Keeping up with your family’s lifestyle can be quite the juggling act—there’s school, work, family activities and of course, family health. What’s a busy, loving parent on the run to do when you want to provide the best nutrition for your family, but don’t have a lot of time? The key to healthy eating is to be aware of food choices at every meal and snack time. Planning your family’s menu might require a little extra thought and effort at first, but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. In addition to your own ideas, try one of these tried and true strategies as a starting point to keep your family headed in the right direction.
What’s For Lunch At School?
Look for your school district’s weekly lunch menu, or eat a meal at school with your kids. If you don’t like what you see, make sure to discuss it with the local principal or foodservice director. Talk with your kids about choosing the healthier options at school meals.
Choice Is Everything
Let kids be part of the shopping process to help them feel more in control of their food choices, which can help them make better choices when they’re on their own. Write a shopping list together with your kids, organizing it by food group, and then take them with you to the store. Be sure to include healthy snacks.
Meals tend to be healthier when planned. Try planning weekly menus, and keep track of the healthy meals your family likes best to “rerun” them in future menus.
Take It Slow
It takes 20 minutes for our brain to register that our body is satisfied with food. When we eat too quickly our body needs more food to be satisfied. Slow down by putting forks down between bites and swallowing one bite before taking another.
Can’t get your kids to eat more veggies? Try chopped carrots, squash, broccoli, mushrooms or celery in meatballs, lasagna, casseroles or pasta salads. Serve vegetables in a stir-fry with chicken and rice, and add tomatoes to omelets.
Slip more fruit into diets by mixing them into popular foods your family already eats and likes; muffins, yogurt, oatmeal and cereal. Make a colorful dessert of chopped fruit and mix with nuts. Keep raisins or dried fruits for snacks, or make fun, creamy smoothies with fresh fruit, milk and ice.
Make new food discoveries! Most of us buy the same things every time we grocery shop, so work to incorporate one new, healthy item each time. Who knows? You might find a new favorite!
Squeeze out sugar-filled sodas and serve 100% fruit juice, milk or water instead. Choose juice carefully—some juice has only 10% fruit juice, and the rest is sugar and fillers. Try strawberry or chocolate 2% reduced-fat milk, refreshing ice water or fun, fizzy carbonated water instead of soda or punch.
Take kids on a field trip to a farmers market, or plant an herb or vegetable garden at home. Knowing that food isn’t “born” on supermarket shelves builds a better appreciation of healthy, fresh foods. Call your local county extension office for ideas and tips for top growing plants in your area.
Beware of the Pantry Shelves
Take a look at your cabinets, fridge and pantry, and clean them out. Get rid of any old foods as well as unhealthy choices. If you want to keep some cookies or candy around, make individual-sized portions in sandwich bags instead of keeping large quantities.
TDA has several sources that should help make things easier for you to provide good nutritious choices for your family. For the latest in dietary guidelines as well as delicious, healthy recipes to prepare, you can visit the Team Nutrition Web site by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at www.fns.usda.gov/tn.
For more information regarding the foodservice program at your local school, visit www.squaremeals.org or call the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Division at (888) TEX-KIDS.