Eating well is a very simple concept, when you think about it. The main idea is to focus your diet around whole, unprocessed and single ingredient foods for the vast majority of the time, try to include as many colours as you can in each meal from fresh vegetables and fruits, and eat a good portion of a variety of protein sources at each meal. Nothing to it!
Even if you have a specific goal in mind, all you need to do then is to find out your requirements with regards to calories and macronutrients, buy only what you need to avoid temptation, and prepare lunches and snacks ahead of time if needs be to help you stay on track. Simple.
….then you get a family.
When you are part of a family, altering your dietary habits as part of a lifestyle change can be tough. We’ve all seen it when kids go through phases with food where they refuse to eat certain things, plus having a partner who enjoys things the way they are might mean that support is limited. Having a supportive partner is one of the most important things for any person looking to make a large change to their lifestyle and, therefore, food habits.
Likewise, maintaining good dietary habits can be difficult if you meet someone new because if they are not as interested in health and fitness, then your dietary choices may seem restrictive or simply ‘weird’ to them.
However, by making a few changes to your approach and a couple of compromises, as well as learning a few ‘tricks’, you can keep your life easy and harmonious whilst staying right on track with whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. Here are my top tips for keeping the peace:
Have children help to cook dinner
This is an important thing to practice as it not only makes eating wholesome food a fun activity, it will teach the child valuable skills for later life. The vast majority of young people who enter university don’t know how to cook and typically off microwave meals and very basic cooking (i.e. beans on toast). But think about it for a second, these young people are growing into an increasing number of parents who have grown up without ever preparing a meal at home for themselves, let alone a child.
So get them involved!
Letting children see things as they transition from cupboard to plate, washing, cutting and peeling (carefully) before adding to dishes is a fantastic way to introduce colour and freshness into their diet. Alongside teaching them how to cook, this helps to reduce food anxiety as they see the food for what it is, (rather than the thing on their plate they don’t want but are pressured to eat) and a child will always be more inclined to try something knowing that they made it.
Try to eat together as a family as often as possible.
Nowadays it is far too common that families don’t eat together. However, this can have some serious repercussions. It may seem unimportant but because this has been one of the cornerstones of group bonding for humans for the majority of our history, not eating together can contribute to poor family communication.
Whilst eating separately may be the easiest way to ensure that there are no issues with eating what you need to, and allows them to cook something a child ‘will eat’, it doesn’t solve the issue, but evades it. Teach a young person about nutrition early on and they will develop a habit for life. Not just good for you, excellent for them. Imagine if YOU had been taught about vegetables from being very young…
Use healthy swaps to make it easier to eat with children without ‘falling off the wagon’.
Trade chips for the homemade version using a little olive oil and the oven, make pasta Bolognese or Lasagne from scratch with lean mince, and trade half of the pasta for spiralised vegetables, or a side salad. Again, letting children help in the preparation makes it a fun family activity rather than a battle of wills.
Keep treats out of the house.
Before I go any further with this point I want to clarify that yes, a child will want to have chocolate and crisps etc and they should be allowed to have them on occasion. Completely forbidding certain things may lead a child to have a bad relationship with food. It is important to remember that although we obviously want the best for children and we seek to give them only the best when it comes to nutrition, it’s also a face that visiting McDonalds once per month won’t have any harmful effects. But back to my point.
Human nature normally dictates to us that if something is in your house, you will eventually eat it. That goes for multi packs of treats that you plan to spread out over a few weeks for a child, too. Sooner or later you will cave in and grab a bag or two whilst watching TV, or you’ll dig in to the chocolate after settling the kids in for the night.
Instead, buy single chocolate bars or single bags of crisps to bring home for a child to eat there and then, or buy them whilst you are all out on day trips – this way they are never in the house, calling to you from the cupboards. When at home, focus on ‘healthy’ snacks such as chopped peppers and carrots, celery with nut butter, chicken drumsticks or, the eternal favourite, fruit.
This may seem like a bit of a pain, and it is, but that’s the point. By placing a barrier between yourself and the foods you don’t really want to eat (you just want them if they’re there), you reduce your self-sabotage opportunities by a great margin.
As far as your partner goes, if they aren’t too keen on the idea of a dietary change, start slowly. By home-making things like pizzas, burgers, curries, meatballs and the like you are able to control the contents and therefore calories. This helps you to stay on track with your health goals, but still continue to eat the foods that you and your partner can enjoy together.
Focus most on meals which you can totally control. There are some meals during the day which you have more control over than others. Most families will eat different things for breakfast, so even if your kids want cereal and your partner wants a sausage sandwich, there’s nothing stopping you making something which fits alongside your plan. Lunch at work is another great opportunity to eat exactly what you need.
Take these two meals as your vegetable load up, and get a good hit of protein, but feel free to keep the calories a little lower if you know the family will eat together in the evening and it’s going to be a little more calorie dense.
Even if your partner wants to order a takeaway, there are a surprising number of ‘good’ options which can be ordered from most places. Chicken kebabs, tomato based curries and meat and vegetables in black bean sauce are relatively light, high in protein and vegetables and (provided it’s not from a TOTAL dive) made with fresh ingredients.
As a final thought, I’ll say this – Above all, be flexible!
Your family need to know that despite the fact you are chasing better health and body composition you aren’t a robot and they don’t have to eat ‘rabbit food’ all of the time. Eat out in restaurants, but pick a lighter option such as a steak and jacket potato, have a single glass of wine, don’t banish chocolate completely. Food is vital for a family’s bonding time – don’t miss out!