Spouses and kids can be hard converts, can't they? Especially if you have reluctant eaters like my toddlers used to be, getting kids to eat healthy food, or any food for that matter can be a challenge. You want to feed your family healthy food, but you have fallen into a rut, and now they are hooked on drive through delights and convenience food cakes and goldfish. So what do you do when your kids and spouses are used to McDonalds, take out pizza, and grilled cheese sandwiches with processed cheese and white bread? How do you make the switch and get your family on board? Here's what we did when we made the switch to real whole foods. Here are my best tips.
How to get your family to eat healthy
Don't have the mindset of "healthy food"
"Healthy" for some people carries the connotation of boring, tasteless, and drudgery. People have to psych themselves up to go on a diet, knowing that they will be deprived of some of their most beloved foods. I'm not a fan of diets. Actually I hate them. Real food is wonderful, delicious, and doesn't require deprivation or cutting out your favorite comfort foods. It simply takes some tweaks, planning, and thought to make your old "junk food" healthy. Instead of proclaiming to your family, "We're going to start eating healthy! No more x, y, z! It's salads, raw vegetables and fruit and green smoothies from now on!" If you use this approach, you will certainly get mutiny from your family. Try using the approach, "We're going to try cooking at home more and eating at the dinner table. It might take some work to find out what we like, but let's try this together." Most of the time, how you approach things with anyone carries a lot of weight.
Make their old favorites, but with real ingredients
Eating real food doesn't mean you have to throw out your stash of favorite family recipes. It does mean you will probably have to adjust them to make them with quality ingredients. If it calls for cream of whatever soup, you could try real cream instead or homemade version. If it calls for a boxed or canned ingredient, just look for the real single ingredient version of that food. What does your family like? Do they like chicken strips? Cool! Make homemade chicken strips! It's simple. Do they like pizza? Great! Make homemade pizza. My homemade pizza is some of the best I've ever had and it's actually not too complicated. The internet is your friend. Google can help you find many delicious versions of your old favorites. Please do not look for "skinny" fat free versions of these recipes though. Fat free means free of vitamins and nutrition. Not only do fats carry fat soluble vitamins, they also help you absorb the vitamins and minerals of your vegetables.
Let them pick out the menu
This is a great tip that I often use with my family. Get their input on what sounds good to them. Ask them for suggestions. This way they are part of the process, and it's not you just forcing this new lifestyle on them. If they are clueless, make a list of several options and let them choose. If you have multiple kids in your family, they can all choose one meal a week to put on your family favorites master list. This also takes some pressure off of you to always have to think of something new.
Have them help you
In addition to getting your family's input, consider letting them help you make the food. This accomplishes several things. First of all, they helped make it, which will instill a sense of pride in them and they may be more likely to try it if they helped create the dish. It also teaches them things like where food comes from. You don't want to raise a kid that doesn't know a french fry is actually a potato. It's also great for developing their culinary skills. If my kids leave my house and don't know how to do basic things for themselves like cook, clean, laundry, and handle money, I have not done my part to raise them properly. Also I don't know about you, but my kids crave my attention. If they are in the kitchen with me helping, not only am I getting something done, but I am spending time with them as well. Yes, it gets messy. Yes, it can be frustrating. Yes, it may take a little longer. I feel though that the benefits outweigh the negatives.
Don't try to change everything at once. If your family is used to eating instant oatmeal packets for breakfast, Lunchables for lunch and take out for dinner, changing everything at one time will overwhelm all of you. Tackle one meal at a time or one skill at a time. Once you have mastered that and your family is on board, move on to another. Slowly exercise your family's real food palates and your culinary skills. You will have greater success this way I promise.
Make delicious food
It's not hard to sell your family on real food when it tastes good. If you feed them bland gross food, of course they won't be on board. Season your food well. Use good quality fats. Make your vegetables taste great. Make food that sounds good to you. Don't eat a salad every night if you hate it. There are other ways to eat vegetables and get good nutrition. Real food is delicious. Their palates will change over time and will actually prefer your food over fast food.
Don't be a short order cook
If you want your family to start trying new things, you have to stop catering to them and being a short order cook. My family eats what I cook period. If they don't like it, that's their problem. My job is to provide healthy food. Their job is to eat. Now I do try to serve at least one thing that I know they like and sometimes I add a piece of fruit or something else to their plate to fill in the gaps if I know they are reluctant about eating certain foods. Other than that though, everyone eats the same thing. Do they always clean their plates? Nope! Is it frustrating? Yep! Do I fix them something else? Nope! Sorry but that's how it is around here. They are required to try two bites. After that, the rest is up to them. They can choose to eat or be hungry. That may sound mean, but I have found if I do the above like get them involved or ask them what they like, we don't have too much of this.
Figure out your family's style
Figuring out your family's style can go a long way in getting your family on board with what you are cooking. If they hate soups but you are feeding them soup 3 days a week, you will certainly have problems. Many kids like casserole dishes and their food all mixed together in a sauce. My daughter is not a fan of this. For example, she loves chicken, rice, cream, carrots, and peas. Once I fixed a casserole dish of all of those ingredients in it, and it was delicious! My daughter ate one bite and wouldn't eat any more. So for my family, I don't do too many casseroles. Instead I focus on a protein or main dish with a few vegetable sides. Your family may be opposite. You just have to play around with things to find our your family's style.
Make dinner about more than the food
This is so important. Dinner time is so much more than just about the food. It's a time of reconnecting. It should be a time of nourishment for the bodies and mind. It's a time for socializing and getting to know your family better. It's a time for laughter and joy. It's a time to relax, be together, and just enjoy each other's company. Maybe do your family's devotion together during that time. Pray together. Ask your children about their favorite part of their day. Talk to your spouse about their day at work. Unwind. Turn off the t.v., eat at the table, and try taking the focus off of the food and hounding your kids to eat and see what happens. It may not make any difference, but it just might. 🙂
Don't stress or fight over it
I can't promise this will be an easy journey. We've been eating real food for a couple of years now and we still have days when the kids won't eat or something I make is just a flop. If you give everyone, including yourself, a little grace, it will be a much easier transition. If you are constantly nagging your family to eat, get hurt feelings when they don't, yell and scream, and think "Why do I even bother?" no one will be happy and you will leave resentful and so will your children. Relax and give yourself a break. Some things will work. Some things won't. Celebrate the successes and learn from the failures. There are bigger things in life than this. Make dinner time enjoyable. Tell jokes. Laugh. Have fun. Enjoy each other. Model for your family that dinner time is a positive time.
Those are my best tips. Now let's hear from you! Do you have any wisdom to share with others on how you got your family on board with eating less junk? Share with us in the comments below! What do you think about the above strategies? Do you think any of them would work in your family?