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9 Tips on how to build a healthy diet into your family.

Coach Helen Gray by Helen Gray
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Weight and our relationship with food is a complex issue. An issue that reported in total 1.02 million hospital admissions from 2019 to 2020 in England where obesity was the main or secondary cause for hospital admissions, during a pandemic, adding pressure to a healthcare system that is already overburdened. As a nation are we taking ownership for our own health and the health of our family? Or are we becoming a nation reactive to the consequences of our lifestyle habits? Below are nine tips that have helped me as a parent and a health coach to aid families to create a healthier diet.

1. Start young.

Babies and toddlers only know what they are taught, so from a young age you can expose them to a variety of foods. During the weaning process fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins can all be blended to provide your toddler with a diverse, nutrition rich diet. Bowls can be filled with colourful, fresh foods that provide the opportunity to experiment with different textures and tastes, not to mention the fun in watching their cute reactions!

2. Create clear boundaries.

Having clear expectations for meal times can save arguments, time and money. In our household I really only have two rules: dessert is only on offer if the mains are eaten and I will only prepare one meal option at meal times. There are the exceptions, for example, on celebrations they will have dessert even if they need to leave a little of their mains, or we go out to dinner and they want to try something new on the menu. I understand there are different diets, food preferences and allergies/ intolerances to consider so you can always have meals that are a combination of two or more foods, therefore if someone doesn’t like something you know there are at least one or two foods they will eat. However cooking individual meals for each family member, often costs time and money.

3. Redefine ‘treat’.

What does a ‘treat’ mean to you? We often as a society use the term ‘treat’ for a food or drink that is either high in sugar, fat, alcohol or excessive amounts. Yet how are these ‘treats’ serving your physical being and mental state? Can a ‘treat’ be luxurious, rare, super nutritious or time consuming work of art? I will treat my family to expensive cuts of meat, trips to farmers markets where they can choose fruits and vegetables they have never tried before or a meal that has taken hours to prepare rather than a mid-week quick and easy job.

4. Set family goals.

This is perhaps one of my favourites! Not just because we are a goal orientated family and competitive but it really brings us together as a family and creates something positive to look forward to. Decide on a family goal to achieve together with a reward you can all enjoy. In January as a family we gave up sugar for a whole month. As a reward we went to a safari park. The decision was made together, we supported each other daily and the reward was an experience the boys particularly had wanted for a long time. Other ideas could be a family drinking water challenge, five vegetables a day goal…the ideas are endless!

5. Expose, expose, expose!

When we go out to dinner I tell my boys that the chef decides what goes on the plate, as a result they accept how the dish is served and I don’t spend time instructing waiters what to add or remove for each individual like and dislike and they are constantly exposed to different foods. At home I still add small amounts of foods that the children are not keen on because as time goes by your taste buds change, foods can be cooked in alternative ways and science has proven that repeated exposure usually helps people to accept flavours.

6. Ingredient swaps

This can be so simple! Years ago I hired a nutritionist Danette May to educate me on easy food swaps I can use to make our family meals healthier and you can do this too. I swapped white potatoes for sweet, white rice to black rice, cream based sauces to nut and tomato based sauces, gluten pasta to vegetable based pasta...pick your ingredient list apart and find healthier alternatives. You can still keep the meal plan and your favourite dishes, yet source ingredients to make the dish more nutritious and low in saturated fats and sugar.

7. Be mindful.

How do the foods you eat affect your physical body and mental state? When you serve your family meals are you mindful of how you are going to feel after you have eaten? Will you feel light and energised or sluggish, tired and bloated? As well as having a personal awareness, I teach my children to be mindful that the foods they eat will have a direct consequence on their bodies. Not enough water can result in poor concentration, too much sugar can result in mood swings, and a carbohydrate heavy lunch may make them tired for the afternoon. When we teach our children to be mindful on the impact foods have, we empower them with the confidence and skillset needed to make decisions that are best for their own health and well- being, trusting that they too want to feel happy and healthy.

8. Role model.

Children learn not from what we say but by what we do. So if you are sitting there eating the world’s biggest donut and telling them to eat a carrot: this is not going to have the desired effect to get them to eat healthily. Children look to parents to model healthy habits. As parents we can inspire our children to make healthy decisions and help shape their relationship with their own health in a positive way. Your child spends most of their time with you and learns from your eating habits. Your attitude towards food and health impacts their choices and lifestyle too. It is important your child knows the real you, this way they can learn from your experiences and you may even learn from them.

9. Remove temptations.

You can make it easier to resist temptations if you don’t buy them in the first place. Create a meal plan and a shopping list and only buy the healthy foods on the list. You can’t raid the fridge or cupboards for crisps, chocolate and wine if it’s not there! So make it easier on yourself and the family by only having healthy options available.

If you know your family diet can improve, start now. You can always start with one small step to build a happier, healthier family.

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