For spouses, parents and caretakers, keeping loved ones healthy is a full time job. If you’ve been a fan of Eat This, Not That! for a while now, you already know that nutrition plays a major role in your family’s health outcomes. But even when you’re armed with the best nutrition and diet tips out there, helping your family stick to a balanced, healthy diet isn’t always an easy task. Especially when long days at the office, soccer practices, dance classes and business trips are working against you. Don’t get discouraged; making small, simple changes to your home and daily routine can have a major impact on your family’s collective waistline. Yes, that includes yours, too!
According to researchers, simple actions like making time for family meals can help your child consume more nutritious foods and maintain a healthy weight. Experts also say that other tweaks like keeping fruit on the counter and removing serving dishes from the dinner table can improve your family’s diet. Pretty simple stuff, right?
Take Serving Plates off the Table
When you place heaping bowls of food on the table, over-eating is inevitable. Don’t believe it? A study in the journal Obesity found that when food is served family-style, people consume 35 percent more over the course of their meal. Instead, keep food on the stove or counter and spoon it out onto plates from there. When going back for seconds requires leaving the table, people tend consider their hunger levels more carefully.
Keep Ready-to-Eat Produce in Plain Sight
Your family is more likely to grab fruits and veggies over less healthy options if they’re readily available and right in front of you. Katie Cavuto MS, RD, the dietitian for the Philadelphia Phillies and Flyers, suggests keeping washed and prepared family-friendly veggies like cucumbers, peppers, sugar snap peas and carrots in the front of the fridge so they aren’t overlooked. Bananas, apples, pears and oranges fare well as sweet snacks and should be kept on the counter where everyone can see them. For an added health boost, move snack foods like fruit snacks and chips out of your sight line or keep them tucked away in the back of your cupboard. If you don’t see the food, you’re less apt to eat it.
Keep the Shaker Off the Table
You already limit the amount of sodium in your cooking, but if you keep a saltshaker on your kitchen table you may be derailing your efforts. “Instead of salt, set out lemon or lime wedges, pepper and a homemade blend of herb and spices,” suggests Cavuto. “This way your family has something healthy within reach when they want to add a punch of flavor to their dish.”
Be a Team Player
If your child or spouse expresses interest in losing weight or adapting a healthier diet, don’t ever outright agree that they need to slim down. Research has found that this often backfires, leading to additional weight gain. Instead, get the entire family to work toward the dieter’s goal. “Working together as a family will always produce better results. It provides motivation, accountability and support, plus it’s more fun than going at it alone,” says Cavuto. If the family member looking to slim down is an overweight child, having mom and dad slim down too can be extra beneficial. A University of California study found that for every unit decrease in a parent's BMI, their children lose one quarter of theirs. Simply put, a parent’s weight loss has a trickle down effect on their children.
Don’t Dine in Front of the TV
As you read earlier, family dinners are beneficial for overall health, but eating together in front of the TV doesn’t count. Why? When you’re paying attention to the screen, you’re not really paying attention to what or how much is going into your mouth. Not only does eating around the table provide a great platform for your family to connect with one another and eat more mindfully, it also gives kids an opportunity to ask questions and learn about the food on their plate.
Set the Table with Salad Plates
According to Carolyn Brown, MS RD of Foodtrainers, “The bigger your plate, the bigger your meal.” Why? While smaller plates make food servings appear significantly larger, larger plates makes food appear smaller, which can lead to overeating. In one study, campers who were given larger bowls served themselves and consumed 16 percent more cereal than those given smaller bowls. Swapping dinner for salad plates will help your family eat more reasonable portions.
“Are you a picky eater? Do you hate your veggies? Don’t bring this to the table with your children,” warns Cavuto. “Offer your little ones healthy foods even if you don’t like them. You never know if your kids will like it until you offer it to them—and the more nutritious foods they like, the better!” Cavuto also says that you shouldn’t throw in the towel if your child turns his nose up to kale or broccoli the first time it’s on his plate. “Reintroduce the snubbed food at least ten times before you take it off the menu. This parenting thing takes a whole bunch of patience!”
Bite Your Tongue
After you place a nutritious meal in front of your kids, sit back and don’t talk about what’s on the plate. Although it may be difficult, don’t tell your kids what, or how much, to eat. “Children tend to intuitively eat. They eat when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied. When you force your kids to clear their plate, you risk overriding their ability to naturally control caloric intake,” explains Cavuto. “And don’t single out the veggies when you encourage your kids to eat. It may encourage kids to rebel and do just the opposite. If you’re worried they haven’t taken in enough nutrients, encourage them to try a few more bites of everything on their plate, not just the produce. This encourages overall food appreciation.”
Don’t Serve Food After 8 PM
For working parents, getting dinner on the table at a traditional “dinner time” can be challenging—especially in this economy with so many people working extended hours. Unfortunately, this can have a negative impact on weight. A new study in the journal Obesity looked at the sleeping and eating habits of 52 people over seven days, and found that those who ate after 8 p.m. took in the most daily calories and had the highest BMIs. To keep your family trim, cook meal components like brown rice, proteins and veggies over the weekend so you can mix and match them during the week. Trust us, this tactic will help you get salads, skillet-meals and stir frys on the table in no time.
Remember the Plate Rule
You don’t have to completely overhaul your family’s meals to make it healthier, just adjust the portion size of each component. Cavuto says that half of each person’s plate should be comprised of non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, peppers, asparagus, carrots and tomatoes. Unrefined carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, beans and whole grains should make up a fourth of the plate and the last fourth should be reserved for proteins. Chicken, fish, and lean beef and pork all fit the bill. On a budget? Serve some nuts and seeds instead. They are filled with protein and a bit easier on the wallet. If getting your family to eat veggies is like pulling teeth, sneak them into dishes when you can.
Don't Be a Short- Order Cook
Don’t assume your kids won’t eat “grown up food” and fill their plates with kid’s menu classics like tater tots, chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. Little ones often mimic their parents' behavior, notes Cavuto. “Children can and will eat the same meals that their parents are eating if that is what is promoted at home, but don’t hesitate to make a your child’s plate more kid-friendly. For example, it the family meal is a stew your kids may be more likely to eat it if you separate the soup’s components on their plate.”