry.  If you fill up your plate with fruits and veggies, you probably won’t need vitamin pills, you’ll have fewer hunger pangs, and you will train your taste buds to crave fewer sweet and salty foods.
  3. Cut back on salt. That doesn’t just mean keep away from the salt shaker. You also have to read food labels because most of our salt comes from foods that the manufacturers have “salted” for us. The USDA recommends less than a teaspoon of salt each day!  A teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium but 1,500 mg is what is recommended for all children, all African Americans, all people 51 and older, and other adults with certain illnesses.  Food without salt doesn’t taste boring if you use other seasonings, like garlic, pepper (cayenne or chili pepper if you like things spicy!), curry powder, ginger, lemon juice, or fresh herbs to add flavor.  Or, you can try using seasoned salt, which has less sodium per teaspoon than pure salt.
  4. Cut back on refined grains. Eat less “white” rice, pasta, and bread.  Choose whole grain products instead.  At least half of the grains your family eats each day should be whole grains-including whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, and brown rice.  If you don’t like the taste of whole grain pasta or brown rice, try alternatives such as quinoa, whole wheat couscous, and bulgur for a change.  Some of these can be hard to find or more expensive than rice, but quinoa (pronounced “kin-o-wa”) tastes good and has almost double the protein of brown rice.
  5. Replace meat and poultry in your favorite recipes with beans, lentils, or fish. They have as much protein, and if the sauce or seasoning is good, you will hardly notice the difference.
  6. Try low-fat dairy products. If your family rejects fat-free cheese, try to slowly ease in low-fat or fat-free dairy and see which products pass the taste test.  If you usually use whole milk, try 2%.  If you usually use 2% milk, try 1% or skim milk.  It may be hard to believe, but once they get used to it, your entire family will prefer the milk, yogurt, and cheeses with lower fat.
  7. Cut out sugary drinks. Even if your family loves dessert, you can drastically reduce sugar consumption by switching to 100% juice, different flavored iced teas (it’s usually better for you to brew and sweeten them yourself), and water instead of sugary sodas, punch, or sports drinks.  Some coffee drinks that appeal to our sweet tooth have all the calories of a meal and none of the nutrients. Many have 500 or more calories and some of them top 1,000!
  8. Gradually reduce portion size. If overeating is a problem for your family, consider using smaller plates and bowls.  Family style eating-which  keeps extra food on the table for everyone to help themselves-is less work for parents but almost always results in everyone eating much more.  If you just serve everyone a single portion, they will eat less.  Keep second helpings small and let kids know that if they want a second helping of meat or grains, they must have a second helping of the vegetables as well. And if they are old enough, let them get up from the table to get it themselves.  Those rules can help everyone eat a more balanced diet.
  9. No food with screen time, and more outdoor activities. Don’t let kids or adults snack while watching TV or using the computer.  Eating in front of the TV or computer almost always results in mindless overeating.  Make plans to keep everyone more active, but when they are in front of a screen keep them away from snacks.
  10. Schedule regular mealtimes. If everyone in the family eats at regular times and snacks are available only when meals are far apart, you’ll be surprised by how that will affect everyone’s weight.  Regular mealtimes help people avoid overeating.  Once you start eating, it’s hard to stop, so try to stick to only 3 meals and no more than one snack each day.   And, it’s trite but true: starting the day with a nutritious breakfast is important for doing your best all day.  An easy and  nutritious breakfast can include cereal with yogurt or milk, and don’t forget fruit juice or fruit.

References:

Diana Zuckerman & Brandel France de Bravo, The Survival Guide for Working Moms (and Other Stressed-Out Adults), 2009.

United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services, Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans 2010, available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/