Eating well

Make diet changes a family affair


Bev Bennett


January is when we vow to completely overhaul our behavior and that of our children. This is a good time to think about healthier eating strategies, since many of us put on a pound or two during the holidays.

Unfortunately in setting up New Year’s resolutions, it’s very easy to create a list of rigid, unrealistic goals that ultimately sabotage your best intentions.

Many resolutions are made out of guilt for past behaviors. Should you beat yourself up for not serving a salad with every dinner? Of course not.

In any case, you may find your family in revolt if you decree radical changes at the dinner table and you’ll be forced to drop your resolutions by Groundhog Day.

You’ll have more success if you frame your recommendations as lifestyle improvements, say nutrition experts. For example, tell your children eating a breakfast of whole-grain cereal, fat-free milk and a piece of fruit will give them energy at school.

By including your children in your discussions you have a better chance of succeeding. And take your own limitations into account. Don’t make changes you can’t adhere to.

“There are things I’d like to see families do, but I don’t know if it’s possible,” says William D. Hart, assistant professor of nutrition at St. Louis University. “I’d like to see parents outdoors playing with their children, but that’s hard to do if you’re stuck on the expressway.”

Instead of going for the ideal, choose what’s doable, Hart says.

He and Chicago dietitian Victoria Shanta Retelny recommend five changes you can make to benefit your diet and health.

n Don’t use food as a reward. Instead of baking your child’s favorite cookies when he cleans the garage, take a bike ride together, says Retelny, a registered dietitian at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Wellness Institute. If you want to give your child a special incentive for receiving a good grade, plan a special outing.

n Make the time to shop for groceries. You can’t cook a healthy dinner when you rush home to an empty cupboard. “Make an hour a week commitment, draw up a food list and shop for healthy ingredients,” says Retelny.

You can—yes, you can—take your children to the supermarket with you.

Make a game of healthy shopping. Let children choose different colored vegetables so they have fun. Look for healthier versions of favorite snack foods, such as whole wheat in place of refined grain crackers.

n Cook. It’s probably no coincidence that as the rate of from-scratch cooking has gone down in the last 20 years, the incidence of childhood obesity has gone up.

“A lot of us have gotten away from cooking,” says Retelny.

Getting a meal on the table doesn’t have to be onerous.

“There are any number of cookbooks that provide low-cost, nutritious recipes,” says Hart. “You can prepare many recipes with your children.”

Let your children find dinner recipes, says Retelny. You can ask a child to look on the Internet for a recipe using a particular spice or vegetable.

“This is fun for children and can be ongoing,” she says.

n Teach your children what a serving is. It’s not what’s heaped on the plate at your favorite restaurant. You’ll find the information you need as part of the Food Guide Pyramid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The pyramid not only tells what foods we should eat, but the appropriate amounts. You can find serving size information on the Internet by searching

Use measuring utensils to show your children what a serving is. They—and you—-may be shocked to discover that an appropriate portion of cooked rice is only a half-cup.

As you’re introducing the concept of serving size, talk about moderation. Your family doesn’t have to give up favorite foods if you take smaller amounts.

n Eat as one family. “You can’t have two menus,” says Retelny. “You have to incorporate lifestyle changes into all the family members.”

Here’s a recipe for fat-free homemade ice cream that’s a good source of protein and an excellent source of calcium for the family. The recipe, which even children can make, comes from Power Desserts by Karen Pellegrin (Champion Press, 2004).


Vanilla Ice Cream 3/4 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk 2 (12-ounce) cans evaporated fat-free milk 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 (3.4-ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix Combine all ingredients and mix well. Follow your ice cream maker’s instructions for making ice cream. Makes 5 cups or 10 servings.  Each serving has: 162 calories; no fat; 259 milligrams of calcium and 266 milligrams of phosphorus.

Bev Bennett is the mother of two and the author of 30 Minute Meals for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2003)


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