Sharing our 7-day healthy meal plans will likely involve a few questions, so I thought I’d explain a bit about our family’s healthy eating philosophy.
I’ve done research for years as to healthy food substitutes, nutritional power foods, and how to prepare healthy food so that it tastes delicious. I’ve looked into how companies prepare their foods and what additives are sometimes put into foods that we may not want to consume, or have our children consume.
However, I’m also a single mom feeding five or six kids every day. I’m on a budget and I’m more concerned with figuring out a balance of healthy food that the kids will actually eat. I’m okay with the fact that one of my daycare kids will require a tablespoon of ketchup with nearly every meal & rather than risk him not eating, I just ensure we buy a sodium- and sugar-free ketchup or make our own.
Healthy eating is a long-term process and goal. Making one or two changes every week and adapting your recipes & routines to fit is more sustainable than throwing out everything in your kitchen and trying to adopt a completely new regime. For example, two of the first cuts I made when I started “eating clean” six years ago were margarine and store-bought mayonnaise, staples that I grew up on and ate nearly every day. I focused on finding substitutions for only those two ingredients and learning how the substitutions may be a bit different than mayo or margarine and adjusting my recipes or cooking techniques accordingly.
We don’t keep many processed, ready-to-eat options in the house and we have structured snack options, like fruit and homemade crackers. If we want a dessert, we make it ourselves so that we’re aware of what’s in it, can control the portion sizes, and get more out of the experience than simply eating — the joy is associated more with the making than the eating.
I allow my daughter to pick as many items at the grocery store as she is years old — so, she’ll soon transition from picking 3 items at every trip to picking 4. This helps teach her how to make healthy choices while feeling control of her food choices.
These are our priorities when it comes to food:
- Figuring out how to make healthy food delicious – no matter how healthy it is, if you can’t stand the taste, you’re not going to eat enough of it consistently to see a health impact
- Local over Organic when it comes to most foods. I have slowly tried to meet many of the people who raise the food that we eat and even have coffee regularly with our pork supplier
- Organic only when it comes to the dirty dozen fruits & vegetables
- Being realistic about our time commitments & food preferences
- 90% balance of healthy options to a maximum of 10% less healthy options — that 10% isn’t purely junk food, it includes if we buy white bread, if we eat out for a meal, etc. Knowing what is truly healthy and what is not-so-healthy is a constant learning process
- We eat meat. I have followed a strict Paleo or Whole 30 plan before and while that is not for me, I notice that my body does best with regular meat consumption, and so does Ella. We eat small portions of quality, local meat almost every day. HEN Family & The Life of Jennifer Dawn are two vegetarian parenting bloggers who I love & respect
- We fill half of our plate with vegetables. Pay attention to which vegetables your body doesn’t like & how you’re preparing your vegetables. I enjoy a cup of spinach sauteed way more than I enjoy it raw, and I notice my body processes it better as well. Ella is more likely to eat a cup of spinach if it’s added to a tasty smoothie. This is honestly why I think my vegetarian friends are as healthy as they are, because they’re consciously adding lots of vegetables & legumes to their diets.
- We eat fat. Avocados, quality coconut and olive oils, ghee or local butter — fat helps your body absorb the nutrients in your vegetables, plus it makes everything taste better!
- I think in terms of a 7-day healthy meal, I don’t try to do it all in one day. I incorporate sustainably-sourced fish usually once or twice a week, I incorporate spice whenever I get the chance and try to do at least 3 veggie-only meals per week, etc. I’m not going to have a salad every day, I’m not going to be burping up fish oil every day, but I can think about how to incorporate those healthy options into our week. It’s the same with the kids — they are going to have picky days, or fruit-and-grain only days because they’re kids so I try to keep the perspective on the week.
- Structured snack options. We buy fruit and either buy healthy snacks or make our own — we’re likely never going to quit snacking, however all snacks are consumed in the kitchen and we keep it to one snack in between meals — if we’re craving a second snack, I’ll move up lunch or supper time as those are usually a bit more balanced than even the healthiest snacks. We don’t snack on the go and I don’t use snacks as a distraction.
- I pre-make and freeze meals & sometimes buy “healthier” pre-made alternatives for those busy nights. I’m not going to be stuck for time and facing a fridge full of ingredients. I’d rather pull out something that needs to be heated than jump in the car and buy unplanned fast food. I especially do this when grocery shopping — I rarely have enough time to make a meal when we come home from grocery shopping so I will grab a healthy option at the store rather than panic and buy fast food on the way home. It’s less expensive and healthier to buy a rotisserie chicken and some deli salads than stop for anything from McDonald’s!
- I read labels. I know what the code words for sugar are & which preservatives I’m okay with and which I want to avoid. Even if it’s a brand I always buy, I still regularly double-check the labels in case they change their products.
- Know the food industry hacks. Many additives or chemicals that food comes into contact with is not disclosed on labels — for example, many raisins or dried fruits are treated with sulfar dioxide to preserve their colour, but that is not always mentioned on the label. Knowing to research which dried fruit companies don’t use sulfur dioxide — or looking into making your own — can help you make a healthier decision. I aim to research two or three of our “grocery staples” per week
I’ll add to this list as I think of more aspects of our family’s food philosophy, and as it inevitably changes over time.
For example, right now my body does well on whole grains and I love using sprouted flour for making our homemade bread and I stock up brown rice and quinoa as staple side dishes, but perhaps with time I’ll decide to go grain-free or gluten-free.
Researching & developing a family food philosophy is a long-term process and is incredibly personal. For me, cultural inclusions are also really important and I want my daughter to experience world flavours. That’s not as important to everyone. Discover what’s important and feasible for you and be flexible.
What is your family’s food philosophy?