In an ideal world, your kids would eat all their vegetables, your spouse would take over cooking a healthy weeknight meal from time to time, and you would have ample weekend time for meal prep. But this isn’t an ideal world, and ensuring your whole family stays healthy can be tough when nutrition is involved! If the idea of a healthy family is stressing you out, don’t fret! Here are 10 simple tips to help you create a healthier home.
Give Your Family Members Options
Upon reading the title of this section, you may be thinking, “but aren’t options where we tend to get into trouble?” However, having options may be just the thing your family needs in order to stick to a healthy eating plan. Rather than just preparing broccoli for the whole family and expecting them to eat it, ask “what vegetable would you all like with the chicken tonight?” We tend to get frustrated when our family members don’t eat what we prepared for them, but how often do we let them have input on what they will be eating?
Giving options at mealtimes has been associated with an overall healthier diet versus “forcing” family to eat what's been prepared. Think about it- if you weren’t in the mood for roasted Brussel's sprouts with your spaghetti that day, but thought a nice salad sounded good, you wouldn’t be keen to eat the Brussel's sprouts when they were served. Without the option of another vegetable, you would likely end up eating less vegetables than if you had an option.
When planning dinner with nutrition in mind, try asking your family what vegetable,starch or protein they would like. As you watch your family’s engagement in mealtime grow, you will also watch their nutrient consumption grow!
…But Limit What They Have to Choose From
With that said, if you are offering your kids the choice between having broccoli as their side or kraft mac n cheese, they’re likely going to choose the mac n cheese (unless you just have a rockstar kid who loves vegetables)! It's important to offer your family members options, but it's equally important that you control what those options are.
For example, maybe you have a “starch” section of the pantry that consists of whole wheat noodles, sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, beans, wild rice, and baby potatoes. When asking which they want for dinner, they will only be able to select from what you have on hand. The key here is keeping less nutrient-filled starches, such as potatoes au gratin, french fries, etc. out of the house. The same goes for breakfast foods, proteins, vegetables, and even sweets.
By limiting the options to choose from, you get to guide the foods your family enjoys while still providing options. I challenge you to do a pantry clean-out and reorganization with this in mind (and maybe enlist your family’s help)!
Stay Active Together
A common complaint by many parents and working professionals is that they don’t have time for exercise. But, many people overlook a simple hack; stay active WITH your family! Your whole family can participate in activities such as walking, biking, hiking, swimming, or even playing sports. This will help you get exercise and model good habits to your kids and other family members. Here are some tips to incorporate exercise:
- If you are a runner, try running while your kids bike alongside you
- Plan an active date night with your spouse! Some examples include going on a weekend hike, biking around town, going rollerskating, or trying indoor climbing!
- Make it a part of your routine to go on an evening family walk before or after dinner
- Plan one fun activity with your family per week! Maybe your kids want to try a fun hike, or your spouse wants to go on a family bike ride
- Make it competitive! Have a family “tournament” in a sport of your choice- kickball, football, baseball/softball, swimming, basketball, dance, etc. You can even plan a family relay race for bonus points for fun!
- Above all, ask your family members for input and try to make exercise fun!
Make Healthy Eating Fun
Have you been stuck in a rut with meal planning and found yourself serving the same dishes week after week? If your family is bored of repetitive meals, they probably associate healthy eating or eating at home with being boring. It's a good idea to keep healthy foods fun so your family is more likely to participate in good nutrition!
Other ways to make healthy eating fun are:
- Have multiple colors on the plate. We are visual beings, and seeing a plate that is all one color does not lend excitement about the meal.
- Arrange the plate in a fun way. We are all kids at heart and could use a little fun day to day! Make pancakes in fun shapes, arrange veggies into a heart or smiley face.
- Take familiar foods and make them in a healthy way for kids to enjoy. Make whole wheat english muffin “pizzas,” healthy “milkshake” smoothies, grilled cheese with added protein.
- Involve your kids or spouse in creating their own snacks. Have a “make-your-own” trail mix station, choose-your-own “chips” and dips (selection of veggies and whole wheat crackers and different dips such as hummus or greek yogurt-based ranch), or make-your-own design fruit station.
Like we discussed earlier, making family members a part of the selection of meals and cooking process will help increase their interest in eating healthy meals. Listen, I recognize it won’t be realistic to have family members help cook every meal, but having them engage in at least 1-2 meals per week can go a long way!
The most recent generations have been kept out of kitchens more than generations of children in the past. When kids are not welcome or encouraged to help in the kitchen during mealtimes, basic skills and learning about food is very limited. More and more teenagers and adults are emerging into the world with no idea how to cook for themselves, leading to significantly less healthy food choices overall.
Involving kids in cooking can enhance their interest in eating healthfully now and set them up for future success when it comes to nutrition (and cooking skills)!
Lead By Example
You may be surprised to know how much your family looks up to, and models after you. While some of it may be a conscious imitation of your habits, most of it is subconscious. If your kids or spouse see you pushing vegetables away, or choosing the couch over an evening walk, they will likely model the same behavior.
The same goes for dinnertime. If you are able to, engaging in meal sharing can be a very powerful tool to model good eating habits to the rest of your family. Often, parents and kids will eat different meals due to kids’ pickiness. However, parental modeling is more powerful than many realize, and if kids see a parent eating the same foods as them, they may be more likely to eat the food they are served. Researchers have even found that sharing mealtimes and eating similar foods as your kids can enhance psychological well-being, help reduce picky eating, and create a stronger family unit.
Consider Meal Prepping
Let’s face it, meal prepping isn’t for everyone. You may be the kind of person who enjoys spending a few hours on a Sunday preparing the meals for the week ahead, or you may be the kind of person who shudders at the idea of that! Regardless, there are ways to practice some form of meal prepping to make your life easier. Here are some ideas to engage in meal prepping:
- Batch cooking- Say you are making brown rice to go with your salmon and broccoli for dinner on Monday. Try making more than you need for Monday’s meal so you can pair your chicken stir fry on Wednesday with the brown rice. Or, if you are already baking veggies in the oven on Tuesday, make extra at for later in the week. Since you were already going to spend the time making a particular food for one meal, making extra will just save you time later in the week.
- Making soup or chili? Try doubling the recipe and freezing half to be defrosted for a meal the next week or week after!
- Save recipes when you are scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest for easy reference. Try a new recipe 1-2 times per month for lunch or dinner.
- Prep a couple different proteins, starches, or veggies for the week, so you can easily mix and match depending on what you are feeling on a particular day.
Learn Family Nutrition Together
Knowledge is power, and this is especially true when it comes to good nutrition. Often, the biggest barrier to healthy eating is simply a lack of knowledge or confidence on the subject. Make it a family affair- grow your knowledge about nutrition and health alongside your family’s knowledge! Take nutrition classes at a local community center or online, hold “class” with your family members (where you become the teacher), or even think about seeing a dietitian that specializes in family nutrition. You can even try a cooking class with your spouse that lacks basic cooking skills for a fun date night!
Make it Simple
A healthy family doesn’t have to be complicated! If you are envisioning a world in which all of your time is sacrificed to pursuing “health,” it is time to reframe your mindset! As we discussed with exercise and cooking, you and your family can make “healthy” fun! Another big key to success here is keeping it simple. You don’t have to choose recipes that require hours of cooking on end or require a ton of dishes to be done afterwards. Here are some ideas to keep it simple:
- If you are struggling with simply what to make for meals, simplify it and just be sure to have one food from each category: carbs, proteins, fats, and vegetables. For example- whole grain bread, organic turkey slices, sliced tomato and lettuce, and hummus makes for a yummy sandwich and hits every food category.
- Make one pot meals! Less dishes= less stress. You can search Pinterest or Google for “healthy one pot meals” and so many recipes will come up! Plus, these usually take 30 minutes or less.
Want More ideas?
- Buy pre-sliced vegetables or fruits. While this can be more expensive, if you have the financial ability to pay a little more for your groceries, buying pre-cut fruits and vegetables can be a huge timesaver and minimize barriers to eating these foods!
- Leftovers don’t have to have a bad reputation! Use leftover roasted broccoli and incorporate it into a stir-fry, or throw leftover ground turkey into a soup. Using leftover foods can reduce food waste and often decrease cooking time. You can simply re-heat already prepared leftovers and add a little extra flavor if needed to liven the dish up.
- Simple dishes like spaghetti can get a bad rap sometimes, but these dishes can be very well-rounded! Try using whole wheat noodles or zoodles instead, and look for a spaghetti sauce with little to no added sugar. With these dishes, look for ways to add fiber, vegetables, and protein, and minimize added sugars, salt, and fat.
Be Choosy with Your Recipes
When choosing recipes, look for ones that provide a well-rounded meal with a protein, carbohydrate, vegetable, and healthy fat. If you don’t have a lot of time, look for recipes labeled “30-minutes or less.” Resources like EatingWell, Dietitian's blogs, and even organizations like the American Diabetes Association can be great places to look for healthy, family-friendly recipes!
If your struggling with what to look for when choosing recipes, we have an amazing team of nutrition coaches here at Vessel that can help guide you. Reach out to a coach in your Vessel app today!
The biggest takeaways for family nutrition are probably not what you would have initially thought they would be! By involving your family members, simplifying healthy eating, making it fun, and educating yourselves, you can create a healthier family!
As you are creating a healthier lifestyle, it is important to keep an eye on health metrics, including your nutrient levels, to see how they improve with small changes to your routine. You can use the Vessel wellness cards to check on things like your vitamin c, calcium, and hydration levels to be sure the changes you are making are moving your health in the right direction!
Which of these tips are you excited to incorporate into your families nutrition?
Sydney McAvoy See all the author’s articles