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 it’s just so complicated and time-consuming? (oh – and not to mention expensive?) Does planning healthy, budget-friendly meals for the whole family seem out of reach sometimes?
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.
If you’ve already thought about making healthier meals at home, you might realize that there are potential obstacles along the way. Some of these barriers to healthy eating may cause you to feel like you’re biting off too much or that you simply need to throw in the towel. But don’t! As with anything, preparation is the key to success. So be prepared by knowing how to recognize some of the potential barriers you’ll face as you work on making healthy eating habits a routine for your family.
Common Barriers to Healthy Eating
Common Barrier #1: Ample supply of less-than-healthy food choices
Making healthy eating a habit can be hard when you and your family members have unhealthy options available at every turn. This might be the vending machine at your workplace, fast food restaurants on every corner, or even the meals that are being served in your child’s school.
Tip: If your family is so busy sometimes that cooking a meal at home just feels impossible and the drive-thru is the only option, then be prepared. Get familiar with the restaurants that offer healthier choices. Also, slip extra healthy snacks into everyone’s lunchboxes so the vending machine doesn’t win when hunger pangs strike in the afternoon.
Common Barrier #2: Lack of time
I hear from many families they simply have little time to prioritize healthy eating. While you may be a busy family, healthy eating doesn’t have to take a lot of time. By planning out your meals ahead of time, you will always have healthy ingredients on hand to make quick and healthy meals at home.
Common Barrier # 3: Confusing or conflicting information
From Paleo to Vegan to Raw and more, there is no shortage of dietary advice on the internet. With so much advice around food (and much of it conflicting) it’s no wonder most are confused by how to really feed your family healthy. While there’s no “one-size-fits-all” diet that will work for every family – or even every member within a family – there are a few basics rules of healthy eating that will help you provide healthy meals at home every time. Following a “balanced” plate is a surefire way to keep your family’s meals healthy and take much of the guesswork out of cooking healthy at home.
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 nutrients you and your family need to ensure a healthy eating 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 fall into two categories: starchy and non-starchy. Starchy veggies like peas, corn and sweet potatoes give you a natural source of energy and can help you to keep going all day. Another benefit it that they help promote healthy weight maintenance. And non-starchy vegetables like spinach, kale and Brussel sprouts are full of phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Putting a variety of vegetables on your plate at each meal sets you up for success with healthy eating.
Step 2: Protein – Fill one-quarter of your plate with lean 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 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, and many other moms I know feel that making healthy, budget-friendly meals for the whole family is just impossible. But it doesn’t have to be! If keeping your grocery expenses down 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 will be the vehicle for feeding your family healthy foods while keeping the grocery bill under control. In addition to saving on your grocery bill, planning ahead will help you cut down on the number of trips you make as well as how often you have to cook each week. So plan your meals at least one or two weeks ahead of time. 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 inside your pantry and refrigerator. What things do you already have on hand that you can incorporate into healthy meals for the week?
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. This is especially true 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. Buy their fresh counterparts whenever the recipe calls for it. But oftentimes you can extend the life of fresh herbs too by simply keeping them frozen.
Tips to Shop Smart 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 to keep your shopping cart healthy when you hit the store. Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to creating healthy, budget-friendly meals for the whole family.
1. Head straight to 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.
2. 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.”
3. 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.
4. Don’t be duped by “natural” packaging.
There’s a trend nowadays for manufacturers to package their products with earthy looking packaging. They slap the word “natural” on their product to attract health-minded buyers. 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.
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Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Advocate, Health Educator, and a Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. She helps parents to build healthier habits and routines to better balance home and work life. Her website, WholeFamilyLiving.com, provides motivation and simple strategies for handling everyday challenges like managing stress, being active, eating healthier, losing weight, and more. Alicia is a beach lover and gardening geek in her spare time.