Healthy Eating: The Family Approach

Written by Maria E. Adams, MD

After the holidays and heading into the New Year, there are undoubtedly more thoughts revolving around healthy living, weight loss, and improving our overall health. We all struggle with how to fit healthy living into our everyday lives. Weight management is not about finding the right diet or product. It is about changing your habits and what you do every day. It requires planning and extra thought about how to change. I have outlined some simple steps that, as a pediatrician, I recommend to all of my patients who need to make lifestyle changes. These steps apply to the entire family as healthy eating is easier to achieve as family than as an individual.

Portion control.

Sit down to eat a meal three times a day. Eat breakfast every day. Decide on what and how much you will eat before you sit down to eat and do not get a second helping. Do not snack throughout the day. Eliminate the habit of eating in front of your television or computer. Most people who eat in front of a TV tend to eat more than they would if they had been sitting at a table without media. 

Eat together as a family.

Eat as many meals together as a family as possible. Sit down at a table together. Eating for nutrition instead of boredom, stress, or other reasons can help regulate what and how much you eat. Be a model of healthy eating habits for your children. The family meal promotes healthy attitudes and relationships regarding food. You will also find that a family meal gives your family more quality time together.

Eat home cooked meals.

Eating food away from home is a big offender in weight gain. This includes restaurants, fast food, vending machines, gas stations, convenience stores, etc. Avoid eating out when possible. Most restaurants add extra fat and sugars to food to make them taste better. Your home cooked version will usually have far fewer hidden calories than any restaurant’s version of a meal. 

Eat 5 fruits and vegetables every day.

Eating fruits and vegetables every day provides multiple benefits to your health and weight management. Most fruits and vegetables contain fiber which can help fill you up and regulate your bowel movements. Fiber is also helpful in managing your cholesterol and keeping your heart healthy. Fiber can help with portion control as it can be filling. Eat your fruits and vegetables first, before the rest of your meal.

When you make your weekly grocery list, think of what fruits and vegetables you and your children will eat. Fresh produce is preferable, but frozen vegetables may be more convenient for busy families. Fresh produce can be expensive. An alternative is to grow your own produce in a home garden during the summers.

Don’t drink your calories.

Despite common belief, drinking a cup of apple juice is not the same as eating an apple. The benefits of fruits and vegetables come from eating them, not drinking them. Look at what you drink every day. Are there calories in your drinks? Do you add sugar or cream to your coffee? Every calorie adds up and drinking your calories will not fill you up which will cause you to consume more calories than you intend.

There are many alternatives to sugar filled drinks. Artificial sweeteners in moderation can be used as a sugar substitute. There have been recent concerns about artificial sweetener’s link to certain cancers, so if this is a major concern for you, water may be your best bet. If you need a caffeinated beverage in the morning to wake up, but can’t drink your coffee black, try black or green tea.

Don’t skip on the dairy.

Dairy in moderation has many benefits, including calcium. 24oz of milk every day is needed for adequate Vitamin D intake. This is especially important in children. All children older than age 2 years should be switched to 2% milk. All children and adults with excess weight or who are at risk of obesity should drink 1% or skim milk.

Yogurt and cheese are important parts of our diet. Greek yogurt in particular is high in protein and can help induce satiety. Yogurt is also helpful in promoting the “good” gut bacteria that your intestines need. Yogurt can at times be deceivingly high in calories if extra sugar has been added, always look at the nutrition labels. When buying cheese, choose those made with skim or low fat milk. 

Choose fiber rich foods.

As mentioned before, high-fiber foods helps promote a feeling of fullness. Fiber also helps regulate your digestive track as well as promote a healthy heart, and can also help regulate blood sugar. Adults need at least 20g of fiber every day.

High fiber foods include non- starchy vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. Take an “eat this, not that” approach. Instead of mashed potatoes, eat a serving of green beans. Instead of eating beef, choose beans or nuts. Beans, nuts, and legumes are high in protein which also helps induce satiety. 

Avoid fad diets.

Eliminating carbohydrates or fat from your diet may work for a few months, but most people end up gaining the weight back later. These diets are hard to follow indefinitely and are certainly not appropriate for children. Choosing healthy eating as a habit can help keep the weight off over time.