Monday, January 30, 2012

How to Start Eating Healthy – Simple Dietary Changes for Families

Recently, two separate friends told me about their husband’s serious medical issues.  Each of them had come to the same conclusion; that a poor family diet was the main contributor to the family’s health problems.  So both of them began researching healthy eating, immediately felt overwhelmed by the vast amounts of conflicting information, and ultimately had no idea what to do or where to start.  Depending on what you read, a number of common themes emerge:  meat is bad, fruits and vegetables are tainted with pesticides and herbicides, gluten causes hyperactivity, nuts and dairy can cause allergies, the fish in the ocean contain mercury, etc.  Hmmmmmmm…… meat, fruits, vegetables, gluten grains, nuts, fish and dairy have just been eliminated. What should one eat?

I am not a dietitian or a nutritionist, but I do consider myself a healthy person. I am not overweight and I try to exercise every day. My mother (who still runs three miles every day in her late 60’s) taught me how to eat healthy.  But somewhere along the path of life, I myself lost my way. Eight years ago I was about 30 pounds overweight when the serious matter of food allergies appeared in my family. At the time I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do.  My husband and I researched food allergies diligently, and it became obvious to us that our diet choices were largely to blame for our son’s illness. Having spent the past eight years of researching various diets and allergies, and trying to determine which foods are healthy and which ones are not, I have come full circle. 

Both of my friends are highly intelligent women. I believe that intuitively they know which types of food are nourishing and which are not. However, with all of the convenience products so ubiquitously available, they have just lost their way and need a little guidance to get on track. Although there are many different diets out there on TV, the internet, and in magazines, there are several basics that are advocated by nearly all of them.
I think there are some simple changes that many families can make that are a great launching point for much-improved health. I truly want my friends and anyone else out there who is suffering from medical issues or poor health to know what it is like to feel alive and vigorous through better eating habits. Here are my recommendations:

Make one simple change per week, and don’t cut out foods. Instead, replace unhealthy foods with more healthful choices that give energy.  Just remember that it took a long period of time to fall into your dietary rut, so you should expect to take a slow approach as you create your new dietary habits.
  1.  Replace sodas, coffee and alcohol with a combination of fruit juice, milk or milk substitute, and water.
  2. Continue eating whatever you eat at mealtime in slightly smaller portions, but add two vegetables to each lunch and dinner meal to make up the size difference. This could be something like carrot sticks and cucumber slices, steamed cauliflower and broccoli, a salad with mixed vegetables, homemade salsa and guacamole, a can of corn, bell pepper slices, or squash and potatoes.
  3. Replace white breads with whole grain or whole wheat breads.  Try to buy your bread fresh from a bakery to avoid the preservatives.
  4. Replace junk food snacks such as cookies, donuts, and chips with something like a rice cake with peanut butter and an apple, a slice of bread with cream cheese and a banana, or a hard-boiled egg and some grapes.
  5. Replace white rice and white pasta with brown rice and whole wheat or whole grain pasta.
  6. Replace convenience food meals with homemade meals made from scratch.  This is a bigger change than the rest, so try to phase it in slowly over two to four weeks (perhaps one week for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner):
    • Breakfast Examples–
      1. Replace cold sugary cereals with low sugar alternatives. This really narrows the selection to just a few such as Cheerios, Corn Flakes, and Shredded Wheat.
      2. Replace sugary packets of instant oatmeal with steel cut oats, old fashioned oats, muesli, or another whole grain such as millet and then add a few nuts, and dried or fresh fruits. It takes a little longer for these grains to cook, but I find the time goes fast if I cut up the fruit, sweep the floor, empty the dishwasher, fold the laundry or perform some other task I have missed.
      3. Add a vegetable such as carrots or bell peppers to a morning meal that would typically consist of meat and eggs.
    • Lunch and Dinner Examples - 
      1. Replace packaged stir-fries with homemade.  Boil your own brown rice, and slice and fry meat and veggies with a little soy sauce.  Check the internet or Heart and Soul Blog Hop for some great recipe ideas.
      2. Try making a soup in the slow cooker. Soak beans the night before for 12 hours, rinse in the morning and start cooking on low in the crock-pot for the day. When time is available add:
        • grains – pearled barley, whole wheat cornels or rice
        • vegetables – potatoes, turnips, leeks, spinach, tomatoes, sweet potatoes
        • meat – chicken, beef, pork, fish 
        • spices
      3. Add two vegetables to meat and potato meals.
  7. Replace condiments and pre-packaged sauces with homemade or organic choices.
  8. Read labels at the grocery store, and try to avoid products that have unpronounceable ingredients in them.  The shorter the ingredient list, the better.
  9. Replace conventional foods with organics and don’t worry about the added cost. This is your life and you want to live it with peak health!
These basic principles pretty much cover my idea of healthy eating and the way my family eats at home. Now let’s talk about cheating on the diet. We live in Europe and don’t want to miss opportunities to try crepes in Paris, fries and waffles in Belgium, gluhwein in Germany, and other European foods – and we don’t! We follow our good eating habits 95% of the time, but we throw it all out the window when we go to parties and out to dinner. We also try the local food on our vacations. We live life, feel healthy and hope you do too!


Natural Parenting Group Hearth & Soul Hop The Chicken Chick


  1. Thanks for joining up with the hop this week! Really wonderful tips for starting to eat healthy. Hope you'll consider joining our forum :)

  2. Restoration would be more safe and nothing will spoil.

  3. I was so glad to see that many of your suggestions are things I've already implemented. Now if I could just convince my husband that a meal without meat is not just an appetizer! Visiting from Hungry for God today and glad I did :)

  4. Lori - That's funny, but challenging at the same time. It's difficult to make changes when you and your husband aren't in agreement. If you are increasing the amount of vegetables hopefully he will notice that he feels better and you and your family will both be moving in a good direction.

    We were vegetarians for about 3 years, but went back to eating meat. After going through this I have heard being a vegetarian for a while is very common. Who knows what the ideal diet is? Everyone or nobody I think? If you are eating meat, but also vegetables, fruits and whole grains your diet sounds pretty healthy to me.

  5. Small changes would make you healthier than ever.


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