Want to start cutting out processed food? It can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
It may seem like you need to remove a bunch of things at once, so you can start preparing meals that are perfectly clean. But this is actually a recipe for burnout, and it’s not the best way to get your family on board.
Instead, focus on making slow changes that start with adding – rather than taking away. Adding more vegetables. Adding fruits. Adding water. Adding more home-cooked meals.
Here are a few ways to get your family all in on moving towards a real food diet, and some of the easiest methods to get started painlessly.
How to Get “Buy-In” From Your Family
I understand how exciting it is to dive into the world of real food, and simultaneously how horrifying it is to think about your current eating habits if they happen to include a lot of highly processed foods.
But, the other members of your family may not share your enthusiasm – and making extreme, rapid changes is only going to make them even more resistant. Here are a few ways to get their buy-in, so the whole family is on board with the changes you make (or at least not actively fighting against them).
Make gradual changes
Now is not the time for a complete diet overhaul. In fact, I strongly advise you actively fight that urge to throw everything in your kitchen away and start over from scratch.
Instead, focus on replacing one item in your pantry or freezer at a time. When you run out of something processed, replace it with a less processed alternative.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be releasing a real food pantry list to help guide you through these changes. Be on the lookout for it, and I’ll be sure to update this section when it’s available.
Don’t be controlling
Becoming controlling about the food that the other members of your household eat will breed resentment and stress, which is so not the point of choosing healthier foods. Additionally, there can be a lot of emotion wrapped up in certain foods – especially for children. Taking away a bunch of their favorite foods and telling them they can’t have those foods anymore could legitimately be one of the worst things they’ve experienced in their short years.
Additionally, the other adults in your household should have autonomy over what they choose to eat. They are, after all, adults, and you can’t force them to change their eating habits.
My husband, for instance, still drinks soda. But, he’s an adult and I have no right to police his food decisions. As the primary cook and grocery shopper in our house, I make sure that the meals I cook for him are made from healthy, whole food ingredients – but I also buy his soda. It’s a token of my respect for his autonomy.
Remember, as you’re making these changes, to respect your family’s preferences.
Make sure that you’re giving your kids the “why’s” of choosing real food. It may help deflect some of their big emotions about the changes you’re making.
Keep it on their level, too.
For instance, when I tell my son he needs to eat the meat on his plate, it’s because “protein helps your muscles get bigger.” Very motivating stuff for a 7 year old with dreams of being a superhero/firefighter/cop/paleontologist.
When I tell my 2-year-old she can’t have another cookie, it’s because “too much of this will make you feel yucky.” She’s 2, so that usually doesn’t stop her from throwing a hissy fit, but she’s getting used to hearing me talk about nutrition with her.
Four Ways to Eat More Whole Foods Without Overwhelm
Ready to get started? Here are four ways that you can start moving your family towards a real food eating style, without making any drastic, extreme, or expensive changes.
1. Offer a Vegetable with Each Meal
If your family isn’t eating any vegetables right now, it’s OK.
There’s no better time than now, though, to start introducing these foods to your kids.
Offer a vegetable with each meal (or, at least, with each dinner meal) moving forward. Make sure that it’s prepared in a way that makes it taste and look good – that means no boiled brussels sprouts or mushy, flavorless steamed spinach. Also, experiment with raw vs. cooked vegetables to find out what the people in your household like best. Some of my kids’ favorites are:
- Raw: mini sweet peppers, radishes, carrot sticks/baby carrots, broccoli, salad, cabbage, tomatoes, avocado
- Cooked: zucchini fries, roasted brussels sprouts, roasted broccoli, cabbage steaks, sauteed mushrooms
To prevent food waste, offer them just a little taste and then give them more if they like it. Don’t force them to eat more after they taste it. If you end up with lots of veggie leftovers, add them to your lunch the next day or put them in the freezer to save for making soup.
My son really only likes raw veggies, zucchini fries, and cooked mushrooms. But my daughter will eat any veggie you put in front of her. It will be the same with your kids too – just like us adults, they’ll have their own unique tastes when it comes to veggies. But, these taste preferences can only develop when they’re given plenty of opportunities to try vegetables.
Also – feel free to use canned or frozen veggies, and offer the same veggie multiple times a week! This can save you money over buying several different fresh veggies each week, and research shows that repeated exposure to foods helps your kid develop a taste for them. It can also give you a chance to experiment with flavors and cooking methods to see if there’s a way to prepare it that they (and you) like. (1)
2. Cook at Home a Little Bit More
Eating out a lot? It’s so much easier than cooking after a long day of work, or when you’re shuttling kids around to various practices and games and events after school.
But here’s a challenge for you: cook at home ONE MORE NIGHT per week than you are currently. Just one.
You could even use a meal kit to make it a little bit easier, or if you need to practice your cooking skills. Sunbasket and Green Chef both use high quality, minimally processed ingredients, but even one of the budget options like EveryPlate or Dinnerly is a massive upgrade in quality compared to fast food.
3. Give Your Kids Water
In this day and age, drinking plain water is a skill – one that I think everyone should know how to do.
If your kids aren’t drinking any plain water, now’s the perfect time to start.
If you have young children who only drink juice or soda, and who depend on you to fix their drinks, start by diluting their beverages with 25% water. Once they adjust to this, dilute their beverages to 50% water. Then 75% water. Then, start offering plain water. This process can take a few weeks to a couple of months, but it will get your little ones used to drinking water with (hopefully) minimal tantrums.
If you have older children who are only drinking sugary drinks, tell them that there’s a new house rule: they need to drink a glass of water before they have a soda or a glass of juice. Or, limit sugary beverages to just one serving, with a meal. Make sure that you’re drinking water, too. Don’t impose these new rules on them, and then make them watch you drink nothing but soda.
4. Make Fruit More Appealing
If your kids are used to eating sugary treats for their snacks and desserts, fruit may not seem very appealing to them at first. To get them to accept fruit, you may need to dress it up a little bit.
My kids could eat their own body weight in fruit, but we still do some of these for dessert sometimes because they’re fun, tasty, and special:
- Apple cookies: apple slices, peanut butter, and a sprinkle of chocolate chips
- Banana boats: banana sliced in half “hot dog style,” smeared with peanut butter, and a sprinkle of chocolate chips (noticing a pattern here??) – this one’s also good heated in the microwave
- Berries and cream: fresh berries, the tiniest little sprinkle of sugar, and whipped cream
Cutting out processed food?
For your best chances of success, it’s important to get your whole family on board. That means making slow, gradual changes, not being controlling about what your family chooses, and explaining why you’re introducing these changes.
To get started, focus on adding things to what your family normally eats, rather than taking anything away. Add vegetables to every meal, offer more fruits, give your kids plain water, and add more home-cooked meals. This well set a fantastic foundation for future healthy changes.