Like me, you probably strive to feed your family real, whole, and healthy foods, but maybe sometimes your actual diet can veer pretty far off course. Our family recently found ourselves eating more processed foods than usual, eating out more often, craving sweets and carbs, and feeling exhausted all the time, we knew it was time to do something about it! If you’re ready to improve your family’s diet too, be sure to check out these five simple secrets!
Photo credit: thebittenword.com/flickr
Our family decided to follow the Whole30 eating plan for the month of April. The Whole30 is basically a very strict paleo diet that you follow for 30 days to help reset your digestive system, curb your cravings, kick sugar and carb addictions, and change your relationship to food.
The basic premise of the Whole30 is eating healthy proteins like meats, eggs, and seafood, healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, ghee and even pastured lard, tons of fresh veggies and some fruits, nuts and seeds. It also cuts out ALL grains (including corn and white potatoes), dairy, legumes (including peanuts and peanut butter), soy, sugar, and alcohol.
We had a great experience doing the Whole30 and we learned some great lessons about feeding our family healthy food that we will continue to use to improve our family’s diet going forward. And I realized that these are really pretty easy changes that everyone could use make your family’s diet a lot healthier and more nutrient dense, even if you aren’t planning to do a Whole30.
Photo credit: thebittenword.com/flickr
5 Simple Secrets to Improve Your Family’s Diet
1. Serve main courses over veggies instead of grains.
So many times the main course of our big meals are served with grains/carbs. Sauce over pasta, protein over rice, meat, cheese, and veggies inside bread or buns. But what if we just skipped the grains and served our meals over veggies instead?
The grains that we eat today are basically empty (but actually filling) calories. They fill us up without adding much, if any, nutrition to our diets. Instead of filling up on grains and leaving little room for more nutrient dense foods like vegetables, let’s ditch the grains and start serving our food with veggies instead of grains!
- Instead of pasta, serve a sauce or protein over a bed of spinach, either raw or steamed.
- Substitue roasted broccoli in place of pasta or rice
- Make cauli-rice from cauliflower instead of regular rice
- Use spaghetti squash in place of pasta
- Serve a burger or sandwich in between two lettuce leaves instead of bread or a bun
In may seem a little strange to you at first, but we have found that we actually prefer our food this way now. It has much more depth of flavor, instead of everything being overpowered by the taste of the grains. When we serve our food this way, we find that we don’t miss the grains at all and it helps us to eat a much larger portion of vegetables.
2. Focus on nutrient dense foods
One of the things I really liked about the Whole30 is that it makes the decision about what to eat pretty easy. It takes the guess work out of it: there is a list of things that you can eat, and a list of things that you can’t eat. When you focus on the things that you can eat, instead of just thinking about all of the things that you have cut out, you realize that there are actually LOTS of things that you can easily eat and enjoy.
When you’re not following a strict eating plan where there are no strict rules for you to follow though, it can be easier to slip into just eating quick, easy, and convenient foods because they’re not necessarily “forbidden”. Now, I’m not saying you need to adopt super strict rules about what you can and can’t eat (although having some guidelines would be helpful), because being too strict can actually backfire.
However, when you’re working to improve your family’s diet, instead of focusing on the foods that you don’t want to include, focus more on the things that you do want to include. Focus on choosing the most nutrient dense foods you can to pack into your meals and snacks. And instead of choosing what you think is easiest and convenient, learn that even nutrient dense foods can be quick and convenient if you just take a few extra minutes to think about the best choice instead of the typical choice.
And within just a few weeks, I bet you’ll find choosing these nutrient dense foods will become a habit, which makes it even more easy and convenient!
3. For your meals, begin with your veggies and plan from there.
This one really goes along with #1 and #2, but this was a big paradigm shift for me. Because I am trying to include as many nutritious foods as possible I start by planning my meals around those foods first. So instead of thinking about my protein, dairy, or grains first, I think about what veggies I have on hand that I’m going to make for dinner.
If I know I have carrots and broccoli that I can steam saute, then I can either choose to make grilled steak or chicken, or I can choose ground beef and make it into a stir-fry.
On the other hand, if want to make mashed sweet potatoes or squash then I’m probably not going to serve ground beef as my protein, that just wouldn’t go well together.
Also, when I start with the veggies, I can make sure I have included enough of them in the meal. When your meals are just made up of proteins and veggies, you really want to be sure you have enough vegetables. You don’t want to be stuck at the last minute without enough food to feed your family!
4. Limit snacks to veggies, fruit, seeds and nuts.
Because we were so limited in what we could eat while doing the Whole30 our snacks became very basic. And again, it was almost easier to have strict guidelines because it limited our choices. My kids became very used to choosing a snack that was basically fruits, veggies, or nuts, or some combination.
We didn’t have to stock our pantry full of snack foods. We just stocked up on fruits and veggies, and kept nuts, seeds and dried fruit in the pantry and that was it. I loved not having to worry about my kids snacking “ruining” their appetite for a meal. If they were less hungry for a meal, it was okay because everything they were eating was nutrient dense (see #2). Now that we’re finished with the Whole30 though, I am keeping this rule for snack time, with the addition of some dairy like yogurt or cheese.
Here are a few ideas for snacks beyond just a piece of fruit or chopped veggies:
- Avocado Dip with veggies
- Smoothies (we now use a can of coconut milk in place of the yogurt. Yum!)
- Homemade fruit and nut bars – like these, or you can find tons of versions in the Healthy Snacks to Go Ebook!
- Homemade trail mix – nuts – cashews, almonds, pecans and/or walnuts, sunflower seeds and dried fruit like raisins, cranberries or cherries.
- Homemade frozen fruit “ice-cream”
5. Setting rules actually helps picky eaters.
My oldest daugher, who is 6.5, has been quite the picky eater for the past few years. Picky like only wants carbs and bread, all the time. Toast with jam for breakfast, PB&J for lunch, bread with butter for dinner – I mean, seriously! It was getting bad. And I was really worried about how the Whole30 would go over with her.
We explained all the rules of the eating plan with our kids and told them it was just for 30 days, and my daughter especially, jumped right on board with us. It may be her personality, but something about having strict rules about what we could and couldn’t eat was really good for her, and her picky eating basically disappeared.
By completely eliminating the foods that she gravitated to (namely bread and carbs), she had to eat other things or go hungry, and she learned that she actually likes a lot more foods than she realized. One night at dinner she asked for a second serving of broccoli and told us that she loved eating all these healthy foods, we literally thought we were living in the twilight zone. Never did we think we’d hear those words coming from her mouth!
She also told us thank you for helping her to learn to eat more nutritious and healthy foods. By limiting her choices, and providing her with lots of healthy options, we actually expanded her palate and curbed her pickiness!
These are all lessons our family learned while following the Whole30 eating plan, but we realized they can really apply to any family at any time who is trying to make healthy food choices for their family! I encourage you to try one, or all, of these tips this week and see how you can move your family toward healthier eating!
How have you improved your family’s diet? Share your secrets in the comments!
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