There's never a perfect time to start eating healthier. Usually, our minds turn to healthy eating in January after indulging in holiday treats, but protecting our families from poor eating habits takes year round commitment.
Wow! That sounds like a lot of work! Do you feel overwhelmed trying to feed your family right in a world full of fast food and boxed meals? Good eating doesn't require a degree in nutrition, tons of money or long lists of forbidden foods. If you're really ready to eat healthier, here are five basic places to start.
Eliminate liquid calories
Cutting out sugary drinks is an easy first step toward healthier eating. Sugared sodas, juices, teas and coffees aren't essential to our health, and they don't fill us up. In other words, they can go. Teach your family the benefit of drinking plain water, and save soda as a treat when you go out to eat. If you're not buying soda and juice, you're removing daily temptation and saving yourself money.
However, beware of substituting diet drinks for sugar-laden options. Those artificial sweeteners come with a price. Studies show that people who drink diet soda gain more weight than those who drink regular, owing to the fact that diet soda increases your cravings for sweet foods. If you can't guzzle down plain water, consider infusing it with whole fruits for a little taste.
Add produce to every meal
Many nutritionists and the government recommend five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day, but that seems like a lot if you're just starting to eat healthy. An easy trick to reach your goal each day is to serve a fruit or vegetable every time you eat. Have a banana in the morning, a side salad at lunch, steamed veggies at dinner, and fruit drizzled with chocolate for dessert. So long as you incorporate fresh produce into every meal, your family will get enough fruits and veggies each day.
Go for whole grains
Poor grains get a bad reputation in the media. However, for most of us, a good diet comes from a proper balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Instead of fearing pasta and bread, learn how carbohydrates from whole grains work to your advantage. Switch to 100 percent whole wheat breads and pastas and opt for brown rice.
Home cooked meals are almost always healthier than those prepared at a restaurant. If you're looking to overhaul your diet, commit to eating out no more than twice each week. You'll not only eat better, but you'll also save yourself enough money to buy better food at the grocery store.
To make cooking from scratch convenient, set aside one afternoon each week for food prep. Use this time to chop veggies, prepare salads to add dressing to later, pre-portion snacks, marinate meats, and assemble a few freezer meals. Making dinner each night won't feel like a burden if you've planned ahead.
Make more of mealtimes
One of the best ways to eat healthy is to eat as a family. The more you eat as a family, the less likely you are to make poor food choices in a rush and by yourself. We're all busy, but family mealtimes are incredibly important, both for our family health and for our family unity. If you're not eating dinner together currently, aim for at least once a week. If you are eating dinner together, try to add in breakfast or lunch on the weekends.
Modeling good eating is one of the best gifts we give our children. In this time where the obesity epidemic is growing, there are many voices out there confusing the issue. Remember that simple is usually better, and food is meant to be enjoyed, not feared. Food is a great tool for fostering family togetherness and creating memories, so use it wisely.