Once upon a time, my family had a terrible diet. At the time I didn’t know any better.
I thought kids were supposed to eat “kid food” and adults “adult food.”
That was how I grew up and for the most part, you live what you learn. But I also believe that when you know better, you do better.
My eye-opening moment was when I went to the doctor because I was feeling REALLY tired and was convinced something was seriously wrong with me. The first thing he asked was how my diet was. At that point, I was living off sugar, caffeine and fast food! He gave me some really basic guidelines on what I should be eating, took some blood just in case and sent me on my way.
I decided to clean up my diet and see if that helped. After just a few days, I had more energy. I didn’t feel great, but better and imagined my family would benefit from a healthier diet as well.
So I started reading up on nutrition and learning how to cook from scratch. The problem was, NOBODY would eat what I was making! Mealtimes were beyond frustrating and I was losing the battle.
I had to come up with a game plan. There was NO WAY I was going to allow them to keep going down the path we were on. After much trial and error, I was finally able to get everyone to eat healthily. It took a while but in the long run was worth the effort.
How I changed my families diet without starting a revolt!
Begin by educating your family on proper nutrition.
I started here because I wanted my family to care about our health as much as I did.
Now, don’t come off as preachy or get on some soap box and wax poetic about the benefits of healthy food. That will just go in one ear and out the other! Go to the library and get some picture books to read with your kids, the goal here is to keep it fun and light. One of our favorite books is “Gregory the Terrible Eater” it really got the conversation going in a fun, memorable way.
Crafts are also a fun way to teach kids about nutrition. A few things we did together were: make a healthy food collage using old magazines, create a balanced meal by drawing pictures on a paper plate, and a healthy food vs. junk food collage. I kept the completed projects displayed in the kitchen so we could refer to them often.
If your kids are a little older watch some documentaries about food and talk about them.
Start making really small changes one by one.
I didn’t take anything away at this point, just added a fruit or veggie to every meal and our afternoon snack. The idea here was to have them fill up a bit more with whole foods so they would eat a little less of the processed stuff.
Stick with fruits and veggies you know your family likes. Most kids have a few veggies that they will eat without complaint. After a couple weeks, when this change becomes the new normal, make another small change.
A few changes I made without anyone noticing were, switching to whole wheat pasta, using ground turkey instead of ground beef and using whole wheat flour and real maple syrup in my baked goods.
When a few basic changes have been made, start swapping out the processed food for more whole foods one by one.
If your family likes to eat toaster waffles, pancakes or muffins it is really easy to make them with whole wheat flour and freeze them. My favorite whole wheat flour is “King Arthur White Whole Wheat” it is 100% whole grain made from the softer white wheat variety.
Everyone eats the same meal and must try everything.
The benefit here is two-fold, to set a good example for the kids and to cut back your time in the kitchen. If you aren’t willing to eat it, you can’t expect your family to either. This can be hard at first since everyone has different likes and dislikes regarding food.
I got around this by creating meals where I knew everyone would like SOMETHING on their plate.
For instance, one person likes chicken, the other likes pasta, and someone else likes broccoli so I would make baked chicken, homemade mac-n-cheese, and broccoli.
Having something familiar on their plates really helped them feel comfortable trying new things. I guess because they knew that if they really didn’t like something the tried, they would still have plenty to eat.
Another thing that made the same meal rule work well was having a “make your own” bar.
I have done this with tacos/burritos/fajitas, salads and sandwiches/wraps. My only rule is that everyone has to make a somewhat balanced plate.
Kabobs are also really fun, you can do fruit and veggie kabobs and meat kabobs. Something about it being on a stick made it extra appealing to the kids.
Include everyone in the meal planning and cooking process.
When our kids feel like they are being heard and that their feelings are being considered they tend to respond better to change. Getting their input on things that they like to eat or new ideas to try was crucial to making these changes stick.
I have a theme for every day of the week and I give each child a day to pick a meal for. Then I have them go through all our sales flyers to see if any ingredients are on sale and the store that has the most on sale is the one we shop at. The kids have so much fun doing this!
Children usually love to cook, even just washing and peeling produce gives them a great sense of pride. When they are proud of the finished product they are more likely to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Not only does this help familiarize them with new foods BEFORE they hit the plate, but you are making memories that will last forever and teaching valuable life skills!
Don’t give up!
Sometimes kids can be stubborn or may have sensory issues and you have to tread lightly. This doesn’t mean that you are doomed, you just have to go a little slower. Consistency and a little creativity go a long way here.
Remember, it can take some kids up to 20 exposures to a new food before they will really eat it and even then they may not love it. That is okay! We adults rarely love every.single.food that crosses our paths, so naturally, kids will have their limits too.
If you have a veggie that no one likes, try preparing it several different ways before you ditch it for good. My kids hated cauliflower raw and steamed but when I roasted it in a little olive oil it became a favorite!
When resistance seems extra strong remind everyone that not everything they eat is going to be their favorite. Sometimes you have to eat things you may not love for the sake of being healthy.
This whole process took our family a good six months before I felt like we were eating really well with little resistance from the kids. Remember it is all about baby steps!
Good luck in your journey to a healthier diet!