You spent what felt like forever scrolling through Pinterest, looking for the perfect meal- healthy but something your family would still love. And then finally, you smiled. Because you’d found IT. After jotting down a quick grocery list, you headed straight for the store.
You assured yourself that even if your loved ones didn’t know what a portobello mushroom was, they would enjoy it. After all, the recipe author said it tasted “very meaty”. Surely your meat and potatoes husband would be a convert.
Dinner took a while to prepare and, while it certainly did not look like the sunlit photo that drew you in, it was a heartfelt creation.
You walked a little taller than normal as you delivered this new dish to the dining room table, and immediately, the groans of disapproval began.
“What is this?” your husband inquired. “I want a peanut butter and jelly!”, your little one declared. Your unhappy dinner guests pushed their food around their plates as if they were searching for a hidden nugget of bacon. Sigh, it’s hard to keep trying when your attempts at healthy meals are so poorly received.
If you have found yourself serving you and your family meals that don’t meet your nutritional standards just to avoid an uproar, this post is for you. Here we will break down 5 strategies to de-stress family meal time.
1. UNDERSTAND YOUR FAMILY’S FOOD PREFERENCES
I get it, your family can be unreasonable sometimes. Me too. Some things I just won’t eat. Take beets, for example. I do not know why anyone would ever want to eat beets. I remember seeing a can nestled among other can goods and literally feeling myself gag. But, then something changed.
What is that food for you? That food that makes you want to bury it, burn it, or feed it to the dog (but, really, you are not that cruel)? We all have them and it’s just normal. Tastes are different. Maybe you love beets.
Survey your fam with what foods they just won’t eat. I am talking about true dislikes and not just “I prefer the sweeter, saltier, more processed alternative”. Make a mental note.
2. RESPECT EACH OTHER’S FOOD PREFERENCES
Most of us don’t love change, especially when it comes to our food. We are creatures of habit and tend to eat the same foods repetitively. Much like we only wear a fraction of what is in our closets, our grocery carts are often filled with many of the same items each week.
What are the 10 foods your family always wants to eat? You know, the neon-colored cereal, the sandwich that shows up every day, or frozen treat marketed by a cartoon. Ok, now that you have them in mind- don’t attempt to change these foods (right away).
Show your loved ones that you aren’t out to take their favorite treats away, you are simply looking to work from the outside in. This will make the appearance of new foods much less intimidating and will help those you cook for feel less defensive when they see changes happening.
3. WIN THEM OVER WITH SUBTLE CHANGES
As you work from the outside-in, start with small changes that won’t rock the boat too much. You can read about some easy tweaks you can make to your family favorites in the post, 10 Ways to Make Any Meal More Healthy. Here you will find the easiest entry points for the “whole-food weary”.
By starting slowly, those you cook for will experience little exposures to more nourishing foods, giving them the opportunity to see that real food isn’t that bad after all.
3. INVOLVE THEM IN THE PLANNING PROCESS
This point is key, especially when you are feeding little ones. Be sure to take your children to the store and produce stand and allow them to touch and feel the available options. If you are deciding between green and red apples, let them choose. If something catches your child’s eye, consider looking up a recipe together, right there in the store, and seek out the remaining ingredients.
Hint, try not to be too enthusiastic. I know this sounds counterintuitive but it’s true. Making a big fuss can make a big fizzle.
Also, when you sit down to figure out your menu plan and grocery list, ask for input. Inquire what meals your husband is hungry for, ask your children what they’d like to pack for lunch. Yes, the answer will likely be the very thing you are trying to avoid but by honoring their likes, you are communicating that what they prefer matters. Then, see the next point.
4. EXPLAIN WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND SEEK A COMPROMISE
Now, there is a time to be super-sly. You may want to reduce the sugar in a recipe or bake instead of fry and see if it passes from fork to face without anyone noticing. That being said, be sure to explain to your family what your end goal is- you don’t want to change everything they eat, all of the time, you simply what them to be a little healthier each day.
If the end goal is to eat whole grains, to serve more fruits and veggies, and prepare more meals at home, where can they meet you in the middle? Have an honest and real conversation where each person can share his or her thoughts. You will likely have to flex more than they, but you won’t know if you don’t ask!
5. APPEAL TO EACH FAMILY MEMBER’S VALUES
Even kindergartners are educated about healthy eats these days. Broccoli makes your biceps bulge, carrots give you laser vision, and oatmeal will power you to be fast and furious.
Old and young, we all want to live strong and energetic lives, no matter what age we are. Appeal to each individual’s motivations and cook to meet those desires. Asking in words and in actions- “What matters to you most and how can I show you that it matters to me too?”.
For example, if your son or daughter wants to excel at a sport, how can you help? This is the perfect opportunity to introduce some new ideas!
Or, maybe you’ve seen others suffer the consequences of poor food choices. This is a great topic to discuss with the adult members of your family. What do you each think about the choices that were made? Would you have done something differently? While negative motivation is not my favorite, it is a powerful proponent for change. We want to be wise and wisdom looks ahead.
CREATING YOUR ACTION PLAN
First, is there a point that stood out to you? When you feel drawn to a particular course of action, that is often a great place to start. There is no need to follow these steps in order or to do them all. The important piece is that you recognize how to work WITH your family, rather than feel like you are on opposite sides. You all truly want what is best; your opinions just differ.
Commit to honoring your healthy aspirations while hearing their concerns and find a small way to get the ball moving in the nutritious direction.
Ask yourself- “What is ONE thing I can do this week to help my family eat healthier meals that they can be on board with?
Now pencil it in and commit to doing it!
If you need help putting your healthy habits into practice, check out The Ultimate 12-Week Healthy Habit Goal Setting Planner. This planner will take you from one small change to the next until you reach your health and fitness goals!
TAKE HOME POINTS
- Acknowledge your differences in opinion and validate theirs. “Feeling heard” will diffuse some, if not all, of the tension.
- Uncover what truly matters to those you live with and cook for and seek to support those values in a healthy way.
- Involve your family in meal planning, food selection, and preparation.
Brandice Lardner is a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Author, and Jesus Girl whose mission in life is to help women ditch the diet mentality and find peace with food and their bodies so that they are better equipped to do the great things God has called them to do.