The basics of healthy eating and good nutrition are the same for each member of your family: choose healthy foods most of the time and limit the amount of unhealthy foods you eat. But healthy eating can be difficult to fit into your family’s everyday busy life, especially when everyone is immediately “hangry” when they walk in the door.
“Priorities and extra commitments vary from day to day,” says Kate Anderson, RDN, LD, outpatient dietitian at Mercy Medical Center. “Since we have not figured out how to add time to our day, it is time to start looking at how to use our time differently,” Anderson says.
Here are some tips on how to make sure your family’s diet is nutritious to keep them healthy now, and throughout their lives.
Why Healthy Eating Matters
When your family follows a pattern of healthy eating, it can:
* Lower their risk of diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
* Give their bodies and brains the energy they need to be physically active and to concentrate.
* Provide the essential vitamins and minerals they need to stay alive and healthy.
* Help them reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Over time, your food and drink choices can make a significant difference on your family’s overall health. “Create an environment that supports healthy habits,” Anderson says.
Here are five simple tips on how to make small changes to your family’s diet to help them be healthier now and in the future:
1. Eat and drink less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.
2. Make half your plate non-starchy vegetables.
3. Switch to low-fat or fat-free dairy. (Saturated fat should be no more than 10% of your total calorie intake for the day and 7% if you have a history of heart disease. That means no more than 14–20 grams total for the day. Be sure to read your cheese labels.)
4. Vary the types of protein you eat and include plant-based proteins at least two times per week.
5. Eat whole grains, such as whole wheat, rye, brown rice, oats and quinoa.
Food Label Fast Facts
Reading labels can help you make healthier choices. Here are some tips on making sense out of food labels:
· Select foods that list ingredients that you recognize.
· The closer the ingredient is to the top of the list, the more there is in the product.
· Daily added sugars should be limited to no more than 36 grams a day for men, 24 for women and 12 for kids. There is a new line on the food label that helps identify the amount of added sugars. The line under “Total Sugars” is “Includes Added Sugars.” This number will tell you how many grams of sugar were added and are already included in the “Total Sugars.” Example: If a product has “Total Sugars 18” and “Includes Added Sugars 10,” it is telling you that 10 of the 18 grams of sugar were added and 8 are naturally occurring. The 10 grams is what you would count towards your daily added sugars.
· To make sure your family is getting enough fiber, look for foods that list whole grains as the first or second ingredient after water. Also, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables in their whole form. Aim for at least 25-30 grams daily. Because of the highly-processed standard Western diet, including a fiber supplement is often encouraged.
· Fat-free and low-fat food labels don’t mean the food is calorie-fee.
How to Sneak Healthy Food into Your Family’s Diet
· Add grated vegetables like zucchini, spinach and carrots to casseroles and sauces.
· Use pureed fruit for sweet toppings rather than sugary syrups.
· Make fresh dips using pureed vegetables or fruits, Greek yogurt, flax seed, wheat germ and other healthy additions.
· Use whole-grain breads instead of white.
· Add a bag of steamed cauliflower rice to ground meat, soup or chili once cooked.
· Try adding spaghetti squash as a base on your next pasta night. You can have 1–2 cups of this mixed with 1/3 cup cooked pasta to help reduce carbs and calories.
· Oven roasted chickpeas offer fiber and protein and make a great snack. You can find many recipes online on how to season and roast.
Everything can be enjoyed in moderation. “Restrictions and negative boundaries with food are temporary and unhealthy,” Anderson says. “Balance the frequency of higher-calorie foods with living an active lifestyle. You can also work with a dietitian to learn how to find the right balance for you,” she says.
For information about Mercy Nutrition Services, visit cantonmercy.org/nutrition-services.