Dieting while feeding your family can be done, and there are ways to make it easy—even fun—for everyone.
Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., R.D.
April 06, 2015
1 of 11Photo: Frank P. Wartenberg/Getty Images
1. Cook the Same Meal for All
Dieting is hard enough on your own, but dieting while keeping a family happy and fed can seem impossible. In addition to your own eating changes, you’ve also got to juggle food preferences—and sometimes even temper tantrums—from the rest of your family. Here are 10 tips to dieting while feeding your family.
First up: Some nights, it may seem easier to cook a separate meal for the rest of the family, but this a lot of work. It also sets the precedent that you’re a short-order cook when kids don’t want what you’re preparing. Instead, look for ways that you can modify what you’re cooking when you’ve got dishes a pickier eater may not like. For example, if the meal is Chicken Biriyani with garlic roasted green beans and there’s no way your picky eater will touch it, modify the ingredients you’re already using for them. Pull out some chicken before adding the curry and other seasoning, toss the beans with a touch of butter and salt instead of roasting, and serve with the saffron rice in the recipe.
2 of 11Photo: Hélène Dujardin/Oxmoor House
2. Cleanse Your Pantry
Start by making changes to your environment beginning with the pantry and refrigerator. Sticking to your daily calorie goal and meal plan will be much easier when you don’t have to come face-to-face with cookies, chips, and ice cream several times a day. Get rid of the junky items that tempt you and that your kids don’t really need. Or, when the current supply of cheese puffs runs out, just don’t replace them. This may require a reality check that cheese puffs, chips, and cookies really aren’t essential or healthy components in kids’ diets. Then, restock with lots of healthy items such as portable yogurt sticks, fresh fruit, cheese sticks, whole-grain pretzels, baby carrots, and hummus. Later, if you do buy the kids a treat, get something that won’t tempt you.
3 of 11Photo: David Malan/Getty Images
3. Ditch the Guilt
If you’re feeling guilty about cutting back on the family potato chips or nixing the chocolate chip cookies except for special treats, then stop. You are not depriving your family even though you may initially feel like you’re dragging your family down your dieting road. The Cooking Light Diet Plan is made up of fresh produce, whole grains, good fats, lean protein, and balanced snacks, which means it’s a healthy way of eating for all ages, even if they’re not trying to lose weight. Remember to introduce changes slowly and gradually. Most people don’t like change so expect some resistance initially. Introducing healthy habits now will positively impact your kids long-term health or weight.
4 of 11Photo: Blend Images - KidStock/Getty Images
4. Package Single Servings
It’s almost second-nature for a parent to eat a handful of this and a little of that while cleaning up after kids, packing lunches, or preparing snacks. Although these little bites don’t seem like much, the calories can add up. Avoid this by repackaging snacks into single serving portions as soon as you buy them, and storing leftovers in individual serving containers so they may be taken for lunch the next day. This will save time in the mornings but also help you avoid mindless eating when you’re in the kitchen. Another portion tip is to serve meals from the stove where you can measure your portions rather than family-style at the table.
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If you’re cooking for a family, you’ve likely got after-school activities, play dates, and sports practices to factor in around meals. This makes planning in advance for the week absolutely essential, especially for a busy parent trying to lose weight. Take an hour to plan the upcoming week’s meals and grocery needs. Don’t forget to factor in snacks and lunch box items, and let kids have some input (Do they prefer broccoli or green beans this week? Apples or grapes?). Also, check your calendar and adjust your meal plan so you have a slow cooker meal on the night you’ll be late or plan to make double of the chicken casserole your family loves so you have extra on hand. Schedule reminders in your phone or calendar to defrost frozen items the day before you need them.
7 of 11Photo: Brian Woodcock
6. Adapt Family Favorites
People accept changes best when they are small and gradual. A great way to introduce small, healthy changes to your family is to take recipes that your family already loves and look for ways to make them healthier. Switch from butter to oil or cooking spray, decrease the cheese slightly on top of a casserole, use whole-grain spaghetti noodles instead of regular noodles, switch from 2% milk to 1%, or sneak some extra veggies into a casserole. They likely won’t notice small changes (you may not even want to mention them) and you’ll be cutting back on calories and fat and maybe even adding nutrients.
8 of 11Photo: Tetra Images
7. Spin It As Fun
Present your new healthy eating as something you’re doing to have more energy and be stronger, not necessarily to lose weight. Focus on the new foods and recipes everyone gets to try, and begin to incorporate simple nutrition concepts depending on kids’ ages. For preschoolers, let them pick a new fruit or vegetable to try each time you go to the grocery. Have them name all the colors in the produce section and practice counting the produce. For early elementary kids, make a chart for each day of the week and give a sticker for fruit and vegetable eaten and check out the activity sheets and games available for kids on ChooseMyPlate. Or, try growing a vegetable or herb together and then finding a recipe to use it in and prepare. Check out our Kitchen Garden Cookbook to get started.
9 of 11Photo: Cultura/Stephen Lux
8. Involve Them
The easiest way to get kids to try new foods and recipes is to involve them in the cooking process. Letting them help with simple tasks gives them ownership over this new dish, and they are much more likely to eat the new food. There’s something for all ages to do starting at age three. Check out these age-appropriate kitchen tasks for ideas. A note for success: Cook with your kids when you have a little extra time and patience, because it will take a little longer and you may make a slightly bigger mess.
Intentionally plan for leftovers. When a menu early in the week calls for rice, vegetables, or other side dishes, cook extra so that you can just heat and serve with any main dish or rotisserie chicken for when you need a quick meal. Also, double or triple recipes that your family loves. Then, store the extra in the refrigerator or freezer (here's how to properly freeze foods). Refrigerated leftovers make great lunches or last-minute dinners later in the week. Items that you freeze can be used several weeks from now when you’re in a pinch. Foods that typically freeze and defrost best are casseroles, soups and stews, and some pasta dishes.
It may be rough at first as you introduce changes to the family, but go slow and stick with it. When you get discouraged or frustrated, look for ways to involve them in the planning, growing, or cooking process. Also, don’t forget that everyone needs an occasional treat—even you too—so build those in as well. Modeling healthy eating habits and behaviors and incorporating them into your family’s lifestyle is truly one of the best gifts you can give your kids and loved ones.