Saturday, February 20, 2010

Transitioning Your Family To A Healthy Diet

You've decided that a healthy diet is the best for you and your family and it's time to move them down the path of a new Food Journey, eliminating processed foods and refined sugars. You want to start eating fresh fruits and vegetables the way God intended. But upon mentioning this to your spouse and children, instead of accolades for your wise resolution, you find you're met with some slight (or rather not so slight!) resistance. 

I  know... you're shocked! Doesn't everybody want to eat healthy? Ummm, no.

We like our food to taste good, comfort us, and be ready the second we decide we're hungry. Even if your family eats most of their veggies, they have developed certain tastes over the years based on what has touched their palette most often. It will take time to retrain that same palette. But it can be done! And the younger the child, the easier this can be.

Right before our second child was born, I began my own food journey and started helping my family down this path with me. My husband was not resistant, but he was a bit leery and certainly not ready to give up all his favorite foods. Being my spouse and not my child, I certainly didn't insist he change, but rather, I allowed him to make his own decisions. We had a few bumps, but now, he has joined me and encourages the children, too!

How can you transition your family so that they'll follow along?

• Do not announce or demand that you are changing how your family eats forever! Talk about making a couple of changes to help everyone feel their best. Discuss that you will make only one change at a time.

• Don't tell them you are no longer buying white rice in lieu of brown. Instead, mention that this new kind of rice (or whatever) has a wonderful nutty flavor (or some other characteristic depending on the food)!

• When possible, mix some things together, switch back and forth, or try different varieties, gradually increasing the use of the healthier choice until the transition is complete. I did this with the brown rice thing (one of our bumps in the road! We finally found a variety we both could agree on - Brown Basmati).

• Do not get rid of everything in your pantry right away. As you use up an item, replace it with a healthier alternative when possible. For example, instead of vegetable oil, buy olive oil. Instead of white crackers, try a whole grain variety.

• Don't start hounding them to give up sugary, processed foods. Provide alternatives for them to snack on; something natural, like oranges, frozen grapes (fun!), or nuts. Find a good cookie recipe with things to add in like oats, dried fruit, and sucanat instead of brown or white sugar. You may just have to say no at times and yes at others (to the kids, not the spouse!). Be sure to talk about the fact that sweets are treats best eaten in moderation and keep only a few on hand at a time. 

• Freeze all the candy when it comes home from a party or other event. Out of sight sometimes will help it remain out of mind! After a while, it just disappeared! (Works well for the younger ones.)

• Take some of the family members with you to a farmer's market to select a few fresh items. Let them help pick and then prepare it together. Children are especially anxious to eat whatever they helped prepare!

• Look for a recipe that would appeal to your family's tastes. For example, my family will eat almost anything in a soup! If your family likes skillet dishes or casseroles, try introducing a new veggie in one of these.

• Learn to adapt favorite family recipes. Your husband will most likely notice a change in his favorite casserole, but just comment that you have made a healthier substitution and that you would like him to give it a try for a couple of rounds. And if Friday night is traditionally a pizza night, get the family together and start making your own pizza using fresh, quality ingredients.

• Learn to use herbs, spices, and healthy sauces or juices when cooking. I love to use fresh lemon juice or vinegars to liven up veggies. Foods that might normally be bland become amazingly appealing with these simple additions.

•Select only the freshest, in-season vegetables because of their flavor, nutrients, and appeal. Frozen vegetables, while an acceptable alternative, just don't have the same flavor. Remember, you are aiming to convince family members to willingly buy into the healthy lifestyle.

• Purchase a good resource for preparing vegetables, such as Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. While I'm not a vegetarian, it is a great resource for knowing how to select and prepare produce that I'm not familiar with (and many that I am!).

• Avoid overcooking vegetables as it causes them to loose their flavor and become less appealing. Steaming is very healthy and grilling or broiling often brings out the natural sugars and flavors! (Avoid using the microwave for cooking and heating).

• As you read books or articles about healthy food choices, share with your husband and children what you are learning. Begin to talk about the real facts of food.

• Set aside one day a week that the family can enjoy their old favorites. For us, this is often on Sunday, a day we celebrate Christ' resurrection. It is a joyous day and one of rest. Often we are with friends or relaxing from our week's work. So this is a day we sometimes set aside tight restrictions.

• If your spouse is still resistant after all of the above, ask him if he desires the children to eat healthy and what that would look like to him. Often we want this, but we have not been willing to set the example. If this is the case, discuss how the two of you could do a better job of this. Agree to some basic changes with the understanding that the two of you will come together after a certain period to discuss how it is going and if you wish to make any further changes.

• Read Rex Russell's book, What The Bible Says About Healthy Living, together as a couple and discuss it chapter by chapter. 

Don't give up and throw in the towel if your family doesn't get excited, even after some heroic attempts on your part. Give it more time. Keep at it, praying for guidance and direction as well as insight into what will help your specific family. On the other hand, if you're off and running, but have a hiccup once in a while, don't fret about it. Just remember that even in the most committed families, this happens (I confess here and now, it happens in mine!). Especially when traveling or entertaining guests! Look at the big picture and consider what your family is characterized by the majority of the time.

The more you provide healthy alternatives that are tasty and appealing, the more willing your family will be to trying something new. And as time passes, you'll find that their palette is changing for the better. 

In the last two years, whenever we go to a wedding, my daughter that has the infamous sweet tooth, almost always comes up to me with her cake and asks if she must finish it. "Why", I ask? "It's too sweet." Ahhh, sweet victory! 

Would you be willing to share your own transition tips?


 Photo Credit: Simon Howden Free Digital Photos 


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