This is part 1 of a series designed to help you improve your family’s diet.
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salad with homemade croutons
If you’re like most moms, you want your kids to be healthy. You want them to grow up with strong bones, and a sturdy constitution.
While we certainly can’t control everything that impacts our children’s health, we do get to have a say in what goes into their bodies. We are what we eat, as my 3rd grade teacher taught me.
What we feed our children throughout their growing years has a huge impact on their health. What we parents eat matters as well. I don’t know about you, but if being a grandmother is such a life-changing experience, I’d like to live to see it!
As the New Year rolls out, lots of us are contemplating what changes we want to make in regards to healthy living. Maybe you want to start an exercise program. Maybe you want to establish earlier bedtimes. Maybe you’re thinking about making some improvements to your family’s diet.
I know I am. I got lazy toward the end of the year, buying more processed items, buying cheaper, more processed ingredients, staying up late, and skipping the exercise. I am ready to get back to some good habits, and perhaps take even more baby steps toward cleaning up our diet and eating better food.
As I mentioned in my list of wants, I’d like my life to be characterized by “healthy food and less temptation toward processed crap, etc.” That means that I need to get a plan in action.
If you’re looking to improve your family’s diet, consider these points:
What do you want to change?
Five years ago I was mostly concerned with getting food on the table. Any food. We were paying off debt and our grocery budget for 7 people, including pregnant me, was $400/month. You do what you have to do. It was a means to an end. If you’re there, you will get no judgement from me. Feed your babies as best you can.
Once we paid off our debts, I allowed myself the option to research more about how to improve our eating habits. Before then I was just afraid to know. Odd how we have to choose between eating healthfully and just plain eating. Each year I’ve made some moves to feed our family better quality food: buying more organics, cooking from scratch more, exploring more unprocessed ingredients.
Now that our budget is a little more generous, I’m looking to making some more improvements.
Know what you want to change or improve for you family.
Each family is going to have slightly different goals. I am not one to say that you should do it my way. I have friends who are full-on paleo and others who are super excited about vegan. I’m neither and both, depending on the day. I can see good things and things that I don’t quite buy in both.
Quite frankly, the common ground I see in fad diets is what I’m striving for: real food, fewer processed items, less/no sugar, lots of water, lots of veg, and regular meals.
I’m geared more toward improving the quality of what I feed my family than abstaining from a particular food group. That whole paleo/vegan debate? I’m just not there right now.
My specific goals for stocking my kitchen include:
- no GMO‘s
- no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives
- no artificial trans-fats
- no unfermented soy
- no RBST and other added hormones
- fewer processed foods (I know better than to say none at all)
- YES to real food (much like this)
- YES to organics when we can afford them, avoiding the Dirty Dozen when we can’t
- YES to more homemade and less rocessed foods
The fact of the matter is that the food our moms fed us is not the same food we buy in the stores today. For better AND worse, technology has changed our food supply. I personally think it’s in our best interests to be informed about food technology and how it can impact our future health and that of our kids. Some more food reading is also on my list for the year.
Based on the reading I’ve done so far and what my gut tells me, these are the areas I want to improve on. Your list may look slightly different.
Create your own list. It doesn’t have to be as long as mine. Maybe it’s as simple as “let’s eat more meals at home”. That’s a great place to start, so don’t compare. Think about YOUR family and how you want to improve your family’s diet.
Once you know where you want to grow, I suggest you find some good books on the topic.
If you want to eat at home more often and make your own take-out favorites, I recommend the book The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. This is one of my very favorite books about cooking in the home kitchen. I reread it every year. Another good one is Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. While I don’t agree with every conclusion the author makes, I think she does a great analysis of what you can make yourself. And it’s a lot more than you think!
If you want to stock up on homemade convenience items, then grab a copy of Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook. Ahem. You’ll have everything you need to know about freezer cooking right there at your fingertips. (There are currently a few bargain copies available for $6.78. Grab them while you can.)
There are books on probably every topic you’re interested in exploring. Spend a few minutes in the library database or on Amazon and browse until you find a good fit.
Books that have guided my thinking on food include:
- In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan – An amazingly good treatise on what the power of marketing and legislation can do to our food supply and our eating habits, not necessarily for the better.
- The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O’Brien – Another expose of sorts on more of the same, told from a mom’s perspective.
- The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn – A fabulous memoir/cooking guide on how to cook almost everything at home and why it’s important to take charge of your kitchen.
- French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon – This book convicted me about what a wimp I was being around my kids and their pickiness about food. We’ve made some big improvements, but still have some room to grow.
- French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano – I know, this is a horrible title, but the book is chock full of common sense and savoir faire. I love her no-nonsense, yet balanced approach to enjoying great food.
- Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss – I’m currently reading this and am dumbfounded by the research he shows on how scientists have changed our food. It’s not exactly what mama used to make! It’s the perfect impetus to get my rear in gear and start cooking more at home.
Next, consider how you will implement your new changes. I highly recommend discussing this with your husband. If you’re both on the same page, the battle is more than half won. If he’s not on board with your suggested improvements, it won’t be good for your goal or your marriage.
I chatted up my list with FishPapa. He’s cool with it. I even sprung it on the kids, quoting a Michael Pollan phrase: “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” They kind of took me to heart and are planning all kinds of messes in the kitchen.
As long as the food is tasty and I’ll providing some healthier alternatives to the junk they think we want, I think we’ll be okay. That said….
Plan for baby steps.
No sustainable change happens overnight. As Amy says, it’s a cha-cha. Two steps forward, one step back. That is how we mothers dance through life. Not everything you want to happen will happen when you want it to, if then. So, plan small steps and don’t be discouraged when your peeps don’t embrace whole wheat spaghetti with open arms.
1. Shopping strategies
For me, I’m hoping to adjust my shopping to align with my list up there at the top. There are certain brands and products, like Trader Joe’s and Bob’s Red Mill that I know are a good fit for my goals.
I’m using the Pantry Challenge to help me use up and clean out the things that don’t really fit my new goals. Then I’ll be back to reading labels and getting myself in a groove as to what fits and what we can limit or do without.
2. Make-ahead meals
Shopping is one thing, but cooking is the harder thing to pull off. I have a plan — once the Challenge is done — to fill the freezer. I’ve got a dozen real food freezer cooking plans to share with you this year, so I’ll be testing several of them during the latter part of the month. I’ll have a storehouse of make-ahead meals to draw from through the coming month or two.
3. Quick suppers
I’m also working out a repertoire of meals that I can make in 30 minutes or less. In this way on those nights when my freezer plan doesn’t work, I’ll have a back-up plan that can provide dinner for my family without running for take-out or convenience foods that don’t fit our new goals.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more ideas on how to improve your family’s diet. Years ago I shopped heavily with coupons and fed my people more processed foods than I ever dreamed possibly. I also had a daily Coke (cola) habit that I broke. While we still have lots of areas to grow in, we’ve come a long way in the last five years or so.
Stay tuned for more ways to improve your family’s diet:
- Eat at home more often
- Make snacks healthy
- Increase the fruits and vegetable options
- How to get your kids to eat more whole grains
- Help your family eat less added sugar
- How to make junk food yourself
- Make healthy meals happy ones
- Eat better on a budget
I hope you’ll join me on this journey to better eating! Let’s chat in the comments.