- The "Standard American Diet" (SAD for short) consists of a lot of unhealthy foods.
- Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy diet is easier if the habit is instilled during a child's early years.
- Your body derives all vitamins and minerals from the food you eat, so a well-rounded diet is very important for family health
Family Nutrition Tips
If you’re like most Americans, you struggle with figuring out how to keep your family healthy. The standard American diet (SAD for short… you’ll see why) consists of a great deal of sodium, saturated fat, refined grains, and calories from solid fats and sugars. On average, Americans eat less than their recommended vegetables, fruit, whole grains, dairy, and healthy oils (1). That said, finding healthy foods isn’t exactly easy. Grocery stores are a maze of convenience foods that are fried, sugary, or too salty. And reaching for health foods doesn’t help, since many self-proclaimed “health foods” are actually junk foods in disguise (2). It’s a feat that some have even called “virtually impossible” (3).
Though building healthy eating habits for your family can take time, it is achievable. One word of advice: though it is often tempting to dive right in, transitioning to a healthy lifestyle works better for the family by implementing small changes. Don’t feel like you have to throw out all of your junk food immediately in order to succeed at this! (Depending on your personality type or that of those in your household, you may decide that’s the only way to start. If you think you need to do that, go ahead - there’s no shame in it.) We wanted to ensure that this post would benefit all kinds of families, so do what works best for you. We know that not every family has the money to create healthy gourmet meals, so we’ve even listed family nutrition tips for those on a budget.
The first milestone in building a healthy family lifestyle is to focus on nutrition for kids. As frustrating as it may be, there are plenty of reasons kids are picky eaters, including sensitivity to tastes (especially bitter and sour tastes) and a predisposition toward selecting energy-rich foods. Genetics may also play a role, and some kids are more or less likely to try new foods based on how they were fed as infants (4). But don’t worry, moms and dads: there are plenty of sneaky ways to get even your pickiest kids to eat nutritious foods that abound in the vitamins and minerals every family member needs! Continue reading for some simple health tips that have been proven to promote healthy eating for families just like yours.
Healthy Eating for Kids
Healthy eating doesn’t come naturally to everyone - especially children. Most parents need to show their children how to be a healthy kid by modeling healthy eating themselves. That said, putting in the work now will reap fantastic rewards in your child’s future. Prevention of health conditions, proper development, fewer cavities and a greater chance of eating healthy in the future are just a few benefits of healthy eating in early childhood (5).
Eating together as a family, starting the day with a healthy breakfast, and increasing variety while decreasing portion sizes are just a few good health tips for a child. Healthy eating for kids should also include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (they need at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of veggies a day), and a more relaxed eating pace, since it takes the brain 20 minutes to tell the body that you’re full. A healthy lifestyle for kids involves plenty of exercise as well, so be sure to keep them well hydrated by offering plenty of fluids throughout the day, like water, lowfat or nonfat milk, and low-calorie drinks.
Another healthy eating tip for kids is to include more whole grains into their diets. Kids should have at least 3 ounces of whole grains per day. Whole grains include oats, brown rice, rye, and whole-wheat pasta. The main differentiation between healthy and unhealthy food for kids in the grain category is whether they are whole grain or processed, bleached and (sometimes) enriched. Refined grains are processed to the point where they lose about 80% of their nutritional value, including dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins (6). Whole grains have been linked to longer life span as well, whereas refined grains have been linked to a higher risk of disease (7).
Do you ever wonder, “How can children stay healthy?” The answer is simple, but it isn’t easy. You are the key to ensuring your child’s lifestyle is a healthy one. Children are born imitators: they will mimic your relationship with food, in what they eat, how they eat it, and often how they feel about it while they are eating. If children see you trying foods you weren’t sure about, they could feel much more comfortable doing it themselves. Of course, some tricks of the trade never hurt anyone, so we’ll also provide helpful hints on how to get kids eating below!
How to Start Eating Healthy As a Family
If you’re wondering how to start a family diet, one of the first steps is to change perspective. For many, diets are akin to fads and eating plans that ultimately fall through. The best way to establish healthy family habits is to view healthy eating as an all-around lifestyle change. Be sure that what you’re doing is sustainable. If you aren’t sure, remember, baby steps are how to start eating healthy as a family. It takes longer but is often far more successful (8).
If you’re struggling with how to teach your child healthy eating habits, try to find some healthy eating activities for kids. One of the classics is the “ants on a log” activity. This quick snack involves spreading peanut butter on a celery stick and then covering it with raisins. Kids enjoy making their own ants on a log and often eat it like candy because they helped make it! For children with peanut allergies, there are plenty of other options. These include tree nut butters, wowbutter (which is a soy-based spread) and sunbutter (made from sunflower seed kernels). Remember: although peanuts are considered a legume (9), if your child has peanut and tree nut allergies, take care, as some nuts are cross reactive to one another (10). In addition to swapping out the peanut butter, you can switch the raisins with craisins if you’d like to put red ants on the log.
Explaining healthy eating to a child also helps tip the scales to get your kids to reach for healthy foods more. If you’d like to reinforce the lesson by reading aloud to your child, there are fantastic books on the subject. If you’d rather not go that route, another idea is to research specific vitamins and minerals provided by foods, and then explain the benefits of those vitamins and minerals.
“That’s great, but I want to know how to encourage healthy eating in adults - like my spouse!” Adults are trickier to get invested in healthy foods, since they are more likely to have a set routine they don’t want disrupted. However, it is doable. Remember that flavor is king. Every human being, big or small, wants to experience fantastic flavors, so as long as you can incorporate great flavors into a dish, you can sway even the staunchest junk-food eater!
Healthy Family Eating Plan
For those who would like to find practical advice including healthy family meals for a week, there is a sample plan at VeryWellFit that even includes a helpful tool to help you find out what your caloric needs are and adapt the recipes according to dietary restrictions. Skinnytaste has a 14-day healthy meal plan for those who adhere to a Weight Watchers meal plan. The choices on their plan seem to be a perfect blend of deliciousness and healthy food, with options like crustless ham and cheese quiche and tuscan white beans with spinach, shrimp and feta cheese. In the beginning of the year, Skinnytaste also published a 7-day healthy eating plan with slow cooker butternut pear soup and paleo jalapeno popper chicken chili on the menu.
Some of those meal plans aren’t exactly conducive to families though. For a 7 day family meal plan that is healthy, check out Clean Eating with Kids. Their options include foil-baked shrimp and couscous pockets and healthy spaghetti carbonara. The Clean Eating website seems to understand families’ needs quite well, while also understanding that food prep is hard work. For that reason it seems they focus on tasty, healthy dishes that can be reheated as a time-saver for parents. For that reason, it’s a healthy family eating plan that everyone can benefit from.
PrimalPeak also offers a 7 day meal plan that is healthy, along with some additional tips to help guide parents toward crafting meals that kids will actually eat. If you’d rather look for healthy family meals with grocery lists, there are some available both at Cozi and Tastes Better From Scratch, although the Cozi one is more of a generic healthy shopping list and Tastes Better from Scratch has a more customized list to go along with the recipes in the meal plan. They even included a helpful cost calculator to give you an idea of how much each meal costs to make for a family of four. You can’t get much better than that.
Healthy Eating for Families on a Budget
If you’re living on a budget, you know how hard it is to find healthy, cheap meals. Healthy eating for families on a budget is possible, though, if you know where to look! Some of the meal plans listed above (like the ones by Clean Eating with Kids and Tastes Better from Scratch) seem to be tailor-made for families on a budget. Many of the meals on their meal plans are cheaper than a fast food run for a family of the same size, and you can be sure that healthy family meal plans on a budget are far more nutrient-rich than anything you’d find in a fast food restaurant.
Depending on how limited the family budget is, it can be even harder to find fresh fruits and vegetables for your family. Healthy kid-friendly meals on a budget don’t always have to include fresh veggies. If all you’ve got is frozen or canned, you’re still doing your part to give your children the best you can. If you’ve got a green thumb and have the means to purchase soil and other gardening tools, you may want to consider growing your own fresh fruits and vegetables at home. In fact, many parts of vegetables that get thrown out can, with a bit of research, be regrown to provide food for your family. Some examples of vegetables that can be re-grown or re-planted are carrots, celery, avocado, potatoes, onions and garlic.
- Walker, Courtney. “The Effects of an American Diet on Health.” Inquiro, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2015, https://www.uab.edu/inquiro/issues/past-issues/volume-9/82-the-effects-of-an-american-diet-on-health#:~:text=The Dietary Guidelines for Americans,products, and oils than recommended. Accessed 14 May 2021.
- Khan, Nizam. “15 "Health Foods" that Are Really Junk Foods in Disguise.” Healthline, 1 July 2020, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/15-health-foods-that-are-really-junk-foods. Accessed 14 May 2021.
- Stiehl, Christina. “Why It's Virtually Impossible for Most of America to Eat Healthy.” Thrillist, 14 October 2016, https://www.thrillist.com/health/nation/why-healthy-eating-is-virtually-impossible-for-most-of-america. Accessed 14 May 2021.
- Dewar, Gwen. “The Science of Picky Eater: Why Do Children Refuse to Eat Foods That We Find Tasty?” Parenting Science, 2009-2013, https://www.parentingscience.com/picky-eaters.html. Accessed 14 May 2021.
- CDC Healthy Schools. “Childhood Nutrition Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 February 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm. Accessed 14 May 2021.
- Jimenez, Ximena, and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What is the Difference Between Whole Grain and Refined Grains? Q&A, with healthcare experts answering questions. 2021. ShareCare, Kramer, Chris, and dotFIT Fitness. What is the Difference Between Whole Grain and Refined Grains? Q&A, with various medical experts providing answers. 2021. ShareCare.com, https://www.sharecare.com/health/health-value-of-foods/difference-whole-grain-refine. Accessed 17 May 2021.
- Kramer, Chris, and dotFIT Fitness. What is the Difference Between Whole Grain and Refined Grains? Q&A, with various medical experts providing answers. 2021. ShareCare.com, https://www.sharecare.com/health/health-value-of-foods/difference-whole-grain-refined-grains#:~:text=Whole grains are the whole,iron, and many B vitamins. Accessed 17 May 2021.
- Lutes, Lesley D., et al. “Small Changes in Nutrition and Physical Activity Promote Weight Loss and Maintenance.” PubMed, National Institutes of Health, 21 June 2008, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18568379/. Accessed 17 May 2021.
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Legume of the Month: Peanuts.” Harvard Medical School, 1 June 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/legume-of-the-month-peanuts#:~:text=Even though "nut" is in,seeds that grow in pods.&text=(Unlike other legumes, which grow,shrubs, peanuts grow underground.). Accessed 17 May 2021.
- David, Goetz. “Cross-Reactivity Among Edible Nuts: Double Immunodiffusion, Crossed Immunoelectrophoresis, and Human Specific igE Serologic Surveys.” PubMed.gov, July 2005, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16095141/#:~:text=Walnut, pecan, and hazelnut form,and pecan with Brazil nut). Accessed 17 May 2021.
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