Eating healthy should be a way of life, not a special diet! It should be something you can do effortlessly. As a family, we need to ensure our kids get the right foundation of good eating habits otherwise they will have to make huge adjustments to their lifestyle as they grow up.
It's often surprising when my friends raise an eyebrow at me using the word healthy. You know with me being a Cake Decorator and Food Blogger. Especially because of all those dessert recipes!
The truth is that healthy eating does not mean you eat just boring food. Nor does it mean you have to completely eliminate all desserts or your favorite food? It bothers me when people associate healthy eating habits with just a basket of green veggies. Vegetables are just one part of healthy eating there is so much more you can do to promote good health in your family. Even drinking water is an important part of maintaining good health.
Maintaining healthy habits is good for your overall health, preventing weight gain. Maintaining a healthy weight also protects you from diseases such as diabetes, cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure.
Now, I'm not a dietician or nutritionist, so I'm not going to give you a diet or meal plan. Nor am I going to advise you to weigh your protein foods, eat whole grains, or ditch the full-fat dairy or avoid fast food. Instead, here are 15 simple, easy and effortless healthy eating habits that I practice with my family and I hope you can pick a few to share with your family too
Table of Content
- 1. Be Creative with water
- 2. Encourage fruits
- 3. Get your family into a routine - Add special diet days
- 4. Get creative with veggies
- 5. Substitute oil for butter
- 6. Use brown sugar instead of white sugar
- 7. Add more whole wheat where you can - Pasta, rice, bread
- 8. Once in a while indulge in meals that are different and choose a healthy option
- 9.Plan snacks in advance
- 10. Balance your desserts with your meals
- 11. Salad goes to the dinner table first
- 12. Get kids in the kitchen - Let them help
- 13. It's an attitude - Make healthy eating a natural process
- 14. Lead by example
- 15. Shop wisely
- Join the conversation
1. Be Creative with water
I know!! I hear you! It's so difficult to drink water at times, especially when you are busy and especially when you have to drink it out of the tap. It's even more difficult to get kids to drink water. Here's what I do and it works for us.
- Place a jug of water in the living room - add a few cucumber slices and a sprig of mint. Kids like drinking water outta jug more than just from the tap.
- Or add your favorite fruit slices like lemon, oranges or apples in the water pitcher. Fruits have a nice way of adding a subtle flavor and making water more desirable
- Make a diluted Iced lemon tea with honey in summer - it is so refreshing.
- Green Tea is a great way to drink up. In our home, it's usually green tea with no sugar!! So it's just like drinking water but with the added benefits of green tea.
- Straws!! Creative straws!! Yup works with kids all the time!
2. Encourage fruits
The best snack you can eat is fruits but what we don't always do is keep it in front where we can see it. Here's what works for us.
- Wash the fruits and place the fruit basket on the dining table. Kids love to pick an apple or banana even when they are not hungry - if they see it.
- Take a break during the day, especially during those afternoons when you wanna binge. Grab a plate, get some fruits out of the fridge - slice them up. You will be surprised how inviting cut fruits are especially to the kids.
- When my kids give me any issues with fruit? I usually blend some fresh fruit juice such as bananas and strawberries. Watermelon in summer, melon, and apples etc.
- When you serve it - make it look fancy - kids love things that look pretty - I use some fancy smoothie glasses and straws.
- Of coruse, chopped fresh fruits over low-fat yogurt and a few spoons of healthy granola are the perfect snack for those afternoon 3 pm cravings.
- Add fresh fruits to your bowl of cooked oats porridge in the morning.
3. Get your family into a routine - Add special diet days
The one thing that works great for our family is routine. Plan days ahead of time. This makes planning easy for me and the rest of the family usually knows what to expect.
For example; this is how lunch usually works for us. So I have to plan ahead and take busy cake days into account.
- Sunday is 'fish and seafood day' - A lighter meal to start the first day of the week (see my fish recipes here)
- Monday is 'chicken day' - so I make things like Schnitzel, baked chicken etc. (see my chicken recipes here)
- Tuesday is - Pasta day cause my kids love pasta - so it's some kinda pasta like meatballs, mushrooms, veggies (see my pasta recipes here)
- Wednesday is often - Asian food - so I make either noodles, Japanese teriyaki chicken, Thai veggie curry, Indian food, etc.
- Thursdayis for legumes such as hummus. My family loves hummus so we have to have hummus once a week. We throw in some Falafel too! (see Middle Eastern recipes here)
- Friday is the weekend for us so - mama cooks what the kids decide they wanna eat.
At some point, we were learning - food from different parts of the world so the kids could explore countries. Japanese, Mexican, Thai.
Then we moved on to Ingredients - so we'd pick a special veggie that the kids got to choose. Parsnip, radish.
- Saturday is 'leftover day' - we always have leftovers from Fridays. It's also my way to teach kids to appreciate food and not waste food.
As for dinners.
- There is always a salad on the table.
- Winter usually calls for soups and
- We get creative with leftovers. Leftover poultry such as chicken or turkey goes into the sandwiches and wraps.
- Plus we love sandwiches and wraps with things like salmon, chicken, Tuna Patties, Cilantro Fish-cakes
- Once a month we have Pizza Fridays; yes regular as well as whole wheat Pizza!
4. Get creative with veggies
How many times have we heard people tell us that veggies are important in our diet? Easier said than done especially with kids, isn't it?
- I find that in every family there are little loops that we can work on.
- For example - In our family, we love wraps and Sandwiches. So often I will add the veggies in the chapati or tortilla wrap and sometimes you won't even know it's there like in my sweet potato chapati. My Aadi would claim he does not like sweet potato but he loves these so now he has stopped saying - I don't like sweet potato. I think good habits start without thinking first.
- Wraps are always the best. Sometimes it's - Chicken and avocado with salad or an omelet with tomatoes, onions, and herbs. Kids don't go looking in.. as long as it's a wrap they are happy.
- I never serve mayonnaise or store-bought salad dressing!! because our choice of sandwich spread is usually mashed Avocado, olive spread, or pesto or even roasted garlic and peppers spread.
Our salad dressing is usually Olive oil, yogurt & mustard dressing and often the kid's favorite avocado & yogurt dressing.
- Another great way to get kids to eat veggies is Soup!! In our home soups are huge..... which means in winter I can make soup every day and the kids won't complain. That is why this blog has so many soup recipes.
- Adding veggies to your Lasagna sheets like the kale and spinach is a fun way to get veggies in. Try adding them in the pasta with the meat - Instead of meat pasta throw in some mushrooms and peas.
- Roast veggies like potatoes instead of deep-frying -A great way of making veggies fun is to roast them. They taste amazing. Try oven-baked chips or Oven-baked potato wedges or oven-baked potato chips.
- Be creative with Salads - I love to add fruit and nuts to the salad like a few toasted pecan, walnuts, raisins, dates and cranberries can really add so much more to a salad.
5. Substitute oil for butter
- Often we think adding butter makes things tastier but we don't realize that adding butter means also adding too much-saturated fat in our diet. Which is not good for your family's health as it raises cholesterol and the risk of heart diseases.
- When you can - try to substitute oil for butter.
- In fact, make it olive oil and you'll be adding a ton more flavor.
- Coconut oil is another way to add healthy fat to your diet.
- As a rule of thumb for every 1 tablespoon butter, you can use ¾ tablespoon oil.
- Try using the olive oil spray when you can, especially when baking potatoes and such. It really makes a big difference.
- I usually never add butter (just canola oil) to our eggs, and omelets and honestly, we don't miss anything.
- Try homemade baked potato wedges and chips instead of deep fried chips at a fast food restaurant
6. Use brown sugar instead of white sugar
- I believe, as a rule of thumb adding more brown and green to your diet is always a good thing. right?
- Brown sugar not just adds more taste to your dishes because it contains molasses but being less refined it's also less sweet compared to white sugar.
- In fact, I do substitute brown sugar even in my cakes and cupcakes when I make for the family!!! My kids love these scrumptious Brown Sugar Cupcakes so much
7. Add more whole wheat where you can - Pasta, rice, bread
Again adding more brown instead of white is a lot better! But the trick to doing it right is to take it slow. Many folks just decide to make a switch when they should actually do it slowly. Doing it slow works best both for your bowels as well as psychologically.
- In our home, we now only buy Brown pasta. It's become a part of our diet that we hardly know any different.
- My kids still love white bread more than brown but there they do accept brown bread in sandwiches and wraps.
- The brown rice is still a bit difficult with my kids so I only substitute the white rice for brown in Pilafs and Pulaos. When it comes to plain rice we still stick to the white rice.
- As I said before we love wraps so making tortilla was huge - now we make only chapati or whole wheat tortilla.
8. Once in a while indulge in meals that are different and choose a healthy option
(for us it's food like cauliflower rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat couscous)
- Quinoa is fairly new to our family. Personally, I like quinoa and it's so easy to enjoy. I often make the same rice pilaf recipe using quinoa instead of rice.
- Couscous is more easy to incorporate into your diet. The best part - whole wheat is no different to cook than the regular couscous.
- I will often substitute cauliflower rice for regular rice in my diet.
- Sometimes you can add these to your diet as a healthy snack until you get used.
9.Plan snacks in advance
Snacks are the one thing that usually throws diet out the window. Often it's that odd time when you are hungry that you end up picking the wrong thing to just satisfy the craving.
If you have small kids - then the most common phrase in the house is... "Mama - I'm hungry" Often they just want to munch or eat!! Kids have a high metabolism so they do need to eat.
I usually keep leftovers for kids' snacks. Like freeze leftover whole wheat pizzas, chapatis, etc.
- Unless your family is allergic to nuts - dry fruit and nuts make a great snack. They work great with the sweet cravings; they are good fat and they even get you munching.
- I usually make Filo filled mashed potatoes or filo samosa in the freezer that my kids like to heat a bit in the microwave for an easy snack. So when I have leftover mashed potatoes they become filo samosas!!
- There is always pizza in the freezer - Yes; I make whole-wheat pizza.
- Chapati or Tortilla is another great thing to have in the freezer - Often when Aadi comes from basketball or swimming practice he will eat chapati with peanut butter or Nutella or pastrami and cheese, sometimes even an omelet.
- Cookies - I have two cookie monsters - both Ziv and Aadi are addicted to cookies. So I usually pick two cookie recipes a week. One is the standard chocolate chip cookies and the other is usually a healthy choice like Oatmeal cookies.
- Granola bars/bites - Aadi is not a big fan of Granola but he loves his snack bars. Which is actually - the same homemade fruit and nut Granola + some rice Krispies combined with some melted chocolate. (see all my granola recipes here)
10. Balance your desserts with your meals
When it comes to desserts - I'm always first in Que. Heck, I'd rather have dessert than a meal. But of course, I can't afford it!!
Often you get people to go, cold turkey and say - Oh no more desserts for me from now on cause I've been having too many desserts lately. The problem with this attitude is that you can't keep it off. You stay off desserts for a few days and then go binge so much that you end up eating more. Instead, plan your desserts with your meals and decide what you want to give your body. Enjoy it and don't eat with guilt!!
- Desserts don't have to always be decadent chocolate or fat loaded. An apple pie is a great dessert; so is a nice bowl of fruit and yogurt with honey.
- The truth is you can eat all three if you do it once in a while? If you indulge in high-calorie dessert today, eat something more modest to balance it off on other days.
- We have the dessert made only on the weekend. During the week - the kids know they are allowed chocolate after every meal and that's something that they do on their own.
- Often the dessert is fruit based - like Blackberry Tart, quick Apple Tart, Eggless Vanilla Pastry cream-based desserts such as this Strawberry Tart.
11. Salad goes to the dinner table first
Here's a little trick I do before dinner every day!! I know the kids are hungry so when I get dinner ready I make the salad first! I take it and keep it on the dining table. For my kids, the best salad is cucumber sticks, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes. Almost all the time the salad gets over before I get the rest of the stuff like soups, sandwiches, or wraps. Bread usually goes last on the table.
12. Get kids in the kitchen - Let them help
Make it a time to promote food
Both my kids love helping in the kitchen. Often they like making cupcakes, cakes but I also get them to make homemade pasta, breakfast parfait, chapati, peeling the potatoes, mixing batters, etc. Things they are capable of doing.
I use this time to chat about the food they like. Share information about food so they understand what we eat, why we eat, and what is good to eat. If you pick the right conversation you will find that they will ask questions and explore more.
That's how I got the kids into the trend of making food from different parts of the world. 'Mama this week we will make Chinese Food'. What is Chinese food? OR Japanese Food. If you get kids to understand food it makes them better at choosing their foods too. And hopefully, in the future, they will make the right choices that are good for them.
Curiosity in the kitchen gets the kids not just to learn about food but also the helping gets them to eat the food.
13. It's an attitude - Make healthy eating a natural process
When you try to force something new it becomes difficult.
- Instead, go with the flow. What is the worst that can happen? you will take longer to add that brown rice in your family meals but when you do it will be a welcome meal, not a compromise.
- And if one person says I don't like something - never force them to eat it. I know my neighbor whose kids hate broccoli and she makes it a big deal - now they hate it even more. So what if your kids don't like broccoli - find another veggie that is just as healthy and acceptable to them.
If you force kids they will avoid that food not just as kids but even when they grow up because of the unpleasant association they have with food. I hated a few veggies which I was forced to eat as a kid when I was in the boarding school. I started eating them now with my own kids!
- When I started adding brown pasta to our diet - the first time Aadi noticed the difference. So I told it was brown pasta because it's tastier and because it has more nutrition for our body. I think he wouldn't be as convincing if I told him it's healthy!
14. Lead by example
I know some of my friends cook food for the kids separately! The kid's food is often more enriched - with the belief that kids can afford it! My personal take on food is about
- Eating as a family and about everyone eating the same food.
- I do not believe that we should cook food with butter and cheese for the kids just to convince them to eat it.
- Kids may not eat something at one point but eventually, they do try because they see their parents eating it.
- Broccoli is delicious. My Rhea used to eat broccoli until she saw the movie "Inside Out" where they associated broccoli with disgust!! Kids learn from these examples we give them.
- Kids have the tendency to go on and off certain veggies at a time. I noticed this with my Aadi; at some times he enjoys beans and then for a few weeks he does not want to touch them on the table. That's ok. If you let it be he will come back to it on his own if not, he'll resist.
- Let kids know they have a choice and hope they will choose right because they learn from us.
15. Shop wisely
Last but the most important. When you are at the grocery store shop what you think you must eat, not what you think you may need.
- For example, don't buy both brown and white pasta so when you have to choose the brown always get left behind. Instead, just buy brown and that's what you will cook. Eventually; it will become a norm and not a second thought.
- If you don't want your family to eat certain food don't stock it. Stocking is having second thoughts, and when you have second thoughts you give in.
- Don't buy aerated drinks these are really not good for the family and the only way to get rid of this habit is not to bring it home.
- Over-shopping - Buy what you need for the week. When you over shop you end up using more just because you have it. For example, buy snacks that you think are just enough for the week. If you buy snacks for two weeks you will end up using it because it's at home.
- Read the labels when you shop!! This is more important now than ever before? Simple things we eat and give our kids are loaded with additives on labels we can't even pronounce. I think reading labels is an important part of eating healthy today.8
I'd like to end this post with a little lesson I learned from my own kids
Never underestimate the intelligence of kids. Ziv always says this especially when he sees crappy kids programs. A few years ago we use to be so bothered with Aadi's habit to eat lots of processed meats like pastrami, sausages, and ketchup. We'd always tell him how unhealthy these were but while he ate a lot of good food (even broccoli) to compensate for it - it bothered us that we could not get thru him the right message.
At the time Aadi was about 7 ½ and one of his favorite thing to watch was - 'how it's made' videos on YouTube. One day he stumbled on the video - how salami is made, how sausages are made - he watched with disgust!!
He came out of the study room and said - Eewww I wanna puke. I'm never eating processed food ever again. He went to the freezer picked up the bag of frozen sausages and put it in the dustbin. He's never asked for it again. He's ketchup from a big blob on the plate went to a small tablespoon size which he ate sparingly.
Of course, we thought - kids...! eventually he'd go back to it but NO!! He still does not eat sausages or unhealthy processed cold supermarket meat!!
Over here having (hot dogs) sausage in a roll bread with ketchup for birthday party's is very common and all the kids enjoy it. He won't touch it. He will come home hungry and say mama I didn't eat at the party because they had sausages for dinner.
So you see. Trust your kids. We are the best example for our kids. If we eat right so will our kids.
I hope you found a few easy healthy eating habits in this post you can use for your family. I'd love to hear any tips you may have for me or my visitors. I'm sure we can all learn from each other.