Usually when people find out that I’m a dietitian, they immediately think that my family’s meals consist of gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, all organic foods. Then the excuses pour in covering their own eating habits- as if I’m judging them because they happen to be holding a slice of pizza.
I’m not judging you, I promise. I eat pizza too! I also don’t eliminate any type of food from my family’s meals (yes, we even eat gluten) and have always been an advocate for balance. I work in a facility for kids with special needs, and ever since feeding my own child and working with kids professionally, I’ve developed a pretty big interest in child nutrition. I’ve changed the way my family eats because of it, but also try to be careful to not be too restrictive with food. I want my kids to have a healthy attitude around food, not label foods “good” or “bad” and to be able to make their own choices about healthy food as they get older. Having recovered from an eating disorder and having body image issues growing up, it’s also important for me to protect my own girls from thinking the only way they can eat healthy is by dieting or eliminating food groups. My goal for feeding my family is to create a positive environment around food, one that doesn’t cause my kids to feel guilty or deprived in any way.
We don’t have any food allergies in our family, which I consider to be a blessing. I know families with kids who have multiple food allergies and have to completely eliminate allergen-containing foods, which can make preparing and cooking meals quite difficult. Obviously in these situations, families have no choice but to follow diet restrictions. Typically this works best if the whole family is involved, instead of just making the child with the food allergy eliminate what is causing the flare-up. So for example, if a child has a gluten intolerance then it would be best for the whole family to be gluten-free. This would avoid issues with cross-contamination as well. Other than for food allergies and intolerances, I don’t recommend for families to follow diets that are highly restrictive. It’s just not necessary and it’s much easier for kids to get the nutrition they need by allowing them to eat a variety of (nutrient dense) foods. Not a variety of junk food though!
So here are the simple guidelines I follow when feeding my family. We stick with them 90% of the time.
Fruits and vegetables are big at every meal. I’ll admit, I’ve been struggling with this lately, especially with the vegetables. My first trimester this time around has been much worse than my last pregnancy- and still seems to be lingering! Vegetables have been tough for me to stomach lately, but thankfully as my symptoms are starting to fade I’m slowly starting to crave those veggies again. It’s interesting though, I’ve noticed that it was much harder to get my family to eat vegetables when I was doing a horrible job of eating them myself. Eating healthy really is a family effort! Kids do by example and I’ve seen this play out over the past few months.
Lean proteins are in every meal, but in smaller portions than the fruits and vegetables- unless my husband is making his own plate. I make a lot of salmon- I’ve been craving it lately, so sometimes make it as often as 3-4 times per week! At least once a week I try to do a vegetable protein instead of an animal protein. When seasoning foods, I use as little salt as possible. Typically I find herbs and spices to season my meat so that my family’s salt intake is limited. It’s very easy to consume an adequate amount of salt without adding it to food, and most Americans get a lot more than is recommended. I want to train my kids’ palates while they are young to appreciate the natural flavor of foods- without doctoring it up with all the sugar, salt and fat that the food industry does.
I don’t leave anything out when it comes to carbohydrates. We eat bread, potatoes, rice, pasta- if it’s a carb, we aren’t afraid to eat it! I buy whole grains as much as possible for the added fiber (and less processing) and avoid foods that are “instant” (such as instant potatoes, etc). I read the ingredients carefully to avoid buying foods that are loaded with MSG, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. As long as the carbohydrates we are eating aren’t heavily processed (and have an exorbitant amount of salt, sugar and fat), they are healthy for our bodies. We are an active family and our cells need the energy that only carbs can provide!
When it comes to dairy, my husband is the only one who will drink cow’s milk. I prefer almond milk, and so does Carli, so that is what we typically drink. She gets most of her calcium intake from organic yogurt and cheeses. Dairy is one food group that I will almost always buy organic- along with fruits and vegetables we eat the skin off of.
I don’t buy sugary drinks. No juice, no soda, no sweet tea. I’m a recovering diet coke addict (I still have slip-ups every now and then) and my husband is working on his diet soda intake and trying to replace with unsweetened tea. All Carli drinks is water because it’s all we’ve ever offered to her. If she is at a birthday party or a holiday party at school and juice is being served, I let her drink it there. I don’t want her to feel excluded and this doesn’t happen often. At home, it’s always water and it’s what she asks for. I grew up drinking kool-aid and it took me a long time to appreciate the taste of water. I’m glad my two year old already loves it!
I rarely serve dessert. At the end of a meal if we want something sweet, I always have some fruit cut up. If we are having friends over for dinner or it’s a special occasion like a birthday, I’ll have some sort of dessert available to serve. I try to limit our sugar intake like I do salt. The more sugar we eat, the more our brain craves to get the same sugar fix it did before- it’s literally like a drug! You can read more about that in an older blog post I’ve written here. I used to be super strict on my daughter’s sugar intake when she was younger, but then felt as if I should lighten up and let her enjoy more sweets like other kids do. I’ve seen the outcome- she’s a sugar monster now! Even though I let her enjoy treats at her preschool parties and when grandparents visit (I’ve learned it’s their love language, and no matter how hard I try I will never win that battle), I keep sugar out of our house as much as possible to limit her intake at home. It’s the one thing I guess I would say I “restrict” but I don’t label sugar as being “bad.” It’s just something we limit.
Generally speaking, limiting processed foods and consuming high quality “whole” foods is the best way to feed your family. Taking the focus off of calories and fat grams and putting it on the quality of food you are eating is best for feeding your body. From what research shows and what I’ve seen in my own professional practice, families who are active on an everyday basis are going to be healthier than those who follow crazy diets and are inactive. By active, I don’t mean going to the gym 5 days per week. That’s great to do, but you have to be continuously active. Get the family off the couch and go for a bike ride. Get your kids outside to play. Limit screen time for the entire family. If you are continuously moving your body, I guarantee it will be much easier to stay at a healthy weight and have a healthier body and mind.
Now enjoy that slice of pizza and get that body moving! 😉