Busy families often rely on pizza deliveries, processed foods, and the drive through as a quick way to get a meal on the way to or from sports practices, games, or school events. While quick and easy, these methods of feeding your family aren't providing quality nutrition for long-term health. Here are 12 things you can do to encourage better nutrition in your family:
1. Establish a family meal rule that each person must at least try one new item. Introduce your family to new healthy options several times a week.
2. If you have picky eaters, try a buffet-style dinner. When children are allowed to choose what they put on their plates, they're more likely to eat it. You can require they pick one item from each serving dish, to ensure they're getting a meat or protein, a vegetable, and a carbohydrate, for example — and prevent someone from eating just the bread and butter for dinner. Leftovers can be served in lunches or as components of the next night's buffet dinner.
3. Keep healthy snacks within easy reach. The crisper drawer of your refrigerator is the perfect place for fresh fruit and veggies. Prepare them as though you were about to serve them on a platter and everyone is more likely to grab some celery and carrots than if they had to take them out, wash, and cut them before eating.
4. Reduce the amount of processed foods the family consumes. There are healthier options that will taste better and deliver more nutrition, and with practice, most don't take all that much longer to prepare than their boxed or canned varieties.
5. Get into the habit of menu planning to ensure every meal offers options from each food group. Menu planning also helps simplify your grocery shopping — since you'll know exactly what products to buy to make the meals you've planned for the week. Planning ahead will help you avoid ordering a pizza or hitting the drive through at McDonald's when things get hectic at dinner time.
6. Use the internet or a variety of cook books to discover new ways to prepare healthy foods.
7. Pack your children a Bento lunch — a visually appealing way to encourage your children to eat healthier at school, but it can also be a fun way to bring your own lunch to work.
8. Make each member of the family a food chart — similar to a rewards or chore type chart. Instead of chores to complete, you can include each of the food groups you want your family to eat every day, and a place to check off or put a sticker on the chart when the item is consumed. If you want your family to eat 3 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day, you would list that on the chart and provide space to check off 3 servings per day. Not sure what your family members should be eating? Try this handy balanced meal planner that allows you to see each food group and the servings family members need based on their age and activity level.
9. Have at least one meal per day at the family table. The more family members "eat on the run," the less likely it is the meals consumed are healthy. If one meal per day is unrealistic for your family schedules, try to work out a certain number of family meals per week.
10. Substitute products your family regularly consumes with lower-fat or lower-calorie versions. Instead of whole milk, try 1% or skim; instead of regular sour cream, get non-fat sour cream. Switch from white bread products to whole wheat or whole grain.
11. If your family is resisting to the healthy diet changes, try adding healthier food options alongside your existing items, instead of completely replacing. If you can't go without your chocolate chip cookies at lunch time, add a serving of grapes or carrots to the meal and reduce the number of cookies from two to one. Healthier eating doesn't necessarily mean eliminating everything that's not healthy — it's about finding a good balance.
12. Make your own desserts instead of buying prepared desserts. You can enjoy sugar free, low calorie jello with fat-free cool whip to satisfy an after-dinner sweet tooth for just 30 calories per serving! Fresh fruits can also be prepared in dessert-style options to save on calories and fat while still providing the sweet treat your family craves.