14 Tips for Your Family to Eat Healthier

by Charles Platkin, PhD
Keeping yourself and your healthy is an important goal, but not always an easy one to achieve. Here are a few tips, suggestions and observations to help you in your pursuit of a healthy and happy family.
1.    Photographs and Images of Healthy Foods Help!
You like art? Try hanging images of fruits and vegetables in your kitchen. Perhaps change them often. Experts say that exposure is key to getting someone to recognize a brand and encourage usage. The same goes for healthy living. A recent study appearing in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association showed that putting photographs of carrots and green beans on kids’ school lunch trays increased the quantities of vegetables they ate at lunch.
2.    Keep Fruits and Veggies Handy
Research has shown that your personal environment has a lot to do with how you make choices. For instance, if you have lots of fruits and vegetables visible and ready to eat you and your family will be more likely to choose them over other, less healthy foods.
Also, if you have fruits and veggies in the fridge, don’t put them in a drawer where you can easily ignore them. Make sure they’re front and center so that you see them every time you open your fridge.
3.    Veggies First
Always offer your kids the vegetables first, when they’re hungriest. One study has shown that children who were given vegetables to eat before any other food ate more of them than children who were provided all food options at once.
4.    Connect Healthy Foods to Something Else You and Your Family Love
It’s hard to get anyone to think about healthy foods first, but teens are particularly notorious for rejecting sound advice. So, researchers at the University of California at San Diego and the University of Texas at Austin have taken a novel approach and are linking healthy choices to things teens do care about. What they found wass that changing the way teens thought about healthy eating increased their desire to see themselves as healthy eaters and, as a result, the rate at which they made healthy choices.
5.    When Introducing New Foods to Your Kids, Use the Familiar Along with the New
Try to introduce new foods along with a familiar one. For instance, use your child’s favorite seasonings the first time you’re trying to introduce couscous, and serve it with his or her usual vegetables. Stick within your family’s ethnic or cultural background, and always use foods your children know and enjoy as a base.
Also, look for the variety of a new food that’s closest to what your kids normally eat. If your family members (spouse, kids) are steak lovers who are trying fish, opt for a dense “meaty” fish that’s as close to the taste and consistency of steak as possible.
6.    Do Not Force New Foods
Don’t force kids or adults to eat foods they don’t want. In fact, a research study has reported that when an authority figure, such as a parent or teacher, had forced a child to eat “a novel, disliked or aversive food,” 72 percent of those currently in college said they wouldn’t eat the food today.
7.    Try Eating at a Restaurant (That offers Truly Healthy, Tasty Food)
Are you afraid of cooking? Not the best person to introduce healthy cooking to the family? Plan on introducing a new healthy food by going to a restaurant known for its healthy food, presentation and taste.
8.    Copying Behaviors
Kids mimic the eating behaviors of their parents, siblings, peers and people they see on TV and in advertisements. While you can’t control everything your kids see, at the very least make sure you eat properly in front of them. A study showed that when parents offered food to young children without letting the kids see them tasting it first, their children were less likely to eat the new food.
9.    Don’t be the Police
Making comments about your son’s or daughter’s food choices, food habits, snacking options, portion sizes or anything else can lead to World War III. Don’t say, “Are you sure you want to eat that?” or, “That’s pretty high in calories, isn’t it?” Comments like these are not supportive ­ they merely undermine your child’s confidence. Try having healthy foods available, foods yourself, and showing support when family members actually eat healthier foods.
10. Shape Your Food
Make the food look good by presenting it in familiar, fun shapes.
11. Eat Healthy Meals Together
Research shows that sitting down at the table (no TV) and eating meals as a family increases the likelihood that your family will eat more fruits and vegetables, and decreases the consumption of unhealthy foods (e.g., soda).
12. Use Spices to Prepare Your Healthy Foods
Enhance taste by using spices and flavorings: garlic powder; onion flakes; salsa; low-salt soy sauce; orange or other fruit slices; almond, walnut or cashew pieces. Try a variety of flavors and cooking methods when preparing healthy foods. Make sure you pay attention to food texture, smell and the social surroundings.
13. Watch Out for the “Nag Factor”
Practice and learn the art of saying NO to your kids when they ask for unhealthy foods at the supermarket. Keep in mind, manufacturers are marketing to your kids so that they will persuade you to buy these unhealthy foods. Mentally rehearse saying NO.
14. Friends Influence Your Exercise and Eating Behaviors
Is a new diet or exercise program working for a friend? If so, there’s a good chance that you will try it, too, says a new study from researchers at the University of Buffalo. With this in mind, if you want your kids to adopt healthy behaviors, invite their healthy-eating friends over for dinner.
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