Imagine your perfect family meal: Smiling kids, a variety of healthy foods on the table and clean plates afterward. An easy, hassle-free process from start to finish. It may seem like this ideal meal is just out of reach, but the truth is there’s no one perfect way for a family to eat healthy. All families are different, and our healthy eating styles can — and should — reflect that.
When you’re balancing work, life and kids, healthy eating is sometimes the last thing on your mind. Luckily there are some quick tricks that make it easier to eat healthy as a family. Remember: Healthy eating is all about a variety of foods, especially vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein and reduced-fat dairy. Here are some ways to get the whole family to eat healthier (no drastic lifestyle overhaul required):
- Prioritize sit-down meals. Sit down with the family for dinner most days of the week. If you can’t do dinner, try breakfast. Having at least one sit-down meal with your family gives you a chance to bond and teach your kids what healthy choices look like.
- Make only one meal. What you make for dinner should be the main option. Encourage your kids to try new, unfamiliar foods — but don’t force it. Doing so only creates a power struggle you will surely lose. Research shows that kids are more likely to accept new foods after multiple exposures and in fun, stress-free environments.
- Engage your kids in the cooking process. It’s never too early to develop a love for healthy eating. Sharing the meal-prep process with kids helps them learn how the food is made. They will be more likely to accept new foods (even veggies!) when they are invested in the process. Also, it never hurts to have some extra hands around the kitchen.
- Plan ahead for the week. Choose one meal-planning day per week, and stick to it. You can take the kids shopping, then have them help with preparation and serving. Put half of the servings in the freezer so you’ll have quick, healthy meals at the ready later on in the week.
- Eat by example. If you want your family to eat well, you have to eat (and enjoy) a range of healthy foods, too. Children are more likely to try new or “yucky” foods if they see parents and siblings enjoying them repeatedly. As a best practice, refrain from expressing dislike or disinterest when trying new foods yourself, especially in front of impressionable family members.
— By Liz Sanders, MPH, RDN