7 Strategies for getting your family to eat better when your schedule is crazy

Jun 20, 2017

I gave birth to raccoons.

No, I'm not kidding. My middle child will stack chairs, climb shelves, and basically rummage through anything to find whatever she wants. I've surrendered in some way.

But this summer, as the nights get longer, we want to enjoy the great outdoors as much as possible and schedules get trashed and my family's food habits have left something to be desired.

More specifically, I cook and no one eats it....mostly because they've self-fed all day and/or been bounced around with family that sends prepackaged snacks out the door with them.

Furthermore, I've been feeling...uninspired in the kitchen because of the demands of life and not wanting to be in the kitchen when the weather calls me outdoors in the few free hours outside.

If that sounds familiar, let's talk.

It must be the season, but I've been getting a lot more inquiries about child nutrition and more pediatric clients. Some of the strategies I suggest to parents are "low-hanging fruit," meaning it's easy for me to look in as an outsider and give some quick ideas for tweaking what my clients are doing to uplevel their nutrition and ultimately HOW THEY FEEL, at least to start. We almost always have to address some of the superficial, easier stuff before diving deeper.

This week marks a break in the we're-never-home marathon and while I've been helping other clients with their issues, I've looked at my own family's habits and decided the endless snacking on pretty low-nutrient foods and resistance to better-for-you foods have outworn their welcome.

I wanted to share the strategies I'm using this week to get my kids interested in something besides refined carbs and get me out of the summer rut of having dinner ready at 8 or 9 pm.

- Have positive conversations about foods. I have one problem child that needs to think everything is her idea. So borrowing from the reverse psych my husband uses often with our kids, I'll use positive conversations like "who wants to pick out what we make for dinner today?" and guide them into compromise and choices (best if you ALREADY know some options to give them and for them to choose.) We'll also chat about the game plan of how THEY can pour the ingredients into the pot (after I TEACH them about what a crockpot does--you put in the ingredients and then magic happens and you have dinner!!) and they can push the buttons. I fully realize that this method to food prep will take twice as long and it makes me cringe at the thought of the mess, but getting their help accomplishes multiple things:

A. Spending quality time with kids.

B. Giving them ownership/involvement which has been well proven in research to increase their interest in new foods.

C. Planning ahead enough that I don't have to do much cooking.

- Guiding them in the requirements of picking. At our house, I always plan a fruit, veggie, and then protein option. We'll use the MyPlate app because it’s an easy, colorful visual for them for now so I can teach them how to fill their plate with half fruits and veggies and then a protein. I don't care as much about the other two groups because they don't have trouble getting more than they need of those.)

- Let the food cook itself:  We're crock-potting or planning SIMPLE one dish-ish meals.

My friend and colleague Ashley Sweeney has a great simple list of crock pot meals here or try this one pan shrimp fajita recipe.

- Let the kids "go shopping" in the fridge or freezer.

- PRINTING or just hanging a piece of paper on the fridge and writing in the food plan at least one day in advance. I've never been able to stick to a full monthly meal plan. It's too much for my brain and small town food access. So focusing on what you CAN do, a day or two or just one meal ahead is major. (Pssssttttt....if you say "I'm going to plan dinner at breakfast tomorrow" and then you NEVER do it, try backing up and just DOING it the night before. The miracle of the night before is a whole other series.)

- Keeping it doable--start with one-two meals, don't expect to change everyone's mind all at once and understand it's a process. It took time for them to create their suboptimal raccooning habits and it will take some time to work our way out. The goal is to increase the dialogue, get a meal cooked in advance and be able to feed them on demand whenever it works in the rush of summer activities.

- Be creative--kids like packages--things that are "ready to go" and "just their size". Get their input about prepacking grapes, and little finger foods in snack bags or mini containers. This is only relevant if THEY think it's a good idea. Maybe let them use the label maker or marker and write their names on the packages. I picked up some clear stackable containers at T.J. Maxx last week for the fridge but only AFTER I tested this concept with a clear bowl in the fridge for quick grab items for my lunch packing husband. It had about a 50% success rate on getting him to grab better foods so I'm going to continue it. Lesson: don't invest in paraphernalia as an excuse to get more organized or meal plan. Look around and use what you already have as an experiment.

I know some will read this and say, "When will I find time to do that??!!" Great question! You never "find" time. You make it. We all have the same 24 hours and guided by sleep as a priority we choose 1 or 2 other priorities. Watching my kids eat themselves into malnourishment from refined foods is just not something I'm okay with....so I'm doubling up my efforts to focus on the family this summer and take it as an opportunity to give them the best defense: a positive, fun education about using food.

One more silver lining for success: if you're going to have the kids pick good things out of the fridge or freezer to help cook, you're going to need to have something besides ice cream and ketchup in your cool storage. Stock up on what's on sale this week and make some delicious happen.

Feel free to email me ([email protected]) or comment with any strategies you use to make mealtime less stressful. I'd love to learn from you!


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