As the years go by and your nutrition habits get stronger, making solid food choices gets easIER BUT there is always work to be done. I constantly assess where we are with our family eating habits. Are we getting sick too often for our liking (the gut and immune connections are HUGE)? Have our eating-out habits increased more then I want to admit? Does the kid cry for packaged food on a regular basis? Whenever I feel like we might be slacking in the nutrition department, I go back to some key ways I use to get the family eating more real foods:
1. Meal Plan Together. I sit down every weekend and spend half an hour building a dinner menu for the week ahead. I always ask the kidlet and husband for help. I find that the more input they have, the more they buy into what we are eating. This can be as simple as asking “any suggestions for dinners you would like this coming week?”
2. Get Input on your Grocery List. Personally, if it’s an option, I much prefer to shop for groceries ALONE. It’s less stressful, less pressure for junk, with less need to evacuate for any sudden embarrassing meltdowns. BUT what you can do is get input for what to buy before you go. When was the last time you ask your family what veggies or fruits they would like to see in the fridge? Have you encouraged them to try a new piece of produce? Kids and adults value control. So I dare you, ask them and you may be surprised what they add.
3. Cook Together. I get it, maybe you don’t have time for tiny fingers and hot stoves, sink water fights, and spills all over the counter. But little (and big) people want and should help. Small, less messy and less important tasks (think sides not main courses) work best. Can they rip lettuce into smaller pieces and put into the bowl? Can they cut tomatoes? Can they get items out of the fridge? Can they make school lunches? Or my favourite for littles: can they make dinner in THEIR KITCHEN? Kids of ALL ages NEED to know what it takes for the food to get to their lunch box and dinner plates and getting their hands involved is the first step to this.
4. Add ALL the Veggies. Muffins, smoothies, eggs, sauces, you name it, add veggies whenever you can. Notice I didn’t say HIDE veggies. In my opinion it’s super important to show kids and adults that healthier can taste good. Sure, wait till they take the first bite or two to tell them it’s a zucchini banana bread or beet tomato sauce but please DO share.
5. Make it Fun. And I’m NOT talking about pinterest worthy pictures. I’m talking about using carrots, tomatoes and peas to make a smiley face on a plate. I’m taking about making your own ice cream. I’m talking about using fun lunch containers. I’m talking about adding notes to the breakfast plates. For whatever reason when I do this, I get NO complaints. It takes me 2 extra seconds to add in a good laugh to food. Make food easy, fast AND fun!
6. Veggies before Treats. This is a habit in our house. If you want a ‘treat’ (for us this means granola bars, homemade muffins etc.) then you must eat a veggie plate first. I don’t like food rules because I want healthy relationships with food BUT I do want healthy HABITS and lots of variety and this is one way we get it.
7. Educate on the WHY (What I believe to be the missing piece.) We have long forgotten to tell people small AND big WHY it’s important to choose and eat foods that fuel our bodies in an effective way. Why is it important to choose a plate full of colours? How do sugar-filled foods make us feel? How do we get our best energy to stay strong and healthy? Talk, talk, talk. If we all learn to LISTEN to our bodies: when we are actually hungry, when we need to replenish, when we feel wired and when we feel strong; this is where a solid foundation of life long healthy food habits will begin.
Real food is anything as close to it’s natural state as possible. It contains limited ingredients, all of which we can pronounce. It CAN sometimes come in a package, but most of the time it DOES NOT. The focus is on veggies, fruits, meats and/or beans/legumes if you eat them, nuts, seeds, butters, healthy oils, grains and dairy IF you tolerate it. Shop the parameter of the grocery store 95% of the time. Make foods from scratch. Teach, explain, and guide family choices. Make slow, conscious changes towards a diet rich in knowledge, produce and healthy choices. And GET YOUR KIDS BIG AND SMALL INVOLVED in ALL aspects of the process.