Family Nutrition

This issue comes up all the time. Sometimes it’s a true struggle; the person has a real desire to eat better but feels limited by the desires of other family members who share cooking/eating responsibilities. Other times, this comes as a blatant excuse; the person deflects responsibility, instead putting the blame on the spouse or children.

Both situations have the same negative results (poor health) and the same basic solution; be a little selfish and realize your good habits will only benefit those around you.


Do It Together

The bottom line is your kids and spouse will only benefit from a healthier approach to food. Many diet related health conditions stem from poor lifestyle choices that are fostered through family practices. On the flip side, implementing healthier habits at home can work to start early disease prevention and positive relationships with food! While everyone in your family may have different nutritional and energy needs, everyone can meet their needs with healthy, nutritious, whole foods. Kids do not need snack food or ‘kid food’ around. Aim to get everyone on board by being creative and coming up with changes that focus on food, fun, and creativity over deprivation or exclusion. There might be several problem areas to work through, but aim to start small. Your family will do better with small changes as opposed to a complete overhaul.

  • Identify goals that apply to everyone.
    • Trying to lean out? Your kids likely don’t care what you weigh, so make the reasons more family friendly ‘like you want to keep up with the kids on the basketball court’ or ‘feel more confident for your spouse’.
    • Use the goals as a teaching lesson. Is there a health condition that runs in the family? Address that as motivation.
    • Have everyone come up with an individual goal to meet.
       
  • Identify the main problems your family is facing.
    • Eating out too much?
    • Too many ‘grab n go’ style meals?
    • Everyone has their own schedule?
    • Reliance on packed foods?
    • No one wants to take responsibility for shopping or cooking?
    • Not interested in eating ‘green stuff’?
       
  • Create new standards.
    • What will snack foods mean now? Out with the chips in with the apples!
    • What will meal time look like now? hello dining table, so long tv trays!
    • One meal will be cooked to feed everyone, no individual orders.
    • Aim for a balanced, colorful plate.
       
  • Implement small changes
    • Maybe 2 healthy family dinners a week.
    • Use smaller plates or make smaller portions.
    • Swap an unhealthy item (think soda or sugar cereal) with a similar item to lessen the blow.
    • At least 1 vegetable at dinner.
    • Serve water with each meal.
       
  • Focus on what the family can do together.
    • Grocery shop and cook together.
    • Have each member pick a healthy food to try from the store, tempeh? Eggplant?
    • Have each member pick a recipe and be responsible for making it (with help of course!).
    • Young kids will enjoy themes. For example taco night can still be taco night with healthier ingredients and smaller portions.
    • Give everyone a job in the kitchen to help foster food appreciation and knowledge.
       
  • Stay firm. Creating some simple rules will help everyone focus and stay on track.
    • Do not cave to be a short order cook.
    • No junk food in plain sight.
    • No eating in front of the television.
       
  • Creating rewards for efforts to offer as incentive and motivation.
    • Stay away from food as a reward.
    • Create a clear reward plan, like eat your veggies all week and get more time at the playground or a trip to indoor rock climbing!
    • Always focus on the positives, is everyone trying hard? Feeling more energized? Looking more vibrant? Happy and health? Great! Tell them you notice these changes!

Forget them, Focus on YOU

If your family is completely against joining you for healthier eating, instead of getting frustrated or giving up, focus on you. Outline your goals and plan to get there. Begin making small changes that aren’t overwhelming to take on solo. When you see your family engaging in habits that work against you, remember your reasons and goals and stay strong! Hopefully your new habits will rub off when family members see positive outcomes start to take place. Remember that even though you’re doing this for you, you’re doing it for your family to see you an inspiration as well. Be the example!

  • First, start by making your goals known to the entire family regardless of whether they are supportive or not.
    • Be clear and definitive about what you want and why you’re doing this.
    • Create a plan for yourself.
    • Enlist outside support from friends or online groups. There are many out there dealing with the same struggle!
       
  • Define the current habits in your way, and tackle them!
    • Rushed for time? Create a list of grab ‘n go healthier options.
    • Kid’s snack food temping you? Who is buying it and why?! At the very least, create a designated cupboard for it to be stashed out of sight.
    • Cooking not your thing? Identify healthy options at local restaurants, or learn to make a few simple recipes.
    • What’s a vegetable? Start trying new foods!
    • Eating at the computer? Sit at the table, maybe someone will join you!
       
  • Tell your family what it means for them as a whole and what changes you’ll be implementing.
    • You won’t be buying snack foods anymore.
    • You’ll be cooking more colorful meals.
    • They can eat what’s being served or be responsible for providing their own meals.
    • You’ll only buy milk, water, and 100% juice.
       
  • Don’t give up!
    • Be firm and confident in your choices.
    • When your family isn’t with you, they might be actively against you.
    • Focus on your personal goals and results.

Have experiences with this? Help others out by adding suggestions to the comments below!

As always, enlisting a specialist (like a dietitian!) can help set structure and provide guidance to this goal.