Healthy Food Choices for the Family: Tips from a Mother and Nutritionist

By, Lyn Schwartz, MS, RD [www.nutritionwithlyn.com]

Why did the chicken tender cross the road?  So the kids could eat healthier foods!

I know, bad joke.  But it’s no joke when it comes to the benefits of feeding your children healthier foods.  Notice I am using the adjective “healthier” when it comes to the kinds of foods you should be feeding your family.  It does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach.  You don’t have to buy all organic foods, only serve 100% whole grains, and avoid all high-fat foods.  You don’t even have to eliminate sweets and dessert.  The truth is that if you and your family members can say that you make healthier choices 80% of the time, you can call yourselves overall healthy eaters.  With seven days in a week, 80% means that you are having healthier desserts 5-6 nights of the week, and splurging on something more decadent 1-2 nights of the week.  Sound fair?

When my children were little, and we had our occasional homemade chocolate chip cookies or brownies, they obviously loved the taste.  I enjoyed “testing” them once in a while by asking, “Wow, these are so good.  Do you think we should just eat these cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner tomorrow?”  I loved hearing their reactions which were often times silly and/or illogical but always with the intention of telling me why it’s not good for you to have so many sweets.  It’s important to talk to your children about why you should eat more healthy foods, and not have so many unhealthy foods.  Over time, these tidbits of information sink into little minds, and they often make better choices on their own.   Role modeling is also very important.  I am always amazed when my daughter is mid-way through a sweet treat but opts for an apple after seeing me eating my apple and hearing me talk about how crispy and delicious it tastes.

When I serve dinner, sometimes very healthy and sometimes just moderately healthy, I always remind my children that dinner isn’t healthy unless a vegetable is included.  We often talk about how carrots are so good for our eyes.  My son used to claim that he could see better right after eating a carrot!

Try putting out food for your children in stages.  When you are making dinner, put out little bowls of raw veggies, with or without a low fat dip.  You would be amazed at how much more produce your children will eat when they are hungry and waiting for dinner.  I often add something different like a small bowl of olives too.   I call these little bowls and plates “appetizers” — my children seem to think they are much more exciting when I use that term!

After dinner, when my son or daughter asks for a sweet treat, I go right for some cut-up fruit for the table.  I let my children know that we’ll have some fruit first, and then they can have a sugary snack if they are still hungry.  I often splurge on fresh berries in the winter rationalizing that a cake or a box of cookies costs more.  Often times I make fruit smoothies after dinner, and let my children help put the pieces of fruit and juice or yogurt inside the blender.  They love pressing the buttons on the blender and being my “taste testers.”  When children are more involved in the “making” process, they are more vested in the “tasting” process.   We discovered a new snack in our house the other day when we had excess fruit smoothie that looked too good to waste so I decided to freeze it.  The next night, it was the favorite “dessert” of the night, as my children scraped the frozen smoothie and ended up with a healthier version of Italian ice.

No matter how your family approaches eating, one thing is certain.  You as the parent are in control of what comes into the house and what is made for dinner.   And if there were ever a time and place to demonstrate a lifelong, healthy way of eating, it’s what you put into your own mouth in front of your children at the kitchen table that matters most.