Doing It On Your Own

How to improve your diet when your family wants to eat junk.

If I only cooked for myself, eating healthy, veggie-packed meals would be a cinch-but it’s not just me. I have kids who balk at vegetables and ‘health food’ and chances are yours do, too. Or maybe you have a spouse or partner who thinks steak and au gratin potatoes are goal-worthy daily dishes. Changing something as communal as food in the midst of family comes with challenges – especially if you find yourself alone in your determination and multiplied by ten if you’re the primary cook in your household.

The fact is, if you’ve decided to change your diet (meaning what you eat regularly, not some fad or cabbage soup. Remember that one?) you’re probably starting out doing it on your own. I’m not against improving your loved-ones health through diet (little by little you will) but the complete-overhaul, clean-out-the-pantry-change you’re talking about? Yup, you might just find yourself alone on that one.

And if resetting your eating habits weren’t hard enough, now you have to cook two meals: one for you and one for them. And what about all the temptations in your kitchen because the kids and hubby aren’t giving up ice cream and cookies? Uuuggh! It’s no wonder we find it so hard to get healthy and fit!

There’s a way…I promise…and it doesn’t involve you cooking twice every night.

Here’s what to do to succeed on your own AND improve your family’s diet in small ways (without late-night cupboard raids or hours over the stove):

  • Identify Foods You Don’t Like

I know my kids are always going to want cookies (that’s not going to change) but I know that while I love Oreos, I really don’t like crunchy chocolate chip cookies. Guess which cookies I buy for my family?

If there are foods, especially snacks, that you will continue to stock in your kitchen buy the version of them you don’t like. I do this with cereal (I can’t stand Fruit Loops), ice cream (I don’t like big frozen chunks of anything in mine, ripple is a different story though), crackers (not a fan of cheez-its) and canned soup, ramen noodles and popcorn…all family-favorite snacks around here that, unless I’m starving, I don’t look twice at.

When shopping in the future, get your family their junk food but buy versions you know you don’t like!

  • Use The Replacement Strategy

I know when we’re at the store and my family picks out a tub of ice cream for dessert I’m going to be tempted with it in the house. Even if I don’t like the concoction they’ve chosen I’m still a sucker for ice cream. So while they’re rock-paper-scissor-ing over who gets to pick the flavor, I find a better-choice frozen treat for myself. It might mean dairy-free or frozen yogurt with real fruit but I won’t be feeling neglected while they enjoy their dessert. I get to eat mine and many times I get to enjoy trying something new!

The replacement strategy works any time you don’t want to feel like you’re neglecting yourself or ‘missing out’ when everyone else gets a treat (a pitfall of ‘dieting’). You can also implement it for snacks, meals and treats. It’s about making a better choice without depriving yourself.

Choose veggies or crackers with hummus instead of chips and dip during your television shows. Apples and peanut butter are my all time favorite and have replaced almost every snack I ever loved. Eat the nachos but buy whole-wheat chips and top them with black beans, onions, peppers, lettuce, tomato and avacado.

Make small choice-changes and treat your replacement strategy as an indulgence. You get to pick special stuff just for you and try new foods! Lucky!

  • Kick The Soda (Or Where I Live, Pop)

You might not be able to stop your spouse from drinking Pepsi (or whatever) but you can request that it not be in the house…or ask that he or she only stock a brand you can’t stand. I, on the other hand, am a single mom and if there’s pop in the house it’s because I bought it. Guess what? I quit buying it! And they adjusted with little to no trauma (even the teenager)!

For one, you’re not a hummingbird and have no use for drinking sugar water all day…I doubt you have that kind of metabolism. And everyone knows the stuff is horrible for your health…if you didn’t know that or don’t believe me, check out this article from WebMD.

Be forewarned, if you are a regular soda-sipper and you stop flooding your system with it you will experience headaches. They are withdrawl symptoms from lack of caffeine. They will eventually go away. Take a motrin or an aleve and move on with your day.

I was such a dedicated Mountain Dew drinker that I would carry a 2 liter with me at work. Hell, it was cheaper than buying 20-ouncers. I carried that bottle like a baby everywhere I went…and it stayed faithfully beside me around the house too. Roll over in the morning, gulp gulp gulp. It was that bad but I used the replacement strategy to get myself off the stuff.

I bought a couple gallons of distilled water and used them to shake up some Crystal Light, refilling them as needed so we always had some on hand. I found out later that the drink mix would only be a transitional crutch.

I also purchased a pitcher-style water filter and a to-go water bottle (Smart Water makes a water bottle that fits in my messenger bag so it’s always with me) as well as a colored-glass goblet and a favorite mug (I like the big, over-sized style)-more on that in a second.

Eventually the Crystal Light gave way to water without us even noticing. I couldn’t tell you the last time I made some…though it does come in handy for bar-b-ques and picnics.

The fancy glass and mug I bought? Remember, these changes are supposed to feel like indulgences. Using ‘special’ dishes reinforces that feeling.

I treat myself to organic store-bought juices (check your produce section), teas infused cinnamon sticks and sprinkled with spices, flavored coffee (yes, I still have a cup of joe every now and then, though I have to be careful to monitor how I feel from the caffeine) with almond milk and smoothies made from real fruit. I don’t even miss the Dew.

  • Frozen For You

There are going to be times when it’s easier to heat something up fast for yourself. This happens for a couple of reasons:

     -you’re busy and you don’t always have time to prepare a good choice

     -you’ll eventually find yourself starving and in danger of grabbing something you wouldn’t usually           choose just because you’re hungry NOW

     -you find yourself out of heat-and-eat options on a night the crockpot is cooking something                 everyone else will enjoy but you realize is not such a good option for your goals

This is when the freezer aisle and all those new and healthy options are a God-send! Personally, I’m a fan of meatless burgers with tomato and lettuce on a whole-wheat bun, Amy’s Organics frozen meals and both the Saute and Fire-Roasted lines of frozen veggies mixes by Green Giant. They have real ingredients, no additives and are also a time-saving mix-in for creating your freezer meals. It takes one pan and about ten minutes to cook these up and you can add meat or meatless options (like meatballs, chicken, ham or flavored tofu).

Matter of fact, buy yourself your own pretty bowl, too. I have two and they resemble fat teacups. I love them and everyone in the house knows they’re mine…aka off limits.

  • Give Yourself A Break

Depending on the ages of your children and the self-sufficiency of your significant other, consider expecting your family to prepare certain things for themselves. I have twin eight year olds who make their own oatmeal with our Keurig, ramen noodles in the microwave and they can make any canned pasta, bowl of cereal or bag of popcorn without my guidance or supervision.

Granted, there’s a lot of grazing going on in my house but not being woken up early on a Saturday by cries for breakfast and getting out of preparing a daily after-school snack are fantastic trade-offs. Consider teaching your children the basics of preparing a few simple eats that don’t involve fire and you’ll find yourself free from the constant demands of ‘I’m hungry!’ when you’re not.

  • Get In The Kitchen

I know that the point of the Frozen Crockpot Chronicles is to get you OUT of the kitchen but if you’re just beginning to take charge of your diet, you need to spend some time IN there first.

Here’s the plan:

-Pull everything out and take inventory

-What do you have a lot of?

     -snacks you shouldn’t choose at snack time?

     -processed and convenience foods?

-What are you missing?

     -probably good-choice options

     -make a list of foods you need to invest in (frozen dinners, hummus, apple slices, things you’ll eat       and enjoy)

-Designate two separate cupboards: one for your ‘indulgences’ and one for the stuff your family can’t live without (yet) but you don’t want to be tempted by

-Do the same with the shelves in your freezer and refrigerator

-You might hate me for this suggestion but spend a couple hours cleaning your kitchen

     -use a glass of water to steam the microwave and wipe it out

     -degrease the hood of the stove

     -wipe out the fridge and freezer, including the crisper drawers

     -sweep and scrub the floor

     -wipe down the table and chairs

     -clear the counters and wipe them down

     -wash those dusty and nasty knick-knacks and the decorative kitchen-ware you keep out on display

I even bought a new crock for my utensils and switched out the cabinet hardware to something funky (Hobby Lobby 50% off on sale woo-hoo) though I haven’t gotten around to painting the fridge in chalkboard paint…yet!

The idea here is to organize your food storage system, make the entire ambiance of the kitchen feel like an indulgence and set yourself up to succeed.

When you go shopping for your list of foods to invest in, take the whole family and pay attention to what they want. Compromise on things you’ll be tempted to eat by picking a flavor or brand you don’t like and look for opportunities to implement the replacement strategy.

  • The Fruit Bowl

Something we lacked before I started making conscious food decisions was a ready supply of fruits and veggies for snacking on. These days we have four bowls full of everything from bananas and apples to kiwis and Cuties, grapes and cherry tomatoes.

My advice is to start small, but start. And by small I mean don’t go overboard. Fresh produce can start going bad on you before it gets eaten if you over-stock. Pick a few family favorites to get you going. My kids love apples, bananas, oranges and grapes…and so do I! Guess what’s on our counter? You bet!

And…if I do over-shoot and things start to look smushy, I either have the kids help cut up a fruit salad (plastic knives are perfect for this) or I run everything through the juicer and may or may not add spinach, beets, carrots or kale.

Remember that this is all about intentional eating. I fully advocate an intentional lifestyle where I design my existence through my choices and decisions instead of ‘letting life happen to me’. I make choices and I make them purposefully and mindfully with my goals and desires guiding me. You can do that too! And don’t forget to indulge yourself often!

You can do this whether your family is on-board or not!

This is about you-and you’re taking control of how you eat, what you put in your body and how your diet affects your health. And at first you’re going to hear the classic ‘uuuggghhhh’ out of your kids (I really hope I wrote that the way it sounds-I swear every kid in existence makes that noise!) but by compromising and introducing new habits into your kitchen, you’re family will eventually adjust. If they’re anything like mine, they may not even realize it’s happening!

Have you faced any other challenges to doing it on your own? What solutions did you try? What worked? Share them in the comments so we can type about it!

p.s. I promise to have recipes up for you soon! Right now I’m testing raw pasta cooked in sauce-right in the crockpot…hopefully I nail a fool-proof technique that doesn’t produce over-cooked mush!

And then, I’m makin’ waffles!

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