Here are some simple strategies for a bit of healthy eating for your family. Even better they won’t whine about it, and you won’t have to resort to sneaking veggies into their favorite foods. Also, if you are trying to lose weight, this is a great way to nudge your own diet in the right direction, without feeling deprived.
All it takes is a little understanding of human behavior and a few simple adjustments. Here is the first strategy and a few ideas to make use of it.
1. People like to do things that are easy and they don’t like to do hard things (Shocking, isn’t it?)
Use this to your advantage by having the healthier foods cut up and available for grab & go snacking. The not-so-healthy foods need to live in more inconvenient places like high shelves or the deep, dark cabinet corners. If you have to get on your hands and knees to dig back into a cupboard for the cookies, you’re much less likely to eat them.
Same thing with sodas. Keep a large pitcher of ice water on the table, but put the sodas on a shelf in the garage. Consider offering a small incentive for drinking water or milk with meals. A few extra minutes at bedtime is a nice reward and easy for Mom to follow through with.
When serving meals, leave the pasta & other starches on the stove, but make sure large bowls of salad & veggies remain on the table. Lazy creatures that we are, most people will not walk the 3 feet to the stove to get their second helpings if there’s an option within arms length. Same thing for chips, cookies, etc. Serve yourself a SMALL portion, then close up the bag and put it back in the cupboard. If you leave it on the table, your hand is liable to sneak over there, when you’re not looking.
2. If you want to train a dog, you’ve got to be smarter than the dog. Works with kids too.
Remember Popeye and his spinach? During the 50’s when that cartoon was new, spinach was one of the most popular vegetables. However, I think that particular fad had worn off now. So why not start your own fad? Use your imagination. Broccoli can become “dinosaur trees”. Peas can become “power peas” and impart imaginary super powers. Ants on a log are always more fun to eat than plain celery with peanut butter and raisins. How ‘bout Rain Forest smoothies? Come up with fun names and new stories for the items you want your kids to eat.
Change your comfort foods. We have certain comfort foods we prefer because that’s what our Mom served us when we were sick or feeling sad. Grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken soup, milkshakes, meatloaf – these all fall into that category. So why not start some new traditions for our own kids? A turkey pita sandwich with vegetable soup is probably just as tasty when you’re sick as the cream-laden tomato soup with a buttery grilled cheese, as long as it’s served with a heaping helping of TLC and a warm hug.
When your kid does well at their piano recital, take them out for frozen yogurt rather than an ice cream sundae. The praise and the concept of a “special treat” is what is important, not the fat content of the food consumed.
If all else fails, you have one undeniable option – your checkbook. You or your spouse buy nearly 100% of the food your family eats. Set firm policies about what comes into your house.
My husband can buy ice cream, bacon, and big bags of shredded cheese. He’s over 21 and he can do what he likes. But we have agreed that he won’t do it out of our regular grocery budget. If he wants those things, he needs to pay for them with cash out of his pocket. They still show up sometimes, but we don’t have them nearly as often as we used to.
This brings us to strategy number three, which is the best and the easiest.
3. Your can TRICK people into smaller servings without getting caught
Study after study has proven that people have no clue whatsoever when it comes to portion sizes. Even scientists who do this type of research for a living have been fooled with a clever enough setup.
You can use this to your advantage in two different ways – use large portion sizes to fill up on healthy foods and use small portion sizes to eat less of your not-so-healthy foods.
This is a great excuse to get a complete set of new dishes. Make the dinner plates smaller, the salad bowls larger, and the dessert bowls tiny, but exquisitely beautiful so dessert will feel like more of a treat. Soda glasses – small, water glasses – large – you get the picture. Buy some extra measuring cups too. Make serving sizes “official” and serve foods with the same measuring cup every time, even if you think you know how much a serving should be (you don’t).
Another tip is to simplify your meals. If you have more foods to choose from, you’ll eat more by default. They did a study with M&M’s – people with 10 colors of M&M’s ate a whopping 40% more than people with 7 colors. Yeah, we’re goofy creatures that way.
Here’s a big tip that will save you money too. Don’t buy the big Costco sizes. I know America has this love affair with Costco and those fabulous warehouse-sized containers of stuff, but studies show if you have a whopping HUGE container of something, your brain just makes you want to use it up faster. So, you don’t save any money in the long run, and you are getting fatter in the bargain.
If you insist on buying the big sizes for the sake of economy, do yourself a favor and split it into two containers with the bulk of it out of sight. Trust me, it works.
Disclosure: Many of these tips came from a fascinating book I read recently called Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More than We Think by Brian Wansink. I recommend you read it to learn even more about this helpful and interesting topic.
Image courtesy of Lobster20 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net