In our busy lives, rushing from home to work and then to evening activities, the temptation of picking up fast food on the way is hard to resist. Even without the slick marketing campaigns luring us to the window, we’re an easy catch. It’s quick. It’s simple. And if we’re honest, we sometimes crave the rich juicy burgers, salty fries and sweet carbonated drinks. While most of us know fast food doesn’t rank high on nutritional value, recent studies have found that a fast food diet can actually increase our risk of heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.
So how do we change our eating habits to create a healthier lifestyle?
The most obvious solution would be to eliminate our visits to the fast-food restaurants and preparing healthier meals at home. But for families on the roller coaster ride of commuting to work and then shuttling between children’s activities at the end of the day, this may be easier said than done. Compared to the convenience of meals on the go, cooking healthier meals at home within tight time constraints may seem like a challenge at first.
As the parent of three young adult children – two boys 23 and 20 years old and an 18 year-old daughter – our family meal choices weren’t always healthy when our children were growing up. While we did try for family meals at home whenever possible, there were many times when my husband and I were leading the parade of mini-vans picking up dinner at a window on our way from work to the hockey arena, baseball field or dance studio. Even in the thick of it, we realized it wasn’t a healthy lifestyle and the costs were probably adding up to more than it would cost to prepare food at home. We knew we had to change our mindset and our eating habits.
For our family, the transition from thinking of meals as a time consuming necessity to planning healthy, family meals has been an ongoing evolution. The first change we made was to consciously eliminate fast food as much as possible. And whenever we chose a quick meal, we would opt for less greasy fare. Then gradually we tried to eliminate processed foods at home, choosing instead to make things like chicken breasts or salmon rather than store bought frozen fare. But the most drastic change began after our middle son completed chemotherapy and radiation treatment to fight stage 4b Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Not surprisingly, Cameron led the charge.
At first the ‘healthy eating’ was primarily Cameron’s thing. In addition to his personal incentive as a cancer survivor, he also played competitive baseball. As he increased the intensity of his physical training, the connection between nutrition and performance became very clear. Gradually, as Cameron became more knowledgeable about foods and I continued with the shopping, the family started to convert to healthier choices. Common sense choices, like eliminating the fast snacks like chips and sweets. Eating more fruits and vegetables. Replacing carbonated drinks with water. And drinking lots of it throughout the day. Starting the day off with a healthy breakfast – with protein, not sugary cereals. Now our older son, Matthew, has also completely transformed his eating habits as well as made a dramatic lifestyle change in an effort to fulfill personal life goals and live a healthier life.
Within the past year, our daughter, Katy, discovered that her ongoing digestive problems are related to gluten-intolerance. So we have added another component to our meal-time planning. While not everyone has eliminated gluten from our diets, we have tried to steer clear of it because it’s easier to make one meal for the whole family rather separate meals. Cutting gluten out of our diet has also made us more aware of its health benefits, such as improved digestion, increased absorption of nutrients and reduced inflammation. Once we adjusted to eliminating common wheat choices – like breads and pastas – from our meal plan, we realized that the healthier food choices became habit.
Choosing healthier fare has definitely been a work in progress. In looking back, I realize that the changes we have made over time have been less about convenience and more about overcoming our mindset. Give up chips and a can of pop for an apple and a glass or water, and maybe a handful of almonds? At first it sounds inconceivable, especially for North Americans. But we have slowly changed our mindset and our habits. While I would love to say we have totally eliminated the junk. It does sneak in from time to time. But it’s no longer the norm.
Today, some mornings are a little crazy in our kitchen with two or three chefs flying around cooking eggs and steel cut oats. And then there’s the counter laden with vegetables, cooked chicken and containers as people are preparing the rest of meals throughout the day. There are days when I have an irrepressible urge to stand in the middle of the chaos and scream (I’ve actually had to clear the kitchen to avoid such a meltdown a few mornings). But then I count our blessings as a family in good health, and I know in my heart that we’re on the right path.
Quick Tips to Supersize Your Health:
- Non-breakfast foods are a better way to start the day off, as they raise your blood sugar levels more gradually.
- Homemade oatmeal is a delicious, nutritious way to start the day. Steel cut are best, but rolled oats work well. To save time, start the oatmeal as you’re preparing for the morning. Add fresh berries, bananas, walnuts or almonds and even a bit of honey.
- Buy pre-washed salad greens for lunches and dinners. To save time, pre-cut carrots, peppers, cucumber and anything else you might like to add.
- Make up your own salad dressing of olive oil and vinegar in advance.
- Make sure your family is getting enough protein (red meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt and beans. It should be a part of every meal, especially breakfast.
- Use your leftovers. Instead of buying luncheon meats, make enough dinner to use your leftovers for lunch the next day. (Be sure you use the leftovers right away. Or better yet, label containers so you don’t run the risk of food going bad.)
- On the weekend, try to cook extra and then divide the extra servings for meals during the week
- Make smoothies. Use frozen fruits, Greek or plain yogurt, avocado, spinach, and a bit of honey to create a healthy, tasty treat. (Do not overdo it with the fruits, they are full of sugar as well, but a cup won’t hurt.)
- Fresh fruits should be the first choice, but if more convenient, buy bags of frozen fruits.
- The crock pot is great for tasty nutritious meals or soups. Throw everything into the pot in the morning before work and come home to a meal ready to eat right away. The internet is a great resource for healthy recipe ideas.
- Replace white rice with brown rice.
- Try replacing wraps or pitas with a leaf of iceberg lettuce. Fill them up with any leftovers chicken or turkey, then add your vegetables and lettuce.
- Sweet potatoes are the healthier carb choice, as they have a low glycemic index (does not spike blood sugar levels).
- While Olive Oil is good for salad dressings and non-heated foods, the nutrition value declines and it even becomes unhealthy when heated over a certain temperature. Grape seed oil is a better cooking option because it is healthy and able to handle higher temperatures.
- Unsalted almonds are a great snack food between meals.
- Reclaim family meals. Instead of eating your take-out dinner in the family room in front of the TV, ask the family to help prepare a favourite meal and sit down together.
- Plan in advance and shop for healthier foods.
- To coax children into eating more vegetables, puree the veggies into soups.
- Most important of all, keep an open mind. Overcome the doubts of others and your own mind. The ability to change is a quality in all of us!
If you have found this blog useful, and would like to learn more about nutrition, feel free to contact Cameron Mattice and schedule a nutrition consultation. Initial consults are free of charge.