Pick a Smaller Plate
The food is important, but so is the plate! Try serving your family meals on a salad plate instead of a dinner plate. It's smaller, and it can help you and your kids control portion size. When you use bigger plates, everyone tends to pile on more food -- and you're all more likely to overeat.
Start With Veggies and Fruit
Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit first -- even at breakfast. Hard to get kids to eat that many? Ask them to go with you to the grocery store and pick out the ones they'd like to eat. When you serve what they choose, they'll be more likely to try them. Veggies and fruits have fiber that will fill your family up. And they're low-calorie if you don't add lots of butter or cheese.
Add Lean Protein
So your plate is half full. Now fill half of the empty space with lean meat, fish, beans, or tofu. Your kids' bodies use lean protein to build muscle. It also helps keep your family from getting hungry. Choose lean cuts of beef and skinless chicken or turkey. Look for 96% lean ground beef or ground turkey breast. Sausage and dark meats are less healthy options. The serving should be about as big as a deck of cards -- about 4 ounces.
Choose Whole Grains
Now fill the last spot on your plate with whole grains, like brown rice, a whole-wheat roll, or quinoa. Look for words like "100% whole grain" or "100% whole wheat" on the label. Whole grains have more nutrients than refined grains like white rice or bread. They are packed with fiber, which helps you feel full.
Add Low-Fat Dairy
Alongside your plate, add some dairy to the meal.
Kids 9 and up and adults need three servings of dairy every day. One serving could be:
- 1 cup of low-fat milk or yogurt
- 3 or 4 dice-sized cubes of cheese or a slice of cheese
Younger kids need 4 servings, but in smaller sizes. One serving could be:
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup of milk or yogurt
- 2 to 3 dice-sized cheese cubes, or 1/2 to 1 slice of cheese
Don't Like Milk? Drink Water
Low-fat milk and water are the healthiest choices for your family. They don't have the unhealthy added sugar and empty calories that regular sodas and other sugary drinks have. Add some flavor to your family's H2O by adding lemon or other fruit slices.
Avoid Extra Sauces, Cheese, or Dressings
Extras like croutons often add unneeded calories and unhealthy fat. Stick to just one serving of dressing: 2 tablespoons. Do your kids want to add a little zip to the meal? Try a sprinkling of cheese, or experiment with spices, vinegar, or a squeeze of lemon.
Dessert Isn't Always Off-Limits
Yes, you can have dessert! Just not with every meal. And keep portions reasonable. Remember that a serving of ice cream is half a cup, and have kids split oversized cupcakes or cookies. Fruit can also satisfy a sweet tooth. Keep it simple and healthy by serving it whole or cut up. To bring out their natural sweetness, try baking or grilling pineapple slices or apple or peach halves.
Take Your Time
Eating dinner is great family time, so savor your food and conversation. Catch up on each person's day. If you're sharing stories, you'll be eating more slowly. That gives your brain the time it needs to get the message that you're full: 20 minutes. Eat fast, and you may wind up eating too much.
Build a Smart Snack
Snacking isn't an automatic no-no. Have healthy food near when people want to nibble. Keep sliced veggies in the fridge with healthy dips like hummus. Make snack-sized bags of pretzels so kids don't eat mindlessly out of the box. Fill the fridge with fruit and hard-boiled eggs and the pantry with whole-grain crackers and popcorn.
Don't Forget Breakfast Tomorrow
Breakfast gives everyone fuel for the day. Kids -- and grown-ups -- who skip breakfast can be cranky, tired, less focused, and more likely to eat unhealthy snacks all day. To build a strong breakfast, choose foods that give you a combination of fiber and lean protein. Pair a whole-grain cereal for fiber with low-fat milk or yogurt for protein. Add a side of fresh fruit for more filling fiber.