Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to turn your life around. In fact, choosing just one or two “doable” changes beneficial to good health is the better path to wellness according to Susan A. Jones, RDN dietitian, and nutritionist with the Henry J. Austin Health Center.
Jones helps families examine their school, work and home routines and their mealtimes and then identify small changes in their food and activity choices. Over time, those small changes can become new healthy habits.
Jones shared six doable changes that families can make to eat healthier. She emphasized that all family members need to engage in the changes. “Parents can’t be drinking soda and telling their kids to only drink milk. Parents have to set the example, and the family must work together as a team,” Jones said.
Six Doable Changes
Find out what kids like: Don’t force alien foods on unwilling children. Talk about food choices with them. Discover what they like best and what they will tolerate. Try to work around their likes and dislikes, finding healthier ways to prepare and serve their favorites, e.g., baked potatoes instead of fried. Also, talk to kids about texture—do they like their vegetables crunchy or soft—and cook to their preferences when possible.
Make a gradual transition to healthier food: If children eat a sugary cereal for breakfast, such as Fruit Loops, don’t make them go cold turkey with a no sugar cereal. Instead substitute a portion of a no-sugar cereal, like Cheerios, over time, e.g., half Fruit Loops and half plain Cheerios. Follow the same approach with milk—gradually switch from whole milk to two-percent and eventually to one-percent. The same with bread, rice and pasta—gradually substitute whole wheat for white.
Serve frozen and canned vegetables and fruit: If access to fresh produce is limited or it’s out of season, frozen or canned is a good substitute. Be sure to buy vegetables and fruit with no sugar, syrup or sauces added. Rinse canned vegetables and fruit with tap water before using to cut down on the added sodium, sugar and preservatives.
Plate the protein and carbohydrates in the kitchen: Rather than serve everything family style, portion the vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates in the kitchen. Use each child’s hand to determine the correct portion; protein and carbohydrates should fit in one palm, and fruit/vegetables should equal the space of fingers. Older children have larger hands and receive larger portions than younger children. After plating, place fruit and vegetables on the table for second helpings.
Make smart fast-food choices: If fast food is the only option, think about portion control. If a “biggie” or combo meal makes the most economic sense, then share the meal among the children. Stay away from anything that’s crispy or fried; choose grilled chicken instead. Rather than eat in the restaurant, bring the food home and serve green beans or broccoli to fill out the meal.
Plan school meals ahead: Take a few minutes each weekend to review the school menu and talk about making healthy choices. If there’s a problem meal on one of the days or a meal that a child will not eat, plan for a healthy “brown bag” substitute. Packing and refrigerating lunch in the evening makes the morning routine easier.
In counseling parents, Jones never uses the word “diet,” which, she said has negative associations, especially for girls and teens. Rather, she advocates “growing into one’s weight and eating healthily.” “If a child’s weight stays the same as the child continues to grow, that’s positive impact,” Jones said.