As a dietitian, it’s heartening to know many people want to make positive changes in their family meals in order to be healthy.
Unfortunately the information about just what changes should be made often seems overwhelming. Are there foods you should cut down on, eliminate from your plate altogether or that should be on the plate every day?
The media messages can be so confusing.
Add into the mix trying to lose weight. Then the messages are so loud and at times annoying we don’t know who to believe. Are they trying to sell a book, a pill that will drop the pounds off or a piece of exercise equipment that will melt the fat away? Is any of it true or can it be harmful to me?
There is no easy answer to losing weight or eating a healthy diet. It really is a day to day endeavor that takes planning and careful thought. Not knowing what the next meal will be is a sure way to make choices that are not as healthy as they could be for you and your family.
The internet is full of recipes, meal plans, advice and advertisements that can be frankly dangerous to some. Not every site on the internet is powered by dietitians who have spent years studying nutrition and its effects on health.
When there is no knowledge behind the food message, you should be suspicious.
I have some information for you and your family to guide you with meal planning that is credible and helpful while having science to support it.
Family Meal Planning Made Easy
Every person is different including, everyone in your family. Each of us requires a little different approach depending on the overall goal. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to prepare a special meal for each person in the family. It may be a matter of adjusting portion sizes or seasonings.
Here are some tips to help you plan meals for everyone:
- Learn about different foods. What is healthy for your family? Do you serve fresh fruits and vegetables at each meal? Are you using whole grain breads, cereals and rolls? Are you aware of the portions you serve – is it 3 oz. or 6 oz. of protein? Is the cereal bowl one cup or more? What ingredients are in the beverages you serve your children or the packaged dinner you served yourself and your partner? Is it loaded with salt and added sugar? The more you know about the food you pick instead of just sticking with the standard selections, the healthier the meals will be. Also, don’t overlook the calories and sugars in your beverages. Drink unsweetened drinks or water with your meal or add a low fat glass of milk.
- Read food labels. Be aware of the portion that is expected, how many calories and fat grams are present, what type of fats are inside, if there is fiber, what the sodium content is, what are the ingredients, and use that information to compare it to other similar products. The best use of the information on the nutrition panel is to compare it to other options so you can make the best choice. Is one cereal higher in fiber than another, one can of vegetable higher in sodium, or one product higher in calcium or iron than another? The nutrition fact panel is regulated to provide the same information among products. The front of package labeling is different with some giving nutrition information and some giving stars. It is good information, but comparing the fact panel will help you make decisions.
- Learn at least the basics of cooking. Research shows that meals prepared at home are healthier. We tend to use more fresh products and eat things with less fat, sugar and salt not to mention more appropriate portion sizes when we are at home.
- Use a smaller plate to help you reduce your portions if you are trying to lose weight. Finishing the whole plate will help you feel satisfied. Also, no more second helpings. Once the first plate is finished, you should be too.
- Think about each bite as you eat it. Enjoy each one. Put the fork or spoon down between bites. Converse with the family about their day or upcoming activities. Being aware and enjoying the moment will help you eat less and be satisfied. This will also help you listen to your body when it tells you it is full.
- Choose healthier items from the menu when you go out to eat such as baked items instead of fried, ask for steamed vegetables instead of fries, add a side salad with dressing on the side, and skip dessert. If you know the portions are too large, ask for a doggie bag with the meal and put the extra food into the to-go container before you start eating.
These tips will you bring the healthiest meals to the table for you and your family and achieve your weight or health goals.
Creating Your Own Menus
If you would like a good place to create your own menus and track your nutritional progress, I recommend using the Super Tracker you will find at ChooseMyPlate.gov.
You can set up your personal profile (and one for each family member). It will give you personal, specific information about your calorie and nutritional needs as well as recipe ideas. You can track your physical activity too. Once you set up a profile, you can create meal plans and find out if you hit your target by inputting what you actually ate. You can see if your children need more dairy, fiber or vitamins based on their age or it they are getting enough for growth.
You can read health information and learn more about good eating there too. MyPlate Kids’ Place is a fun and interactive site to teach children healthy eating with games and activities that they will enjoy.
The best part of the ChooseMyPlate website is that it is based on science and is accurate. The only thing at stake here is your health and wellness.
Here’s to your health! Happy eating!