I have two young children. One is 12 and he will eat -- or at least try -- just about any food. The other is 10. She subsists on a diet of chicken nuggets, fries, cheese sandwiches, grilled steak and peanut butter toast. Oh, and ketchup... lots and lots of ketchup.
I'll admit here have been times when my youngest has nearly driven her mom and dad over the edge. In fact, I harbor one shameful memory of a desperate time when we tried to force our daughter to simply try a bite of a new food.
I still shake my head at the thought of that moment.
But now I have a new friend and a new approach. Meet Tamara Follett, author of The Stay-Full Diet, and check out her advice on...
Getting your family to eat better doesn't have to involve hog-tying and force-feeding. Mercifully, most of the hysteria and tearful threats can be avoided entirely by following these 5 simple steps.
As we hear almost daily on the news, even if your family isn't overweight, there are significant long-term health benefits to eating better, (not the least of which is living longer!).
And even if you have a family of junk-food addicts, you can -- with a little dedication -- transition your family's palate into a healthier arena. It's just that the transition to a new way of eating for junk-foodies will have to be VERY subtle.
Once you've decided to improve your family's nutritional intake, the objectives are to introduce more vegetables into your family's diet, (because you can never have enough vegetables!), reduce fats (for obvious reasons!) and add fiber (which leaves you with a full feeling longer, and has numerous health and digestive benefits).
1. Start by adding gradually-increasing amounts of veggies to your casseroles, stews and meat dishes. The idea is to avoid the inevitable resistance by sneaking the good food into your meals.
Use more rich heavy sauces that can successfully hide the fact that the veggies outweigh the meats by a considerable margin. For example, low-calorie Szechwan Stir-Fry Sauce or Jamaican Jerk Sauce will overwhelm the taste of the veggies. (But read labels! Many sauces contain too much fat, and you can usually make the same sauce in minutes at home, with half the fat!)
Add as much flavor and spice as your family can tolerate, and they'll never notice the meat proportions are shrinking. (My own observation is that the more flavorful the food, the more filling it is. Eat a small bowl of vegetable curry, and see if you aren't just as full and satisfied as if you had eaten a plain boring chicken breast!)
2. To increase your family's fiber intake, stock up on a variety of whole grain cereals your family likes. Cereal makes a healthy filling snack for kids at any time of the day or night, so get away from the cereal-is-only-for-breakfast mindset. Have a wide selection available for them to choose from, to keep cereal from becoming boring.
Add the merriment factor for the kids by letting them mix their own "customized" cereal from the array of cereals, sliced fresh fruit, and dried cranberries or chopped dates you have laid out. They'll have fun mixing their own and trying everyone else's combinations to see which one is best!
In addition, there are thousands of high-fiber, low-fat recipes out there using breakfast cereal as a base, including some fabulous dessert recipes! Your family will never guess it is good for them!
3. Follow up each meal with a rich fruit-based dessert, and the bowl of ice cream in front of the TV every night won't be missed. Fresh fruit crumbles, peach and yogurt parfaits, upside-down Pineapple Cake made with pancake mix. Next to these, plain old ice cream or candy will seem boring.
4. Make snack foods, instead of buying them! With homemade snacks, you can control what goes into them. And there are entire cookbooks containing nothing but quick-and-healthy snacks that will convert even the most staunch junk food addict, because homemade snacks are heads and tails over store-bought!
5. Challenge yourself by cooking meat for one meal, but use the meat over three meals. You have one chicken? Cook it, but make it last three meals with casseroles and pasta dishes that don't need much meat. You'll cut down on calories, AND on your food bill!
You will note that the above tips require pre-planning and more prep time, but honestly, by the time you and the kids make it down to McDonalds, you could have made something at home. Home cooking doesn't have to equate to time-consuming!
Plan meals for the whole week ahead and do all your grocery shopping at once. If multiple planned recipes require the same chopped vegetable, chop all you'll need for the whole week and store in a plastic bag. This will cut down on prep time for you, during the week.
Follow these tips, don't rush things, and the transition to healthier eating will be relatively painless. Once a week, cook your family's favorite meal, and they'll likely never notice that both you and they are eating healthier!
NOTE: Tamara has written four nonfiction books, the latest of which is The Stay-Full Diet, which details the methods she used to lose 65 pounds and keep it off.
Author: John McGran