If you want to make your meals greener and healthier for the long haul, here are some easy ways your entire family can make it happen.
1. Know your strengths and weaknesses
Sit down and make a list of your family’s general food and meal strengths, weaknesses and wishes. It doesn’t have to be a long list. Focus on the biggies. For example, my list would say “I have a picky eater in the house (my son), but he does eat veggies like a champ. I’m a good baker but not so great when it comes to inspired cooking. Plus, I hate grocery shopping and want to cook stuff that’s fast, but still healthy.”
What I might gather from this list is that I need to plan fast meals, do all my shopping once a week, not every night and I should probably look into a good cookbook or two so I can become a better cook. Oh, and I need to consider meals that my overly picky son will like.
This list is meant to get you thinking about food and how it affects your household. For instance, if you tend to cook in the microwave only, and aren’t willing to budge, it’s fine to try and plan healthy meals that can go in the microwave.
In general, a basic list like this means you acknowledge and maybe even embrace your food strengths and weaknesses, so that your attempts to remake your meals is with you, not against you.
2. Get some quick portion-size education
If you suspect that portion sizes are out of control at your house, it’ll require a bit of education. See the following for some basic food portion primers:
Next, if you don’t have any, get some basic measuring cups and keep them handy. Until you can eyeball proper portions, measuring cups are some of the best friends you can have and may mean the difference between a proper 120 calorie bowl of cereal and a 300 calorie bowl. Use those measuring cups to measure out serving sizes that are recommended in the links above. One more tip – use smaller dishes, as it will help you serve up smaller, more appropriate sizes.
3. Get lovable with veggies and fruits
In many households, families focus on the main dish the most, which, in America, tends to be some sort of meat or often pasta. Paying more attention to how you cook and serve vegetables and fruits, means your family is more likely to eat them up. If you’re not sure how much love to give veggies and fruits, consider that experts say at least half your plate at meals should be made up of veggies and fruits. I’d say that’s a decent amount of love required.
To improve veggies and fruits, serve the freshest produce you can or on busy days go with frozen, not canned (ick). Frozen are best after fresh and have just as many nutrients. Steam, don’t boil. You can even serve raw veggies, which is super fast – plain or with a low-fat dip. Lastly get a great veggie cookbook and see what looks awesome – in fact, put kids in charge of choosing the veggies and fruits and if necessary cooking them. My son always eats his own cooking more than mine. Oh, and don’t forget, you can serve fruit as dessert.
4. Go organic
You might think I’m nuts to say, “Hey remake your meals” AND “Go organic too!” Doesn’t that sound like a lot of work?
Here’s the catch, going organic can help you eat healthier naturally. Organic food tends to be more expensive, thus requiring you to think about each purchase. Really thinking about the food you buy is a key step to healthier eating. Plus, with organic food costing what it does, you’ll be more inclined to spend the money you have on whole, fresh foods rather than junk.
As you go organic, work on discussing organics with the kids too. This is a great way to work green eating conversations into your family’s life.
5. Eat less meat
Eating less meat lowers your carbon footprint and in many cases is healthier, allowing you to cut fat and calories easily. Going meatless more often isn’t as painful as you might think and bonus, you’ll save tons of money. Meat is expensive! Start with meatless Monday and work up to more meatless meals from there.
- Organic vegan pot pie that even meat-eaters will love
- How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food
- 8 Meatless Dishes for Meat-n-Taters Lovers
6. Institute recipe hour
Once a week, sit down with the family and look through cookbooks, cooking magazines, the web, what have you, and make a semi-solid list of healthy meals and recipes you’d like to try during the week. Do this before you go grocery shopping.
Knowing ahead of time what you’ll be eating during the week can cut down on your mealtime stress level, save you money and stops you from eating fast food or junk just because it’s quicker.
7. Shop less
Daily shopping for groceries encourages impulse buys, overspending and can make you so insane that you buy the first quick (and maybe not healthy) thing you see. I personally HATE shopping, even grocery shopping, so I make it a goal to go only on big shopping trips twice a month, where I stock up on dry goods and such, plus once a week to restock stuff like fresh veggies. Four shopping trips a month is a heck of a lot better than daily trips to the store.
Shopping less requires that I plan healthy meals in advance, to a point. I’m not crazed about it, but I do plan a general menu for the week.
8. Cook together
Some kids really like to help out in the kitchen, and others don’t, but no matter what, your child should be involved, at least somewhat in meal planning, prep and cooking. Even little kids can shred spinach or lettuce, mix batter or scrub potatoes. With all kids, this gives you a chance to talk about why you cook how you do – i.e. why olive oil is a better choice than butter or how come you’re steaming, not boiling veggies.
Cooking is a skill your child will need as an adult, so it’s smart to start getting your child involved early. My own son isn’t that into cooking. I still keep him involved though. He helps to plan meals, sets the table or I’ll have him sit and talk to me while I cook. Once in a while he’ll even brave his way into the kitchen and cook something.
9. Eat together at the table
Research shows that eating together, as a family not only makes for more well adjusted kids but encourages healthy eating habits. Kids get enough screen time as it is, they don’t need to watch TV while eating. Plus screen time mixed with eating means you’re less likely to pay attention to normal hunger cues, meaning you may keep eating once you’re full.
Eating at the table helps you pay better attention to your child’s eating habits too. Such as you’ll notice if he’s loading up on unhealthy food toppings, taking three servings or skipping his veggies nightly. In turn, this gives you a chance to discuss healthy eating habits, along with the not so healthy ones. Eating at the table is also fun. If you’re not sure how to talk to your kids, start with high-low. We do it every night. Everyone says the best part and worst part of their day, which usually results in more conversation.
On top of eating together, ban phones, books, electronics and other distractions at mealtime.
10. Be honest about food issues
The biggest focus of my childhood obesity and healthy living series is that families need to talk. Without open and honest conversations about food, calories, weight and so on, kids will never learn to make healthy choices.
As noted before, talking about food is very hard for many parents, with most parents claiming it’s easier to discuss drugs and sex than food with a child. If you’ve got issues with food topics, get over it. You need to use mealtime to set a good example. If your child is loading up on 1,000 calories of tarter sauce, and you just ignore it, or sit and say, “That’s okay” you’re not helping your child. You need to speak up when you see unhealthy habits. Not in a mean way, but in a, “There’s a healthier way to eat” way.
Encourage even picky eaters to try a little of everything. Talk about foods your child likes and doesn’t. Mention why you made the healthier low-calorie fish over the fatty hamburger. These are issues kids can handle, and they should be allowed to handle them too, so they can grow up and make healthy choices for a lifetime.