Eat Better As a Family
September is back to school season, which means that between shuttling the kids back and forth to classes and practice and sports and everything else it can be tough to find a way for the family to come together and reconnect. But family meals don't have to be the somber affairs some of us grew up with. Sometimes making sure to sit down together for a shared meal can mean sharing a game or new colored food or flavor; while other times it means creating a family environment where food that is good for you is also fun to eat and a family priority.
We asked for some expert advice on ways to not only have fun together, but find ways to eat more healthily on a regular basis.
Make it Fun
Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, MD MSCI, is a board-certified gastroenterologist who finds creative ways to make sure his children eat a healthy diet. "One way my wife and I make healthy food extra appealing for our preschooler is by turning healthy snacks into fun shapes using cookie cutters. We often make kabobs with pineapple, apples and cantaloupe cut into the shape of stars or animals. We also use cookie cutters to shape baked sweet potatoes and sandwiches and wraps." Another way they make healthy foods enticing is by using brightly colored ingredients. "My daughter loves rainbow sandwiches, made with three layers of various colored fillings- carrots, avocado, and beets."
Healthy food doesn't have to be serious food, just yummy or interesting enough to make them eat it!
Make A Game of It
Physician Nutrition Specialist Dr. Adrienne Youdim, suggests making a game out of eating better and advises “Eat your colors – a color wheel reminds kids to get all their colors in daily. Add stickers to your wheel or chart to track your progress." Dr. Youdim also advises slowing down and even creating a contest to count your chews before you swallow. "The longer chewers win. Slower eating means more mindful eating. ” If you're trying to create games for your own family meals, Dr. Youdim advises "Playing games to engage family to stay at the table without screens. We like to play 'tell me something good' where each person shares the best part of their day and also have each person share 'a thank,' 'a wow,' and 'a help.'"
It can be hard to figure out conversation sometimes. Having a nightly ritual in the form of a game can me it easier to connect over a healthy meal.
Better for You Snacks
Dr. Sonali Ruder, an Emergency Room doctor sometimes known as The Foodie Physician, advises designating a pantry shelf with "better-for-you" packaged snack ideas, like granola bars, whole grain crackers, trail mix, nuts, and seeds. If they look like snacks and taste like snacks, chances are good that your kids will reach for them time and time again instead of chips or chocolate.
If they see you reaching for something healthier, chances are good they'll follow your lead.
Dr. Ruder also says "Kids are more likely to eat something healthy if it's fun and colorful. It can be something as simple as incorporating the primary colors into their meal (think blueberries, apples and bananas), or cutting their sandwich into a fun shape with a cookie cutter. Make rainbow fruit kebabs by skewering colorful fruit on skewers (use cocktail straws or popsicle sticks for younger kids)."
Don't leave your creativity at the office, find ways to make food more interesting to curious kids.
Batch is Best
The National Cattleman's Beef Association (NCBA) reports that batch cooking has experienced a 67% increase in consumer conversation since 2012, with families adopting this meal prep technique to ensure even the pickiest family members are eating well-balanced meals. They also suggest that "leftovers are being replaced with "planned-overs." If you find yourself time crunched but still want to prepare healthy meals for your family to share, check out some of their easy to prepare family favorites including Sweet and Sloppy Joes. While many families are moving toward meatless Mondays, it's important to remember that beef is rich in protein, iron, and zinc, which the NCBA reports have been found to "support brain health and cognitive development in little ones."
If you're too tired to cook every night, try planning your meal for the week, or even a few days and cooking up dinners that can be lunches and vice versa.
While home prep is a great idea, with increasingly busy schedules it's unrealistic to expect everything to be made from scratch. For that reason, it's important to spend time researching healthier products before you hit the supermarket. Some new products to keep in mind are pastas that aren't made of wheat. I'm obsessed with Explore Cuisine's Edamame Spaghetti which I combine with homemade zoodles (zucchini noodles made with a spiralizer) for an amazing low in fat and calories and high in protein side dish. I'm also excited to try the new Superfood Veggie Pasta from Cybele's Free to Eat. This new, jewel-toned rotini is made entirely from vegetables and lentils—the perfect way to sneak your vegetable servings into dinner for picky eaters. Keep an eye out for interesting brand partnerships as well. For instance, MorningStar Farms recently partnered with celebrity chef Richard Blais who created 4 gourmet versions of their more traditional veggie burgers. Easy, healthier and very trendy.
Eating better should be fun and interesting. Spend time discovering the new and healthy options at the grocery instead of buying the same few items every week.