Making Healthy Eating A Family Affair

Healthy Eating

We all know the scenario: you want to lose a bit of weight, your spouse needs to get their cholesterol levels and blood pressure in check, your grade 9 daughter has decided to become a vegetarian and your seven-year old son won’t touch anything that isn’t crisps or sweets.

It is a question for the ages: how does one provide for the entire family’s nutritional needs without cooking 3 (or more!) separate meals?

It would be ideal if the whole family work together and strive towards improving their health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, though, the reality often is that while one family member works at improving the family’s eating habits alone while the rest pass a slab of chocolate around!

So, how can you change this? The first step is getting yourself into the right mind space. If you are simply starting a diet, you are setting yourself up for failure. Rather set yourself up for success and make a lifestyle change. You want to change your family’s habits for the long run, you want to make healthy eating and living part of your every day life from now on. But don’t try to change everything at once! Make one small change at a time and stick with it until it’s become second nature.

Some days will be easier than others. Sometimes you’ll feel confident about your efforts and sometimes you’ll feel like just giving up. It’s ok. It’s not about where you are at that particular moment but rather that you keep on moving in the right direction.

Get dad to “buy in”. He may feel apprehensive because he’s seen you weigh every morsel of food, abandon your favourite treats, become moody and battle with the bathroom scale during your previous dieting efforts. It is important that you reassure him that this isn’t a “diet”, but rather a sustainable lifestyle change and that you won’t be serving up steamed broccoli and grilled fish every evening!

It might be a good idea to visit a dietician as a family to assess each member’s specific dietary requirements and to get some prcatical guidelines. The dietician will, for instance, recommend that your spouse lower their salt intake, boost fibre intake and be careful about the type of fat consumed to lower cholesterol and manage blood pressure. For your daughter, the dietician might suggest eating more of certain foods to combat possible iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies. The dietician could also address your son’s unhealthy eating habits by suggesting healthier snack alternatives such as fruit, dried fruit bars and rolls, trail mix, lean biltong, low fat crackers and popcorn. Note that the above is only given as examples and that it would be best to visit a dietician for a personal assessment.

Then another suggestion … commit to eating together as a family at least once a day.

This is a good idea for various reasons:

• Shared family meals are more likely to be nutritious.

• Kids who eat regularly with their families are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods.

• Beyond health and nutrition, family meals provide a valuable opportunity to reconnect. This becomes even more important as kids get older.

But it can be quite a challenge to find the time to plan, prepare and share family meals, then be relaxed enough to enjoy them! Try these steps to schedule family meals and make them enjoyable for everyone who pulls up a chair.

1. To have more family meals, look at everyone’s calendars and choose a time when everyone can be there.

2. Figure out which obstacles are getting in the way of more family meals – busy schedules, no supplies in the house, no time to cook, etc – then share ideas on how these roadblocks can be overcome.

3. Make a meal plan. This guide will help you stay on track for the week and also help you plan your weekly shopping. Spend a bit of time looking through recipes – the Internet has great healthy food blogs or go through books such as Fast Food For Sustained Energy by myself and Gabi Steenkamp.

4. Once you have all your supplies on hand, involve the kids in preparations. Recruiting younger kids can mean a little extra work, but it’s often worth it. Your son could help with simple tasks such as putting plates on the table, tossing the salad, preparing a water jug or being a “taster”. Your vegetarian daughter could perhaps prepare one meal a week to allow her to explore the options available while exposing the rest of the family to a new way of eating.

The most important thing to remember before embarking on this journey is that it is not going to happen overnight. Living healthily is a choice that you have to make every day of your life. And even if you sometimes stray from the path, it is imperative that you keep your eyes on your goal and keep moving forward. 

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