Family food struggles got you searching for answers? Hey, I’m not just talking about the acrobatics you go through to get your toddler to eat those veggies. Let’s face it, with all the carpools, work commutes, homework, playdates, extra-curricular activities, and general chaos it’s hard to get a handle on healthy eating for us adults too.
It’s time to take a breather. Let’s sit down, regroup and come up with a game plan. I mean if you can puzzle together a semi-realistic activity schedule for your kids then a healthy eating plan should be a cinch.
Follow these five easy steps to reset and recharge your family’s diet.
1. What’s the Problem?
This step is crucial. Resist the urge to go straight to a plan and figure out what’s standing between you and your perfect healthy diet.
Your plan might be to cook a fresh, home-prepared meal every night but your obstacle is time. The method won’t work if you routinely arrive home from work at 6:00 pm and your family are hungry at 6:01 pm. Your goal, in this case, would be to tackle the time crunch by doing food prep when you do have the time or perhaps delegating food prep tasks.
So ponder this for a moment. What are your personal obstacles? Is it taste, cooking know-how, lack of time for cooking or shopping, lack of incentive?
Identify three issues. Write them down. Sounds corny right? Well, do it anyway. You’re more likely to make a change if the problem’s there in black and white.
2. Solutions, Solutions
Come up with a solution for each of the problems you identified.
Write them down. Be realistic.
If your problem is that your family does not like vegetables simply making them available is probably not the answer. Instead, your solution might be to serve a tasty dip with raw veggies. The dip may not be that healthy, but it is a good step-wise solution to your end goal. In the future, you can change the dip to a healthy version or even eliminate it altogether.
If you’re stuck coming up with ideas a one-time appointment with a dietitian may help. There are also loads of useful websites that give you fantastic solutions to common food problems. Here are a few I like:
Problem: Poor Cooking Know-How
- This site offers great recipes ranging from easy to complicated.
- Healthy recipe section included.
- Nice sleek video cooking demos on Instagram.
- Fantastic, easy to follow recipes.
- Reviews seem to be pretty accurate about recipe ease and finished product.
Problem: Lack of Food Knowledge
Some interesting food blogs (other than this one of course!):
- Sarah Remmer: Gives food advice for those with little ones.
- Abby Langer: Gives great healthy eating advice for the whole family.
- Nutrition Stripped: Breaks down the ins and outs of hot topics in nutrition.
- Authority Nutrition: Dietitians provide answers to your common nutrition questions.
Problem: No Time for Shopping
It’s the 21st century people; there’s an app for that. I have no particular allegiance to any grocery delivery service. There are a bunch of them. I have listed a few below but feel free to search out your own. Also, some stores and store locations (e.g. Loblaws) offer shopping services where you can pre-order and pay online; they’ll shop for you, and all you have to do is pull up and load your car.
- Grocery Gateway: Longo’s answer to the grocery delivery need.
- Mama Earth Organics: Provides organic food baskets.
- Fresh City: Provides an online organic shopping and food delivery service.
- Personal Gourmet: Nutritionist Rose Reisman’s meal delivery company.
Yummly: Recipe website that includes a “Budget Bytes” section.
Good Food Box: Great source for affordable fruits and veggies. Subsidized fresh produce program organized by FoodShare Toronto.
A couple of useful how-to articles:
- Checkout51: offers an alternative to coupon clipping.
Problem: Lack of Time During the Week for Cooking
Kick-start your meal prep by trialling a couple of local companies that take ingredient and recipe planning off your menu.
Fresh City: Offers “recipe kits” with ingredients prepped and ready to go.
Supperworks: A self-described meal assembly kitchen that plans recipes and you show up to prepare ingredients and recipe kits for the week ahead.
Food tracking apps
- eaTracker: Dietitians of Canada resource that lets you track food and activity, analyze recipes and search for nutrient data on particular foods.
- MyFitnessPal: Easy to use food tracking system. Users load food items, so nutrient profiles are not always accurate. Still a great tool as long as you keep this in mind.
- Cookspiration: Dietitians of Canada app that serves up healthy recipe ideas for every function and situation.
3. You’re in it Together
Do it as a family. Come up with the problems and solutions together.
Clean out the junk in your kitchen together. Not only is it cathartic but it’s a great exercise to teach your kids about which foods are less healthy options. Unopened non-perishables can be donated to minimize waste.
At least sometimes, take your kid’s grocery shopping. Have them help select foods. Even little ones can help pick out produce with mom and dad helping.
Make cooking a family affair. Enlist your kids to wash the lettuce, help with stirring, pour the milk, portion the food. When they are hands-on, children tend to make healthier food choices, eat a wider variety of foods and understand portion control.
Sit down and eat as a family. Family meals may not be possible all of the time. But make it a goal at least a few times a week. Not only is this valuable for stronger family relationships it has also been shown to translate into healthier eating habits for all members.
4. Take the Screen Out
Hey, we all like a good pizza and movie night. But most of the time it’s better to turn that screen off while eating. Eating mindlessly in front of the TV is not a good habit. A recent 2013 study in Europe found that kids who do not eat their meals in front of the TV are less likely to be overweight (1). Another study, the 2005 California Health Interview Survey, found that excessive screen time (> 3 h a day) is associated with higher fast food and sugary food intake (2). So why not take screens out the equation? Limit daily screen use where you can and avoid turning them on during meals.
5. Provide Feedback
Like most things in life, healthy eating is a journey. Family food struggles are a push and pull situation.
At the start of every season take a look back. What has worked and what has not worked? Are your family eating problems still an issue. If so, can you come up with another solution? If not it’s time to tackle something new.
Then, take a look forward. Is it the start of soccer season. Are you going to be carpooling more at dinner time? Do you need to come up with a strategy for having meals prepared ahead of time? Do you need to make a mental note of healthy eating options when you’re forced to eat on the road? It’s easier to come up with healthy eating strategies when you have time to think than when you’re operating on the fly.
Family food struggles may never be one hundred percent solved. But, small steps now can result in significant differences in the long run. Plus, if you eat well you will feel better and be able to tackle those struggles more effectively. You can do it! Start today.
Nutrition planning is integral to achieve your optimal athletic performance. Gazelle Nutrition Lab delivers one-on-one or group nutrition counselling and consulting to both recreational and high-performance athletes. In addition, the Gazelle Blog is a free resource for healthy recipes and health tips. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!
- Vik FN et. al. Associations between eating meals, watching TV while eating meals and weight status among children, ages 10-12 years in eight European countries: ENERGY cross-sectional study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013; 10: 58.
- Shi L and Mao Y. Excessive recreational computer use and food consumption behaviour among adolescents. Ital J Pediatr. 2010; 36: 52.