Feed Your Family Without Losing Your Mind Reshma Shah, MD, MPH
Updated: Nov 14, 2019
Increasingly, people realize that what we put on our plates can have more of an impact on our health than most pills or medical procedures. For some, making personal changes around food can be quite daunting. Add to that, the job of feeding an entire family, and it may feel downright impossible. Between picky eaters, demanding schedules and varying tastes, it’s easy to see how creating family meals that nourish both body and soul seem unattainable. Speaking on a personal level, I know that as I have transitioned to a plant-based diet, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
Here are some tips and lessons learned to help you embark on feeding your family with an emphasis on a plant-based diet.
Invite rather than impose. Nobody likes to be told what to do. If you’ve made some personal changes and are excited to share them with your family, don’t be surprised if everyone doesn’t jump on board right away. The first step may simply be to have a large salad at every meal, making sure to include ingredients that you know will be greeted with joy.
Be a role model! If your family sees you slurping down a juicy mango or eating crisp snap peas with delight, it’s going to look much more appealing. In short, walk the talk.
While it’s important to be a role model, remember that the focus should be on progress, not perfection. Simply leaning more towards plants, cutting back on processed foods and using animal products more as a condiment rather than the focus of a meal are great first steps.
Be patient and calm when introducing new foods. Remember, it can take upwards of 10 tries for a child to enjoy a new food. Try to keep the mood pleasant and avoid getting into food battles.
Don’t be sneaky. Nobody likes being told what to do, and nobody likes to be tricked. A few leaves of hearty kale covertly mixed into a morning smoothie could backfire. If little ones detect bitterness or a less sweet version of their favorite smoothie, they learn to distrust your offerings. A different approach could be to make a game of it: “I’ve added a secret ingredient, and I’m wondering if you can figure out what it is?” Or allow them to throw in as many leaves of spinach as they’d like and then gradually work your way up.
Make it fun and be creative. Turning anything into a “bar” (salad, taco, rice bowls, etc.) is a great way to get kids to try new ingredients or combinations. It also gives them some control over the meal by allowing them to add which and how much of each ingredient.
Bring your kids into the kitchen and to the market. I know it sounds cliché, but I do find it to be true that when kids are actively involved with the food (from menu planning and shopping to chopping and simmering), they feel more invested and a part of the whole process. A quick example that comes to mind is our family’s search for the perfect pesto. Many store-bought pestos contain dairy, and my son is allergic to tree nuts, so we cannot use them. So, my son decided he would search for a nut-free pesto recipe. We made a few small changes and, together, created a spinach-basil pesto that has become a family favorite (recipe here). Don’t feel pressured to have the kids involved with every meal. I like to think of it as an open-door policy—they are welcome anytime! Sometimes it’s as involved as helping cook an entire meal and other times it’s just wanting to have the fun of sautéeing some onions or giving a quick stir to a soup.
Focus on the journey. I would argue that as important as it is to fuel our families with nutritious foods, we have an even greater responsibility as parents to teach our kids about food choices so that they can make good decisions away from our dinner tables. Pushing one more bite of greens or two more bites of anything is not the end goal. Don’t forget that food and family meals connect us. Yes, food should be nutritious. But, it should also be delicious and most definitely shared. It’s not always easy to do, but when we focus more on the conversation than on the number of bites of broccoli, everyone feels more relaxed.
Be kind to yourself and have patience. We are all just learning, experimenting and growing. When things don’t go smoothly or are downright disastrous, be willing to show flexibility and ask your troops for their ideas and help.
The ABCs of a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet The Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet and Animal Welfare Forks over Knives recipes: www.forksoverknives.com/recipes/ Nutrition Facts: nutritionfacts.org/ Plantrician Project: plantricianproject.org/
Reshma Shah, MD, MPH
Dr. Reshma Shah is a board-certified pediatric physician. She obtained her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and her medical degree from Drexel University College of Medicine. She has more than a decade of experience in primary care pediatrics and has served as an assistant clinical professor at a Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, a leading children's hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. She currently cares for patients at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and is an affiliate clinical instructor at Stanford University School of Medicine. In addition to clinical practice, Reshma has a strong interest in family health and wellness, with a focus on plant-based nutrition. She completed a certification program in Plant-Based Nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell as well as a Professional Plant-Based Nutrition Cooking certification through Rouxbe Cooking School. In her spare time, Reshma enjoys yoga, traveling with her family, and of course, cooking!
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