Are you keen to introduce a healthier way of eating to your family this year, but not sure where or how to start? It can be a challenge adjusting the way you cook, and how you eat as a family, especially if you’re faced with fussy eaters who’ll choose take-out pizzas or fries over a plateful of fresh veggies any day.
The key to success is to start with small changes. Once you’ve found ingredients and recipes everyone likes, you’ll find it easier to win the family over to a whole new way of eating. Let us inspire you with seven simple steps you can take to put more wholesome, nutritious food on the table this year.
1. Add more veggies
The most important step: finding creative ways to incorporate more fresh vegetables into favourite family dinners. Here are our top tips.
- Classic dishes including spaghetti bolognaise, lasagne and cottage pie can all be made more nutritious by adding a wide variety of veggies, including carrots, celery, potatoes, spinach, baby marrows, mushrooms, peas, beans, and so on. If the kids are reluctant to eat veggies, try grating the vegetables into the dish – once they’re cooked in a lovely rich sauce, no one will even notice you’ve sneaked them in.
- ‘Stretch’ meat, poultry and fish by adding extra veggies to stews, sauces, casseroles and bakes. For example, you could add lentils and mushrooms to a chicken stew, or bulk up fishcakes with roughly pureéd beans, or add baby marrows, carrots and tomatoes to a bolognaise pasta bake.
- Put one or more vegetarian recipes on the family menu every week. Switching to eating more plant-based meals is not only good for you, but also better for the planet! Crispy potato wedges, vegetable fritters and sausages, and cheesy pasta dishes are all vegetarian dishes that appeal to kids.
2. Opt for More Natural
Adopting ‘green’ living practices in your home is a great way to inspire the whole family to be more conscious of the environment, and to embrace your new efforts to put more natural, nourishing, plant-based foods on the menu. Cut down on plastic waste by buying vegetables and fruit loose and recycle your veggie scraps by making a compost heap or buying a small compost bin. Choose local, sustainably farmed produce wherever possible by visiting farmers’ markets. Grow your own herbs and vegetables – all you need is a few pots and a sunny windowsill or balcony.
Get younger kids interested in gardening by showing them how to sprout seeds, beans and avocado pips in jars. Lead by example by showing your children the importance of never wasting food, water, electricity and other precious natural resources.
3. Plan ahead
Creating well-balanced, nutritious meals isn’t always easy when you’re pressed for time, but this is a challenge that can easily be overcome by planning your menus and shopping lists in advance and making clever use of leftovers and your freezer.
- Set aside a little time over the weekend to draw up a seven-day menu and a detailed shopping list and buy everything you need for the coming week in one go so all the ingredients are at your fingertips. Our Whatsfordinner? Meal Planners make healthy menu planning a breeze: scroll to the end of this page and sign up to receive these emails every week!
- When you’re deciding on the week’s menu, choose versatile dishes that serve more than one purpose. For example, roast two chickens at a time so you have left-overs for salads and sandwich fillings, and then use the bones and any left-over vegetable scraps to make nourishing stocks. If you’re making meatballs, fishcakes or veggie fritters for dinner, make extra for popping into lunchboxes the next day.
- Make good use of your freezer! Most woody herbs such as rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and curry leaves freeze very well, and so do whole garlic cloves and ginger bulbs. If you’re planning a curry, stew or soup, make a double (or even triple) batch and freeze the extra portions for those days when you just don’t have time to prepare a meal from scratch.
4. Use more whole wheat grains and pulses
Eating more whole grains and pulses is one of the easiest ways to improve your diet – they’re packed with important nutrients including protein, vitamins and minerals, and they’re also rich in fibre, which supports healthy digestion. Choose wholegrain bread over white bread, whole wheat pasta over regular pasta, and brown rice over white rice, which is stripped of most of its essential nutrients during the milling process. Experiment with different types of whole grains, such a quinoa, millet, sorghum and bulgur wheat – try our delicious Moroccan-Spiced Bulgur Wheat Salad or our Ginger-Spiced Sorghum!
Use pulses such as lentils, chickpeas and the many varieties of dried and tinned beans to add nourishment and bulk to soups, stews, bakes and salads: how about a spicy chicken and chickpea traybake, an easy three-bean salad, or a hearty bolognaise made with lentils instead of beef mince?
5. Add high-quality protein
A high-quality or ‘complete’ protein is one that contains each of the nine essential amino acids that are vital for human life, and which can’t be produced by our own bodies. Add more nourishment to salads, soups, sandwiches and wraps by including high-quality protein in the form of skinless chicken breasts, fish, lean beef and pork, ostrich, eggs and low-fat dairy products. If you’re a vegan, good sources of protein include soya, tofu, pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
6. Use healthier fats
Introduce more ‘good’ (unsaturated) fats into your diet, such as olive oil, avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds. Take steps to reduce the amount of saturated fats in your family’s diet: buy leaner cuts of meat, and trim all visible fat off beef, chicken, pork and lamb. Choose low-fat dairy products such as milk and yoghurt over full-fat products and eat cheese and butter in moderation.
Grill or roast your food wherever possible, rather than frying it in fat. And if you do want to pan-fry veggies or sear meat, use just a few teaspoons of vegetable oil – a little goes a long way! Tip: when you’ve finished frying mince, lamb, steak, skin-on chicken or other fatty meats, tip them into a colander to drain off any excess fat before you return them to the pan and add the other ingredients.
7. Cut down on salt
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a daily intake of no more than 5 grams of salt, but the average person eats 9 – 12 grams a day, which is roughly twice the recommended amount! Small amounts of salt (sodium) in the diet are essential, but too much can lead to raised blood pressure. Here are some ideas for reducing your family’s salt intake:
Use salt sparingly in your cooking and taste the food before adding extra salt. It might take your family a while to get used to less salty food, but their taste buds will soon adjust!
Explore alternative seasonings - fresh and dried herbs, lemon juice, pepper and other spices are all good salt substitutes that add great flavour to food.
Look out for salt substitutes and reduced-sodium seasonings, such as Knorr Naturally Tasty Aromat, which has 40% less sodium shake for shake.
Do these seven steps sound achievable to you? If you’re willing to make these gradual changes, you’re already off to a flying start in your quest to put healthy, natural food on your menus this year!