When you’re cooking for a family it can feel like enough of a challenge just to get dinner on the table at all, let alone worrying about healthy eating. But with a few small tweaks you can easily boost your nutrient intake, and with it your energy levels, mood and general health. Over time, these small changes can have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing. Here are our top tips for healthy eating with a family:
1. Plan your meals
With today’s busy lifestyles it’s easy for dinner to become an afterthought. Heading for the fridge at 5pm to decide what’s for dinner is a recipe for stress and will leave you resorting to quick fixes like ready meals and takeaways. Instead, investing some time at the beginning of each week to plan out your meals can help you stick to a healthy diet. Decide which meal to cook on each day of the week, taking into account your working hours, after school clubs and other commitments. In addition, take into account your family’s likes and dislikes – try and make sure everyone gets one of their favourites each week, so there’s no room for complaints. Don’t forget to plan for breakfasts and lunches too.
Getting organised like this also means you can write your shopping list and make sure you have everything you need for the week ahead, saving you the hassle of multiple supermarket trips during the week. Even better, do your food shopping online – you can have the whole family’s healthy eating for the week sorted from the comfort of your sofa in the time it takes to drink a cup of tea!
2. Cook from scratch
We have a vast selection of convenience foods available to us in supermarkets nowadays. These products undoubtedly save time, but if you read the label you’ll often find ingredients that you wouldn’t use in your home kitchen. Artificial colours, flavours and sweeteners turn up in all sorts of products. Plus, many foods have hidden ingredients like gluten or dairy, which can cause unpleasant symptoms in those who have food sensitivities. And we’ve all heard about the dangers of too much sugar.
To avoid all these hidden nasties, create meals using fresh ingredients and whole foods. Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be time consuming: there are plenty of tasty, healthy recipes you can whip up in under half an hour (or even less). For inspiration, browse recipe books or search online. Over time you will develop your cooking skills and add a whole range of healthy, tasty family meals to your repertoire.
3. Eat a rainbow
We all know we are supposed to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg per day. But it can be easy to get stuck in a rut, eating the same 5 things each day. To make the most of your intake, aim to eat a rainbow of different colours. Did you know that different colours of fruit and veg contain different nutrients? For example, dark green leafy veg are high in folate, iron and calcium; red fruits and vegetables contain cancer-fighting lycopene; orange veggies and fruit are high in Vitamins C and A; and blue and purple fruits and vegetables contain anti-aging and anti-cancer phytonutrients. Here are some examples:
- Red – apples, red peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, cherries, red onions
- Orange – satsumas, carrots, mangoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash
- Yellow – bananas, sweetcorn, lemon, melons, pineapple
- Green – broccoli, spinach, peas, cucumber, avocado, kale, courgette, kiwi
- Blue and purple – (red/purple) grapes, blackberries, blueberries, aubergine, plums, red cabbage
- White – parsnips, cauliflower, mushrooms, garlic, onions
4. Sneaky veg
It’s important for children to see what vegetables look like and get used to different tastes and textures. You should teach your children the importance of a balanced diet and encourage them to try fruits and vegetables in their natural state. However, we also acknowledge that not all kids are keen to eat all varieties of veg. Dinner time is family time and it shouldn’t become a daily battleground.
So, if your kid hates spinach, hide it in a smoothie. All sorts of vegetables can be disguised in a simple pasta sauce. Make homemade ‘nice’ cream with frozen fruit and a tin of coconut milk. Sneak swede into shepherd’s pie topping. This can help give your child a greater variety in their diet and boost their nutrient intake.
5. Healthy Snacks
Swap the usual treats and snacks for healthier ones. Sweets, crisps and other junk food snacks are lacking in nutrients and in the long run, can be harmful to health if eaten regularly. These snacks have been developed with profit in mind – not your family’s health and wellbeing. They also create cravings that may make whole foods seem bland and tasteless. By replacing sugary or salty snacks with healthier, real food options, you don’t have to worry if your kids don’t eat their dinner that night.
Start by offering fresh fruits and vegetables at snack time. Fruits like apples, bananas and satsumas are ideal, or why not try vegetable crudités with a dip? If you’re on the go, look for healthier convenience foods to bring with you. Nowadays, there is a growing range of snacks available made with healthier ‘real food’ ingredients, including fun snacks designed especially for kids. Keep a couple in your handbag when out and about so you’re not tempted to grab a chocolate bar. Add a couple to family picnics. Or give your kids a fun surprise in their lunchbox that you can be happy for them to have.
Remember, healthy eating is not about going on a ‘diet’ – it’s a lifestyle for the long term. Making small changes to your eating habits over time can make a huge difference to your family’s health and wellbeing in the long run. A little bit of time and effort now will set your children up with healthy habits for life.
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