Balancing nutrition for an entire family of mom, dad, kids, toddlers and babies isn’t easy. You want your kids to eat healthy food, but kids are notoriously picky eaters. Add to that a husband with a voracious appetite and your own desire to maintain a healthy weight (or, let’s face it, lose a few pounds) and you’re in a pretty tough spot. Is there a way to keep everyone happy without making yourself crazy in the process?
Daina Kalnins and Joanne Saab, registered dietitians at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and co-authors of Better Baby Food and Better Food for Kids, say it’s not uncommon for many moms to find themselves faced with a situation just like this. Here are some of their suggestions to help you balance your family’s nutrition.
First and most importantly, remember that healthy food is healthy food. By choosing the right foods, you can achieve everyone’s nutritional goals in one fell swoop.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are always smart choices, say Kalnins and Saab, the kind where you can’t go wrong. Canada’s Food Guide recommends that adults and children eat anywhere from five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. That means your hungry hubby can max out on 10 servings, your picky 5-year old can eat five servings, and you can settle yourself somewhere comfortable in between.
As for the rest of your family’s diet, choose whole-grain breads, pastas, rice, low-sugar cereals, low-fat dairy, lean meat, fish and tofu to end up with a balanced, healthy meal. By finding items from these food groups that your kids like, you’ll keep everyone – including yourself – healthy and happy.
While it’s important to choose the right kinds of foods for your family, it’s very easy for busy moms and dads to fall into the fast-food trap. When you’re working all day and commuting from work to home, it’s tough to come home and whip up a gourmet, well-balanced meal in minutes.
Start by writing yourself a weekly menu before grocery shopping. Make what you can ahead of time, and simply warm it up when you get home. Cook up meals in larger batches and stick them in the freezer. Even try buying salad in a bag and preparing vegetables the night before. The more time you spend planning your menu, the less chance there is you’ll stop at the local fast-food outlet on the way home.
It’s easy to get stuck in a nutritional rut when you’ve got kids. Maybe your toddler wants to eat nothing but macaroni and cheese, or you’ve got a 6-year-old who will eat nothing unless it’s dipped in ketchup. Making a well-balanced meal that incorporates your child’s quirky eating habits is often a lesson in frustration.
Don’t despair if your kids rely on certain staple foods. Instead, try to offer your kids a variety of different foods and different spices. They might reject the new flavours at first, but persistence will pay off and your kids will eventually eat many different kinds of food. If your child still refuses to eat new foods, just ease off the pressure for a while.
Finally, remember that introducing your kids to new foods takes time. The optimal time to start teaching them healthy nutrition is when they’re just starting solid foods as babies. Studies have shown that the more variety, the more flavours you introduce early on, the better your children will be later on.
A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.