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It’s one of the most frustrating things in the world. I’ve experienced it myself many times.
You get really excited to make the necessary changes in your life to improve your health, you get started, and you hit a brick wall. And that brick wall is often perplexing simply because it is often a spouse, partner, kids or family in general. The very people who should want you to be healthy, are fighting you tooth and nail on every little change you want to make. It becomes so frustrating that you give up completely.
More than anything, I hear from women who are trying desperately to get their entire families on board, and I think there is a lot to be said for taking the correct approach on this. The truth is, I can’t possibly address all possible scenarios with one blog post. But I can certainly give you some pointers and tell you about what helped me when I got started.
EVERYTHING IS CHANGING!
Food is such a critical part of our lives. We literally die without it. It’s part of our history, our traditions, and we are all certainly of the opinion that it is our inalienable right to eat what we wish. So imagine for a moment that somebody in your life has control over your food supply. You’re going along quite happy with the sustenance that is coming your way, and suddenly, this person says it’s all going to change. Would you be very happy? Probably not. Particularly if the foods you love most are the first to go. Then back that up with the possibility that your meals will be tasteless and not very filling, and it all spirals downhill pretty quickly after that. (Even if the food is tasty, people’s perception of “diet” food is that it looks and tastes like cardboard. You can’t really blame them, a lot of it does in fact taste like cardboard. You see, you’re also dealing with people’s perceptions of things – diets – they have tried in the past).
So if your family, kids and/or significant other isn’t really on board, please understand what you are contending with here. It’s no small thing. Food is a big deal, particularly when it’s supply is perceived as being threatened.
If you approach your family by saying, “things are going to change around here starting now“, panic may very well ensue. Nobody likes to be told they have to give up the things they enjoy. Nobody. It’s one thing to give it up willingly because you know it’s for the best, but if somebody orders you to change or give something up, it’s a far less pleasant experience.
If you pester your family every time they put a bite of something in their mouth that you feel isn’t healthy, it will not be appreciated or taken in the spirit you believe it’s intended. Criticizing every bit will only make matters worse and will do nothing for self esteem or their willingness to change.
Making your family feel guilty for their food choices by reminding them that the junk they are eating will either kill them or eventually make them very sick can backfire. And while this approach can often be more affective than the first two, it does nothing to foster positive changes that happen for the right reasons.
THE LIMP RAG
If you approach your family and they put their foot down, you walking away and forgetting the whole thing will get you nowhere either.
SO WHAT DO YOU DO?
Remember, unless your family is on board, change may happen slowly. In a way, this can be good for you because it allows you to internalize a permanent change instead of a “diet”. So if this is your situation, try turning a negative into a positive by turning it into a learning experience for yourself. After all, these changes should be for the long haul. Not just for a month or two.
That being said, those who love you most should support your efforts. That goes without saying. But if they don’t support YOU making changes for YOU, that’s an issue that goes beyond food and is far beyond the scope of this blog post. I highly recommend family counseling in this instance. But if it’s really just a matter of taking the right approach and your family’s stance is more about “do what you want as long as it doesn’t affect me and my food“, here are some ideas to get you started. Only you will know which ones will and won’t work for your family.
APPROACHING PICKY EATERS
First let me say that I know picky tendencies, particularly those of autistic children and people with other such disorders are very difficult. And to be honest, I know nothing about how to deal with those types of situations. So the following suggestions may not work for you, but it’s always worth a shot.
FAMILY STYLE MEALS
(Many plates or pots with different options for everyone to choose from. Think “sides“, and plenty of them.)
This is your chance to lead by example. It also makes healthier choices available to your loved ones without ramming the idea of eating healthier down their throats with a carrot stick. Family style meals are often great for picky eaters too. You can give them a lot of healthy choices, be the example by choosing the healthiest of them, and not worry too much if they choose the nutritionally lesser of the options before them because overall, they are all healthier for the most part. It’s also your chance to demonstrate that healthy food can be beautiful and tasty. Presentation can really help you here if you have the extra time. Try making a family meal at least 1 night a week, most likely on the weekends when you have more time to cook and present things well. Believe it or not, presentation could go a long way in helping your family make the switch.
Please understand, I’m not recommending that you lie to your family. That’s not what I’m after here. But on occasion, it’s not a bad thing to avoid the focus on healthier eating, and simply just serve a meal without any drama, commentary or reminders of “the big change” taking place. If you simply set a bowl of cooked carrots on the table (with other items as well, obviously) for your family to help themselves to without talking about how good carrots are for you, what vitamins they contain and how you will all be eating more of them in the near future, it really just becomes a matter of just getting dinner on the table and eating it. No fan fare, no reminders that everyone needs to eat better…. just dinner. Sometimes “sneaking” cleaner options into your dinner will go absolutely unnoticed if you can just manage to not discuss it ad nauseam.
For me, this was the best approach when I was married. I was the one who cooked all the meals and had control over the grocery shopping. I decided I needed to make these changes for myself, so I simply changed what I cooked without discussion. Now please realize, I know this won’t work for everyone. But it worked for me. I told my then husband that if he wanted something different he would have to buy it or cook it himself. Otherwise, what was on the dinner table was all there was. One disclaimer here is that he was not a helpless man by any means. He was completely capable of cooking his own meals. He just didn’t want to and he didn’t enjoy being in the kitchen like I do. So he never put up a fight. He just ate what I fixed and if he wanted some thing else, he made it or bought it himself. It was an easy fix for me, but again, it won’t work for everyone.
THE HEALTHY CONVERSATIONALIST
Sometimes, all that is needed is to have casual chats with your family about health in general. And when I mean chats, I mean you let them do most of the talking. It’s often better to guide them into making their own, healthier decisions than it is to talk AT them about getting healthier. Ask them how important they think health is. How they view healthy eating and why they think it might be important in their own lives. Very often, casually discussing these things will get them far more interested because they arrive at their own conclusions for the most part.
THE THANK YOU BITE
This is one technique that I have done with Mini Chef since he started eating solid food. Anything I make, he has to take one “thank you bite”. If he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to eat it. But he does have to try one bite to see. As a result, I have a child who is willing to try anything once and has a considerably large palate for a 6 year old. It’s just always been a rule in “Mama’s Kitchen”. Nobody argues.
A KITCHEN FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY
There is a quote I’ve seen floating around Facebook that says,
“Women belong in the kitchen.
Men belong in the kitchen.
Everyone belongs in the kitchen.
The kitchen has food.”
While I enjoy the humorous side of this, this is one of the truest statements on the planet. The kitchen isn’t just for us womenfolk, it’s for anybody who wants to eat. That includes husbands, partners and kids. It’s a proven fact that kids who help prepare meals are far more likely to eat those meals. And while I could be wrong, I have a feeling it works the same for those of any age. We all need to be more involved with our food. It’s the only way to realize the choices we are making in regards to our health. You have to see and work with what you’re eating in order to know what you are eating.
A package of prepared food from the store takes little consideration to prepare. You don’t know what went into that meals because all you did was heat it up. But chances are you are also eating it with little consideration as well. So seeing and working with the food you eat naturally translates into being interested in what you are eating. It’s a very primal and basic concept. So invite everyone into the kitchen and get them involved! You’ll also create a few wonderful memories you’ll carry with you the rest of your life. So worth it.
MAKE THE TRANSITION AN EASY ONE
As with most things, we can make certain situations harder or easier on ourselves. While your first instinct may be to throw out everything and start from scratch with a new eating plan, it’s not always the best approach. Start slowly, switching out one ingredient in your kitchen at a time. And if your family is big on something like sweets, by all means. Give them clean sweets to help ease the transition!
Our taste buds need time to adjust to healthier foods. It won’t happen overnight. So if your family is missing a muffin for breakfast and something with chocolate for dinner, give them clean versions to help them adjust! Helps them see that clean and healthy foods really do taste good.
WHAT ARE YOUR METHODS?
Lastly, if you have any suggestions that may help other readers, feel free to share them in a comment! What approach did you take?