Like some of you, I eat differently from my family. After four years of being independent in college, I learned how to take care of myself. This involved preparing meals and developing habits that worked best for my health and body goals. I learned from my close friends who were culinary nutrition majors. I learned from my close friends who lifted heavy at the gym. When I moved back home, I was reminded of my childhood and the eating habits I left behind. I no longer ate like my family, and for the better. Instead of gaining the freshman 25, I actually became healthier than ever before.
It began stressing me out that my family continued to eat this way. I felt so knowledgeable about things they didn’t. It upset me to see my family ignoring the vital signs of an unbalanced, high processed diet. Remember, general health overrides all else. Numbers on a scale don’t matter if you make an effort to be the best version of yourself. I don’t ever count calories or scrutinize my family for every meal they decide to enjoy; This is not my intent. I am far from perfect, and so is my family. For their own health, I wanted them to incorporate more vegetable and greens, more plant-based alternatives, more water, less sodium and less sugar.
I am just providing insight on what I’ve read and what seems to be working for me.
- Try flavored or carbonated water. A few years ago, my mother never drank water. She hated the taste. All through high school, I, too, drank about the equivalent of about 2 bottles worth of H20, so I don’t blame her. Water is crucial for optimal operation of your bodily functions. Everyone needs water. I encouraged my mom to try drinking flavored carbonated water as a way to introduce regular water into her diet. After one year, she was drinking 3 liters of flavored carbonated water a day! Of course, the goal is to transition to more plain water but small steps!
2. Find replacements for junk food in the house. When shopping for myself, I rarely buy unhealthy snack foods. If I’m craving an unhealthy treat, I have no other option but to select a healthier alternative in my cupboard. If I have a strong enough craving, I’d have to leave my house and purchase it impulsively which I won’t likely do 96% of the time. If you can’t encourage your family to do the same, opt for healthier alternatives. Maybe buy only one bag of chips instead of two. Buy more fruit so it lasts longer. Avoid frozen meals and consider more whole foods. Try a low-fat dairy or non-dairy substitute. You don’t need to make all the swaps on one grocery trip, but focus on one goal and make it happen!
3. My family loves to claim that they hate all vegetables before trying them. Some vegetables you have to force yourself to like. I didn’t enjoy the taste of coffee at first, but over time, I became obsessed. Same thing! You have to introduce your palette to new flavors and overtime, it will expand. As a way to squeeze in a few veggies, I offer to cook and dice up one veggie a meal. This could mean diced up zucchini in the pasta sauce for dinner, or diced peppers in the scrambled eggs. If I don’t draw attention to it, they won’t notice!
4. I don’t ever want to come across as a snob, and I’m sure you don’t either. I’m not a dietician or a nutritionist but I understand the value of a colorful plate full of veggie. I understand the environmental benefits of consuming less meat. The hope is to convince your family of such a concept, too. I try to connect the foods my family eats to its nutritional value. I don’t bash the meals they choose to eat at the moment, but if they challenge me on adding steamed broccoli with their meat and potatoes, I remind them of the fiber found in the broccoli, the iron in the spinach, etc. I apply this trick to myself, too. What motivated me to eat healthier was finding nutritional value in the veggies that were on my plate. I felt great knowing my body was being fueled with iron, protein, omega-3s, fatty acids, etc.
5. I offer to cook every now and again. When I do, I usually always make a plant-based dish and share with the family. I’m a decent cook and most of the time, everyone likes my food. Cooking for the family is a tremendously easy way to introduce your family to the simplicity and deliciousness of a plant-based meal! They don’t have any preconceived notions before tasting and now, they’re hooked. My sister and dad love my veggie chili, and the whole family digs my veggie shepherd’s pie with a plant-based meat crumble. I also learned that my family loves salads when prepared by someone else, so that’s a win for me!
6. Set realistic standards for your family. Remember how long it took you to transition to a healthier lifestyle change, or a vegetarian or vegan diet. It takes time to unlearn old habits, so discuss simple, approachable goals for your family. Maybe even make a fun challenge out of it. For example, I didn’t pressure my mom about anything food related until she grew more consistent with her water consumption. Other ideas can include recommending everyone eat at least 1 cup of veggies a day in any form during any time of the day, or implementing the notorious Meatless Mondays.
7. Another way I forced myself into craving healthy food was to follow a ton of plant-based social media accounts on Instagram. Scrolling through picturesque visuals of colorful, tasty food made me want to replicate the same meals. Maybe convince your social-media savvy family members to follow a few? It could even be a plant-based dessert account. It could be a fun family-bonding quarantine activity to replicate. Another way to make healthier foods more appealing is to make them more inviting and accessible. After a grocery trip, rinse your veggies and chop them up immediately. Store them in a clear container in the fridge for easy access
8. One is better than none. Maybe you can’t convince your entire family to join you on a health journey, or maybe one method of attraction doesn’t work for everyone. Be flexible and accepting of everyone. If your brother is on-board with almost every suggestion you make, go with it. If your mother agrees to eat a salad with her dinner every night, that’s a start! If your dad’s only interest is to transition to dairy-free alternatives, perfect! Baby steps will eventually lead to larger, more impactful moves. Just by close association, some of those other habits may rub off on them, too! Be patient and optimistic.
I stress the importance of not being forceful or discouraging. No one wants to feel judged for indulging on delicious food, and most items are fine in moderation. My healthy habits have also suffered a bit since the start of quarantine. That’s alright! I have a major sweet-tooth. I love ice cream, cookies, pastries and candy. I have a habit of devouring an entire bag of chips with salsa on a weekly basis. My vice is cold brew coffee and yes, I am known to drink more than two glasses in a day. Yes, I have also indulged in chocolate and wine pairings several times a week for a few weeks during this quarantine. I am currently attempting to curb my habit of snacking until the early hours of the morning. Remember, I am not perfect either!
Our eating habits are very personal, and in this day in age, it’s easy for anyone to compare and associate. We don’t ever want to encourage any string of body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia, or any other body insecurities. Accept a declined extension of help, but be consistent. Be upbeat and inclusive, but not pushy.
My mom and sister drink more water. My dad eats more vegetables. I’m content with our progress! There’s always an opportunity to improve and continue improving our health.
For more tips, check out Choose My Plate for resources and tips to implement and share with the family!
What tips have worked for you?