How’s your family’s eating plan? Healthy? Not so healthy? Are you like most moms I know who want to feed the family healthy meals but feel like doing so is just so complicated, time-consuming, oh – and not to mention expensive?
You’re probably already aware of how detrimental a poor diet can be to your family’s overall health and looking for ways to make healthy eating a part of your regular family routine. But you simply don’t know how to get started (and stay consistent). Well, eating healthy doesn’t have to be hard at all. It can be as easy and simple as including more real foods – those that are as close to their natural forms as possible – into everyday meals.
The Basics: How to Build a Healthy Plate at Every Meal
Healthy eating starts with choosing the right ingredients, those that are rich in nutrients to fuel your body for optimal health. Next, you’ll use those ingredients to build a balanced plate at every meal.
These guidelines can be used whether you’re cooking just for yourself or making larger meals to feed the entire family. Healthy eating comes down to a mindful awareness of your nutritional needs, and eating foods to satisfy those needs with minimally processed ingredients that are good for you and your family.
To make it even simpler, you can think of it in terms of a balanced plate including three categories of foods to build healthy meals. These categories are vegetables, protein, and whole grains. Having these at every meal will give you the food you and your family need to ensure a healthy lifestyle for the whole family.
Step 1: Vegetables – Start off by filling half of your plate with veggies.
Despite what you (or the kids) might think, veggies don’t have to be boring. Choose from local, seasonal veggies to ensure that you have the freshest ingredients with nutrient-density at their peak.
Vegetables like peas and sweet potatoes (the starchier kind of vegetable) give you a natural source of energy and can help you to keep going all day. Added benefit: they help promote healthy weight maintenance. And vegetables like kale and brussel sprouts are full of phyto-nutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Step 2: Protein – Fill one quarter of your plate with clean protein.
When choosing protein it’s important to look for high quality options such as grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and wild caught salmon. Protein helps promote your immune system and build strong muscle which helps maintain a healthy metabolism.
Step 3: Whole Grains – Fill the remaining quarter of your plate with whole grains.
Adding healthy, whole grains to your family’s balanced plate is the final step to round out a healthy meal for the whole family. But beware. Many foods labeled as “whole grains” aren’t really whole or healthy. What you’re looking for are foods like amaranth, kamut, spelt, millet, barley, teff, quinoa, buckwheat, bulgar, oats, brown rice, and wild rice to name a few. These add fiber while promoting digestive health for proper absorption of nutrients.
Step 4: End with a healthy beverage
Serve up a a healthy beverage with your meal. Good old water is an excellent choice. Be mindful of “liquid calories” as these can often add up and add countless amounts of unnecessary calories, sugar, or artificial ingredients mix and sabotage your healthy eating plan.
But Eating Healthy is Expensive, Right?
This is a common concern I hear quite often from friends, family members, and clients. For many families the grocery bill is one of the largest expenses. If keeping your grocery budget in order is a concern, you’ll want to plan, plan, plan! While a trip to the grocery store can certainly add up, there are ways to keep costs down while still buying nutritious foods. Here are a few tips:
- Plan your meals one to two weeks in advance. There’s an old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to pay more.” Okay, that’s actually just my own saying. But seriously, staying ahead of the cooking game is the key to saving money when you hand over cash (or card) at the checkout counter. Planning your weekly menu is a will be your ally in feeding your family healthy foods while keeping the grocery bill under control. This cuts down on the number of trips you make as well as how often you have to cook each week for the family. So plan your meals each week or every two weeks. For example, set aside time on day per week to write out your family’s menu for the upcoming week. Use this list as a guide when you create your grocery list.
- Shop at home first. Before heading out to the store, take a peek in your pantry and refrigerator. What things do you already have on hand that you can incorporate into healthy meals for the week?
- Re-use ingredients. Are you missing opportunities to stretch your ingredients? If you’re going to cook anyway, why not use the same ingredients in multiple meals?! Making a large enough batch will allow you to incorporate your leftovers into other meals. Pack lunch for the kids and have dinner for tomorrow, saving you money and time in the kitchen.
- Stock up on bulk foods. While it doesn’t make sense to stock up on certain perishable items, there are some foods that are an absolute no-brainer to buy in bulk, especially when they’re on sale. Some of these are grain products like rice, quinoa, or bulgar. Also foods that last longer like dried herbs and spices are great to buy in bulk. Then buy their fresh counterparts whenever the recipe calls for it, but oftentimes you can extend the life of fresh herbs by keeping them frozen.
What to Do at the Grocery Store
Now that you know what healthy, balanced meals look like and you’ve got your grocery list in hand, it’s time to review some tips that will help keep your shopping cart healthy once you hit the store.
Shop the perimeter of the grocery store.
The perimeter is where you will find healthier choices to add to your cart. Look for items along the outside of the store including fresh foods like vegetables, fruits, poultry, and meats. The center aisles of grocery stores are normally filled with processed junk foods so try to avoid those areas as much as possible
Opt for “real” foods.
Look for items containing 100% whole grain bread from the bakery with minimal ingredients. Rule of thumb: the shorter the ingredient list of a product, normally the closer it is to being “real.”
Scrutinize the label.
Be sure to turn products over and scan the nutrition label. Look at the ingredient list. Can you recognize the names of the ingredients? Are there a dozen ingredients that you can’t even pronounce? If you’re seeing too many ingredients or spotting artificial flavors and additives, you may want to skip that product and look for a healthier, less processed option.
Don’t be duped by “natural” packaging.
There’s a trend nowadays for manufacturers to package their products with earthy looking packaging and slap the word “natural” on their product. Don’t fall for this marketing tactic! Natural is not the same as organic. Regardless of what is claimed on the front of the box, bag, or can, turn it over and look at the nutrition label for yourself. Most of the time you’ll find that it’s something you don’t really want to feed your family.
Eating healthy can seem like a challenge, and trying to feed an entire family (and do so on a budget!) can seem like an impossible task. But it doesn’t have to be. Use the strategies here to maintain a healthy eating plan for your whole family without breaking the bank.