Everywhere you turn there are conflicting messages about what we should and should not be eating. Eat vegan. Eat organic. Eat a high protein diet. Stay away from carbs. Eat complex carbs in moderation. Gluten is slowly killing you. Eat fruit. Limit fruit because it’s high in sugar. Eat dairy. Avoid dairy. Make sure to include probiotics, prebiotics, monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, fiber. The list goes on and on, and that’s not even taking into account food allergies and sensitivities.
Everyone is searching for the cure to whatever is ailing them, from constipation and bloating to acne. And let’s face it, we’re also all looking for the next easy fix, the next diet plan which will help us get in shape fast and be easy to stick to. But, unfortunately, I have never come across a plan that says Girl Scout cookies, potato chips and candy are the key to losing weight. I’m not giving up hope, though.
It could make your head literally spin trying to figure out the perfect way to feed your family. Then, after hours of research and Dr. Oz episodes, we finally choose the perfect plan. Well, not entirely perfect, since it doesn’t include Caramel deLites® and Sour Patch Kids®. Now, we have to try to integrate it into our family meals or we’re stuck making separate dinners for each member of the family. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time for that.
Of course once you have made your well-rounded dinner of quinoa with kale and kimchi, one of your kids throws an epic tantrum at the table refusing to eat anything but chicken nuggets or mac ‘n cheese. You’re now in a standoff with a four-year-old holding his breath and turning blue in the face while you push forkfuls of kimchi towards his mouth. This is not the healthy, delightful family dinnertime you had in mind.
No matter how well-intentioned we are, we are still somewhat at the mercy of our children’s food preferences, and our own cravings for KitKats® and potato chips. So I have come up with a set of guidelines for my own healthy eating as well as my family’s.
- Use the 80/20 Rule. We all crave a little leeway in our diets. We want all the benefits of eating healthy, but we don’t want to deprive ourselves of the food we love. So commit to eating healthy 80% of the time, and allow yourself a treat every once in a while. For our family during a typical week, it usually looks like dinner out on Friday night and fajita night at home on Saturday. Fajitas which include chips and guacamole with a margarita to wash it all down. This rule also leaves room to include holiday meals or birthday parties. Flexibility is the key to maintaining healthy habits long-term.
- Don’t keep it in the house. If I kept candy or potato chips in my house all the time, they would never last. I can sniff out a bag of Skittles® like a bloodhound in search of a body. Typically, when we have treats in our family, we go out to get them, or I only buy just enough for that one meal so there are no leftovers. I try to keep only healthy snacks on hand for the kids, so that if they are hungry, they have no choice but to eat a banana or a string cheese.
- Everything in moderation. This is similar to the first rule. If you are really craving something, don’t deny yourself. The temptation will continue to eat at you until you are buried in a gallon of ice cream up to your eyebrows. Allow yourself a serving of your desired food, and move on. The same goes for the kids. Allow them treats every once in a while, a trip to the custard stand or candy with family movie night. You can’t keep the bad foods away from your children forever, they will get it one way or another, especially once they start school. You might as well teach them how to incorporate treats into their diet in moderation.
- Eat real foods. Nothing processed in a factory is ever as healthy as what comes from nature. I try to buy mostly whole, unprocessed foods when I go grocery shopping. If they are processed, I look for five or less ingredients, and I must be able to pronounce all of the ingredients. I buy organic when it makes sense for my family. Like most Americans, I can’t afford to purchase everything organic, but I like to avoid the dirty dozen – those foods known to be very high in pesticide residue. If you are looking for ways to cut out processed food and get more real foods in your diet, check out Lisa Leake’s website for some great ideas.
- Introduce new foods in small ways. Some kids may knock down the door to try a new kale and beet salad, but mine will not. If I am serving a food they’ve never had before, I usually prepare it as a side dish to something they already love. Or I try to mix the new ingredient in with foods they are very familiar with (i.e. kale in brown rice or quinoa in chicken soup). Start with one weird food at a time and instill an “at least one bite before you leave the table” rule. The earlier in your kid’s life you start, the less likely they will fight you.
- Stop at one serving. This one is often a difficult one for me because I have been known to eat an entire watermelon or two pounds of cherries in one sitting. You can have too much of a good thing. Luckily, my four kids love fruit just as much as I do. So my portion control often consists of inviting my kids to share the watermelon or cherries. Then, I am usually lucky if I can fight them off enough to get even one serving for myself.
- Drink lots of water. Your body is nearly three-quarters water. The majority of your blood and every cell in your body is made of water. We need water for our bodies to function properly. The amount is different for every person, but the best measure of whether you are getting enough water is the color of your urine. If your pee is mostly clear, you’re well hydrated. Plus, we often mistake thirst for hunger. So if you think you are feeling hungry, drink a glass of water and revisit your hunger in 20 minutes.
- Sit down to eat, and try to eat one meal a day as a family. When we take the time to enjoy a meal instead of shoving a burrito down our throat as we rush out the door to soccer practice, we actually eat less. Chew your food. Take the time to taste each bite, and be thankful for it. Enjoy the company of your family. Talk to each other, no cell phones allowed. Discuss your day’s events. Family dinnertime is sacred, especially in this age of iPads and cell phones. It is so easy to be disconnected from each other when we’re always connected to the internet. If you sit down as a family to share a meal once a day, you might find out that you actually like the people living in your house.