Feeding your family good nutrition without having to read food labels

Feeding your large family with nutrition

As moms, we strive to feed our family healthy, nutritious meals. But what truly is healthy? Nutrition mis-information abounds, but we are here to help clear the confusion.

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I have been a dietitian for 15 years and a mom for almost that long. Logically, I know how to feed my family a diet that will help my children grow strong and healthy and will hopefully guide their choices into adulthood so they are free of preventable disease. But let’s face it….sometimes, life just gets in the way.

There are some days where I struggle to simply get food to put on the table. And honestly, yes – there are days when a drive thru is almost a blessing.

I truly believe that good nutrition is something that should be high on your daily list of important things to accomplish (along with physical activity and a good night’s sleep), but I also believe that balance comes into play as well. I believe that if you strive to make good choices most of the time, there really isn’t a need to nit-pick every single food that you purchase and consume.

What is the best diet for my family?

Honestly, this article may not fully address that question and here’s why – we are all different. What is a good diet for me and my family may not work for you and yours. But I can give you some general guidelines so you do not have to be a nutrition scientist nor do you have to resort to being a short-order cook! And good nutrition does not have to break the bank.

Let’s be honest – if we had time to read and research every single nutrition label for every single food we eat, we would not be doing anything else. Fat grams, fat percentages, carbs/net carbs/sugar, vitamin A C D…… Oh where to start! And then the ingredient list – what the heck is sodium stearoyl lactylate? (PS, it is a food preservative)

The truth is – we all know the basics of good eating. We all know that as humans, we have a need for a variety of nutrients, including carbs (YES, we all need carbs), protein and fat (it’s NOT evil). We all need fruits and vegetables in our lives. So let’s take some of the stress out of the day, and just work toward a direction of healthy eating without strict rules.

The first place to start is to take a realistic look at your current way of eating. Remember that to be effective with positive change, we need to know our starting point. Do you rush through breakfast in order to get the kids off to school and you to work? Are the nights so hectic that you are eating fast-food just to get dinner accomplished?

Strive this week to focus on making one of those meals better. JUST ONE – there really is no need to tear through the pantry and throw everything away. You do not have to run out and buy a bunch of special (ie: expensive) foods either. Start with where you are and improve what you can today.

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If you typically eat a meat-and-three for dinner, for instance – what are the sides? Are they packaged/boxed foods that really would be just as easy to prepare fresh? For example, several boxed rice mixes really are convenient – pop them in the microwave for 90 seconds and you are done. But they are stripped of fiber and loaded in sodium, among other things. Cooking rice from scratch really isn’t that hard – set it on the stovetop and forget about it while you make something else. Then use your own herbs and spices to flavor.

Another example – Skipping breakfast may seem like a calorie savings, but in the end you are short-changing your body of vital nutrients. And you would never send your kids into the day without something to eat, would you? So you shouldn’t either. It doesn’t have to be complicated – a fruit smoothie, whole grain cereal in a coffee cup to eat on the commute. On the weekends when you have more time, make a batch of something and put it in the fridge – there are wonderful recipes for individual egg casseroles or breakfast muffins online.

Now let’s tackle some of the foods you really should strive to get out of the house – the true junk foods.

• Let’s face it, sodas are really just not good for anyone, whether they are regular or diet. Save that money. If it isn’t in the house, eventually you and the kids won’t even think about it. Drink water, tea, flavored waters, lemonade – there really are so many good choices. And don’t fall for the “energy” drink fad – we do not need a bunch of extra fake vitamins in our drinks.

• Chips and other salty snacks – wean off these in favor of fresher foods. In our home, we make air-popped popcorn and homemade tortilla chips. They are not difficult to make and have less sodium and preservatives than packaged. If you just don’t have time to dedicate to making snacks, just buy less.

• Cookies, candies, and other sweets – I truly believe that we all deserve treats now and again. But it should be a treat, not a way of life. And PLEASE – everyone knows that a fresh baked pie is so much better than a factory-packaged one. So if you can’t live without dessert (no one is saying you have to), at least put time and love into making it fresh.

If I had to make one “rule” for you and your family, here is what I think we should all work harder on: Are you ensuring at least 2 fruits and 3 vegetables for your family every day? Nutrition studies say that as many as 80% of us do not get in the minimum for fresh fruits and veggies.

Here is one easy way to ensure everyone is getting enough – include a fruit with breakfast, a vegetable with lunch (could be in a soup or salad, or even lettuce/tomato topping a sandwich), two vegetables for dinner (as much as I love mac and cheese, it is not a vegetable), and then a fruit with dessert.

If your kids struggle with vegetables, don’t force it. Increase the variety of fruits they eat so that the range of vitamins and phytonutrients are greater. Then slowly start working in one vegetable at a time. You can sneak it in (zucchini in banana bread) or you can make a game of it (I tried a new food today!). If you have the time and space (and inclination), you can grow a small garden.

Feeding your family good healthy meals truly cannot be encompassed into one short article, so please come back frequently to EMAXHEALTH for more!

Photo Credit: By Bill Branson (Photographer) - National Cancer Institute, via Wikimedia Commons

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