It’s a familiar scenario. You’d like to start eating healthier, but your spouse and kids aren’t jumping for joy at the thought of having broccoli and quinoa for dinner. Between work and family life, the last thing you want is drama at the dining table or endless brainstorm sessions about what to cook tonight. So what can you do to get your family on board with healthy eating?
Have a look at these 10 good food strategies to win over your family’s hearts, minds and tastebuds.
1. Sit down for a talk
Depending on the age of your kids, talk to your partner and children about your plans. Explain to them what you want to do and most importantly why. Make sure you don’t emphasize things like weight loss or body image, but highlight the benefits of eating good food. Even my four year old daughter understands that she needs the vitamins from vegetables if she wants to be great at running, climbing and cycling – activities she loves and prides herself in.
Also set some ground rules. For example, you could make a deal that everyone has to taste at least 1-3 bites of every food. You can also agree that you’ll have one ‘cheat’ night a week or that they can make a list of 3 foods they don’t have to eat. Whatever works for your family.
2. Make healthy meals look appealing
I’m not saying you have cut ingredients into cute shapes or create Pin-worthy lunch boxes. But we all like our food to look tasty, right? With a few simple tricks you can make your kids wanna dig in.
- Add colour to your dishes. ‘Eating the rainbow’ not only ensures you get the full range of nutrients, it also looks more attractive. So liven up those beige plates: top your breakfast with berries, add tomatoes and lettuce to your sandwich and sprinkle fresh herbs over your pasta dish.
- String fruit or barbecued veggies on skewers.
- Serve your (green) smoothies in fun, reusable pouches, like the ones from Squooshi. Good for the environment and your budget too!
- Play around with your spiralizer and make noodles from zucchini, sweet potato or carrots.
- Give everyone their own parchment paper package for dinner. Not only will it be a fun surprise to see what’s inside the envelope, but cooking ‘en papilotte’ can be prepped in advance and requires little clean-up. Win-win!
- Bowl food is a trend for a reason: it looks inviting, comfy and colourful. And with different separate ingredients to try, it’s like a monkey platter that grownups will love too!
3. Sneak veggies in
Vegetables usually rank the list of things kids (and a lot of adults) aren’t keen on eating. If the sight of a plate full of veggies leads to unhappy faces, you could also sneak some greens in in a more covert way:
- Secretly add plant power to your pasta dish with Jamie Oliver’s 7-veg tomato sauce.
- Swap part of your spaghetti for zucchini noodles or add cauliflower rice to your nasi goreng.
- Mash it. There isn’t a kid in Holland who hasn’t been tricked into eating veg by sneaking it in with the mashed potatoes.
- Blend veggies into your pancake batter. Pumpkin puree or spinach with banana work really well, but you can find more recipe ideas for the ultimate healthy stacks here.
- Make your own pizza and hide cauliflower or chickpeas into the dough. You can also buy good quality pizza bases with added like Magioni (available in the Netherlands and the UK).
- You can even work vegetables into cakes and muffins. I mean, who would say no to a decadent beet and chocolate cake?
4. Satisfy sweet cravings in a healthy way
When that afternoon slump rolls around, having healthy treats within reach can be crucial to avoid hangry kids (and mamas). Make healthy after-school snacks like vegan pumpkin bread, keep trail mix in your desk drawer or simply grab a banana.
And if you’re craving dessert but want to stay on track, try satisfying your sweet tooth with chia pudding, homemade (n)ice cream or a healthy fruit crumble.
5. Make it ‘meaty’
One of the most common complaints about healthy eating is “it’s not filling enough”. Especially men seem to dread having soup or salad for dinner, afraid they’ll still be hungry afterwards. Luckily, there are a few ways to still get more greens in and satisfy your appetite:
- Make meal-worthy soups and salads by adding (plant-based) protein and slow-releasing carbs. The Kitchy Kitchen has a helpful template on how you can build a satisfying salad.
- Grill a small piece of meat or fish for the diehard fans as a side dish instead of the main ingredient.
- If you want to adopt meatless Mondays, choose ‘meaty’ meals to start with. Aubergine parmigiana, portobello burgers with sweet potatoes fries, chili sin carne or vegetarian pastas all fill your stomach without trying to substitute with faux-meats.
6. Cook family-style dinners
If you have picky eaters, take the pressure of cooking something everyone will eat by serving separate components. Put bowls with different foods on the table so everyone can create their own dinner.
- Have a fajita fest! Heat tortilla wraps, prep your protein of choice (chicken, beef, beans) and fill small bowls with peppers, (mango) salsa, corn, lettuce, guacamole and sour cream.
- Make your own spring rolls. Prep the rice paper, thinly slice crunchy veggies like carrots, peppers and sprouts, whip up a delicious dipping sauce and let the rolling begin!
- Let everyone garnish their own (slice of) pizza with healthy toppings.
- Turn your leftovers into an impromptu tapas night. Use what’s left in your fridge to whip up a frittata or make a healthy snack platter with crudite, cheeses and charcuterie. Add some olives, toasted bread and hummus, et voila!
7. Include something with each dinner they will definitely like
Trying new recipes can be a bit intimidating, especially when your family members prefer to stick to familiar foods. So instead of cooking up a storm only to be met with unhappy faces and untouched plates, make the transition a little smoother by including ingredients they will definitely enjoy eating.
You could make your usual meals with only one new healthy ingredient. That way everyone can get used to different flavours and textures without casting off and entire meal. For example, swap the refined couscous in your go-to recipe for freekeh or quinoa, or add tofu to your stir fry instead of chicken.
Alternatively, you could have little treats with your dinner. Serve Mexican salad bowls with loaded nachos on the side or eat prawn crackers or tiny egg rolls with your veggie-packed nasi goreng.
8. Don’t make drastic changes
D0n’t overhaul your family’s diet overnights, especially if your housemates aren’t excited about the prospect. Start simple and make one change at a time. You could focus on an extra serving of vegetables for dinner, choosing whole grains instead of white bread and pasta or upgrading your snacks.
And please remember: growing children need nutrients from all food groups to develop in a healthy way. Unless there’s a medical reason why, please don’t cut entire food groups like carbs or fats.
9. Experiment with healthy versions of your favourite family meals
Improving your family’s food pattern doesn’t mean you can never have French fries again. There’s more to life than nutrition. But it can still be fun and tasty to give your favourite comfort food a healthy makeover. The worldwide web is filled with ideas to make healthier versions of nachos, hot dogs and kebabs. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Pizza Party: 10 Healthy Crusts and Toppings
- 19 Healthy Burgers and Fries for Your Summer BBQ
- The Nicest Ice Cream: 11 Healthier Frozen Treats
- Healthy Party Food: 16 Savory and Sweet Bites
- Sweet Seduction: 14 Healthy Chocolate Recipes
10. Get the whole family involved
Eating is a social activity. So why should cooking be a one-person job? No matter who’s the chef in the family, get everyone involved in making meals. Talk about which new ingredients you will try next and let them choose new recipes to cook. You can go grocery chopping together or take your family to a farmer’s market to get a better appreciation for good food.
Many kids also love helping out in the kitchen. Even the ones who are too young to go near a hot stove and sharp knives can help with washing vegetables, peeling fruit, whisking eggs or batter mixes and scrubbing mushrooms. Cooking together isn’t just a great way to teach kids about healthy food and important life skills, it’s also a fun family activity.
So sit down at the table, talk about your day and enjoy a nourishing meal together. Because nothing brings people together like good food.
What’s you best trick for getting your family on board with healthy eating?
For more inspiration on wholesome meals for busy weeknights, check out the Green Kitchen at Home cookbook.
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