Diet plan for family can seem difficult to create, but the truth is that it is more about prioritizing what you want to be eating than it is about creating a diet plan. This article will help you with both of those things.
Healthy Eating for Families: the Best Diets for Parents and Kids
Dieting can be a lonely road, especially when you go at it alone. But when you make healthy eating a family affair, lasting success is more likely.
“The best way of eating for families is to eat together,” says Antonette Hardie, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “Creating healthy meals at home and time for everyone to sit together, free of distraction is the best way to create healthy eating habits and relationships with food” that can last a lifetime.
The trick is finding an approach that’s suitable for everyone –from the kids to grandpa. “Most diets aren’t about the family, and that really is a fundamental flaw,” says Dr. David L. Katz, founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and president of the global nonprofit True Health Initiative. “It’s typically an every-man-for-himself scenario, and inevitably, people leave their families behind.”
Healthy Eating for the Whole Family
A family-friendly approach to eating must be safe and nutritionally sound enough to meet the needs of all family members, whether they’re 12 or 72. But “healthy eating is not rocket science,” says Sara Bagheri, a registered dietitian in the population health management department at CalOptima, a community-based health care plan that serves low-income residents in Orange County, California.
“The key is to educate yourselves about what defines healthy eating habits and diet in general, then learn about your own family’s nutritional needs, considering age, activity level, medical conditions and desired goals,” Bagheri says.
That disqualifies low-calorie and super-restrictive diets that skimp on important vitamins and nutrients, like carbs or calcium, as these can’t support the needs of growing kids or older adults who might need extra nutritional support.
Most experts say dieting for weight loss is inappropriate for children, who need ample calories and nutrients. Experts caution against dieting apps that are aimed at kids or teens and say using these can lead to eating disorders.
What’s for Dinner?
Fortunately, for parents who wish to shed pounds while guiding kids to eat well minus the focus on weight, there are plenty of family-friendly eating plans that accomplish both weight and health goals.
Family-friendly diets should also allow for splurging and negotiation. If a kid doesn’t like fish, for example, it’s OK to substitute a favorite meat.
“The more restrictive it is, the less likely it is to work for a family,” says Katz, who also serves on the panel of experts who rate U.S. News’ Best Diets each year. Likewise, families may find it tough to adjust to plans with unconventional menus, such as the raw food diet, which mandates that food never be heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Extra points go to plans that are tasty and call for widely available ingredients, rather than those found only in specialty stores.
Though settling on an approach requires research and planning, it’s well worth the work, says Teresa Fung, a professor of nutrition at Simmons University in Boston and also a member of the U.S. News Best Diets ranking panel. When only one family member is dieting, compliance can be difficult. It’s easier to fall off the wagon when everyone else is digging into their favorites, and you’re stuck with a prepackaged meal.
A family-friendly diet comes with a built-in support system, and if you choose your plan wisely, the entire family’s health could improve.
Eating Meals at Home Has Benefits
Many of today’s children and adults are part of a generation that has grown up in restaurants and fast-food eateries. Preparing and eating meals at home is a better choice for many reasons.
- It is usually healthier and tastes better because the cook has control over the ingredients in meals cooked at home.
- It helps to control the amounts of food served, or the portion sizes.
- It allows for more family time. Teens and children can learn to prepare and serve meals.
- It is generally cheaper than eating out.
Meal Planning Saves Time, Money & Stress
Taking the time to plan basic simple meals for the week saves time, money, and stress. In fact, preparing a simple meal at home takes about the same amount of time as driving to a fast-food restaurant or ordering a pizza.
Learning how to plan menus may save more money on your food budget than any other skill, allowing you to buy other necessities with the money saved. Here are some benefits of having a menu plan.
- It saves trips to the grocery store.
- You only buy what you need.
- It relieves the stress of wondering what to cook for dinner at the last minute.
- No time and energy are wasted frantically searching through the pantry for a certain food.
- It provides a better variety of meal choices, and the same foods aren’t served too often.
- There is no waiting while something thaws.
- Leftovers are used up before they spoil.
Top Family-Friendly Diets
Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Newport News, Virginia, and a member of the U.S. News Best Diets ranking panel, notes that family-friendly diets have to be forgiving, simple and flexible for preferences, budget and tastes.
With all these factors and considerations in mind, the diets that have risen to the top for the whole family include:
- Mediterranean diet.
- DASH diet.
- Mayo Clinic diet.
- Vegetarian diet.
- Flexitarian diet.
All five nutritionists cited here have picked the Mediterranean diet as their top choice for families looking to eat healthier. “I think the Mediterranean diet may be the best diet overall,” Bagheri says.
She favors this approach because while there isn’t one specific Mediterranean diet, the concept incorporates plenty of super healthy foods, including whole grains, fruits and nonstarchy vegetables, beans, seafood, herbs and spices and healthy fats.
What’s more, the Mediterranean diet is less a diet and more an approach to healthy living, Bagheri notes, with the food selections “built over an active and family-oriented lifestyle. Mealtime is not just about food; it’s also about family sitting at a table together connecting with one another.”
The Mediterranean approach is an alternative to the typical over-processed, fat- and sugar-laden American diet and emphasizes fish, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains drizzled with olive oil. It’s nutritionally sound and appropriate for all ages.
“Some people say, ‘I can’t follow this diet because I don’t like the foods,'” Fung says. “But actually, you can build a Mediterranean diet with very typical foods. Even someone like me, who doesn’t like olives or grape leaves –I can still do it.” That’s because the approach doesn’t ban entire food groups, which makes long-term compliance easier for all family members.
In addition, it can be adapted for convenience, making meal prep – a major hurdle for many busy families – easier. “The foods in the Mediterranean diet can be purchased fresh, canned or frozen which makes it economical and easy for families. And with a little extra effort, canned and frozen foods can be just as healthy and easy as their fresh counterparts.”
This family-friendly eating pattern aims to deflate high blood pressure (the acronym stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension), and it helps keep weight in check, too. The DASH diet does this by fostering a low sodium, high potassium diet that’s low in saturated animal fat. Online materials suggest how many calories you should eat for your age and activity level, meaning DASH can be tailored for kids and seniors alike. Meals emphasize fruits, veggies, grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and lean meat, poultry and fish –all conventional ingredients.
DASH along with other diets like the Mediterranean and flexitarian were among those Weisenberger, who is also owner of Food & Nutrition Solutions by Jill, thought were flexible and “focused on a selection of health-boosting foods.” She adds that they could also be modified to fit a family’s budget and preferences.
DASH-friendly recipes range from grilled pineapple to Southwestern potato skins, fruit smoothies and buckwheat pancakes. “I don’t think the typical American diet looks anything like DASH or Mediterranean,” Fung says. “Most families get pizza or go out to eat twice a week. But even if the diet looks very distant from where you are, moving (one) step closer will be an improvement.”
Mayo Clinic Diet
The Mayo Clinic’s take on healthy eating revolves around fruits, veggies and whole grains. “DASH and Mayo make sense as ‘cleaned up’ versions of the typical American diet,” Katz notes. You’ll learn to replace bad eating habits, such as chowing down while watching TV, with good ones, like getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. It’s appropriate for all ages.
Bonus: “The Mayo Clinic Diet,” an essential guidebook, offers a crash course in nutrition basics that parents can use to educate children. “Anything that’s engaging or creates a dialogue is helpful,” Katz says.
Most vegetarians choose a lacto-ovo approach – eliminating meat, fish and poultry, while still eating eggs and dairy. Comparing plant-based diets, the approach is more family-friendly than is the more restrictive vegan approach, which bans all animal products, including dairy.
When done right, vegetarianism is nutritionally sound and can be tailored to all calorie levels. (A French-fries-and-doughnut diet technically counts as vegetarian, but no one would argue that it’s “healthy.”) What’s more, research suggests going vegetarian helps keep the weight off and prevents chronic diseases, such as diabetes.
Children will have an easier time adjusting to a vegetarian diet if they adopt it at a younger age, Katz says, because as they age, the more difficult they’ll find the sudden restrictions to be. Though doable, it does take planning to build a menu that meets the nutrition needs of vegetarians of all ages.
The American Dietetic Association says key nutrients to focus on are protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium and vitamins D and B12. Vegetarians sometimes develop B12 deficiencies, since the vitamin is most plentiful in seafood and beef, but it’s possible to get enough from milk, yogurt, fortified cereals and supplements. Some vegetarian sources of these nutrients include hemp hearts, nuts, whole grains, milk, cheese, yogurt and eggs.
Admittedly, cutting out meat (or all animal products on a vegan diet) is not only tough for many adults, but also for kids. So for those families who want to boost health through eating a more plant-based diet, many experts recommend having less meat or being vegetarian most of the time. That flexibility is the hallmark of the flexitarian diet, and experts say that makes it a good fit for families.
“I think the best family-friendly diets are the ones that place the greatest emphasis on wholesome foods in sensible, flavorful, time-honored assemblies and that don’t impose a lot of rules,” Katz says. Accordingly, while he thinks Mediterranean should go to the top of the family-friendly diets list, Katz adds that the flexitarian diet belongs on the list as well.
7-day family-friendly diet
1. Mug scrambled eggs
Make scrambled eggs using the recipe found here. Serve with 1 slice of whole grain toast and 1 tablespoon whipped butter, jam or 1 piece of fruit.
2. Yogurt-granola parfait
Make yogurt-granola parfait using the recipe found here.
3. Sweet potato toast with peanut butter and banana
Make sweet potato toast with peanut butter and banana using the recipe found here.
4. Greens-in-a-glass smoothie + eggs
Make smoothie using the recipe found here. Serve with 1 hard-boiled egg or 4 egg whites.
5. Oatmeal with fruit and nuts
Prepare 1/2 cup dry oats with water. Top with 1/2 cup chopped fruit and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts. Add an optional sprinkle of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, honey or sugar.
6. Joy’s protein pancakes
Prepare Joy’s protein pancakes using the recipe found here. Serve with 1 optional teaspoon of maple syrup or 1 dollop of low-fat Greek yogurt.
7. Breakfast pizza with fruit
Make breakfast pizza using the recipe found here. Serve with 1/2 pink grapefruit or 1 orange.
1. Chicken or fish with veggies
For this restaurant option, order 1 house salad appetizer with 1 tablespoon vinaigrette (or substitute for shrimp cocktail, grilled calamari, or a cup of soup.) Order fish or skinless chicken prepared grilled, roasted, broiled or poached for a main dish. Add a side of steamed, grilled or roasted veggies.
2. Dinner leftovers
Eat leftovers from dinner on day one.
3. Kitchen sink salad
Top mixed greens with 5 ounces of protein (chicken, turkey, salmon, shrimp or tofu). Add 1/2 cup beans and unlimited non-starchy vegetables. Dress with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette.
4. Chicken and veggie wrap
Wrap 4 ounces grilled chicken breast, spinach leaves and preferred veggies in a whole grain tortilla. Serve with a side of red pepper sticks or other crunchy, plain veggies.
5. Japanese sushi lunch
Order or make 5 pieces of maki roll or 4 pieces of sushi (bonus points for brown rice). Serve with a side of miso soup and 1 cup edamame.
6. Open-faced turkey and Swiss sandwich
Make an open faced sandwich using the recipe found here. Serve with unlimited veggies.
7. Lentil soup and salad
Enjoy 2 cups lentil soup. On the side, serve a salad with unlimited veggies and 2 tablespoons vinaigrette.
1. Apple and peanut butter
Serve apple with 1 tablespoon peanut butter.
2. Sunflower seeds
Enjoy 1/4 cup sunflower seeds.
3. String cheese and pear
Enjoy 1 stick of string cheese and 1 pear.
4. DIY trail mix
Combine 1/2 cup whole grain cereal, 2 tablespoons almonds or peanuts and 1 tablespoon raisins or dried cranberries.
5. Skim latte and banana
Order or make 1 skim latte and enjoy a banana on the side.
6. Hummus and veggies
Serve 1/4 cup hummus with veggies.
7. Celery sticks with peanut butter
Serve celery sticks with 2 tablespoons peanut butter.
8. Greek yogurt
Enjoy 1 single container of low-fat plain or flavored Greek yogurt.
9. Banana and almonds
Enjoy a banana with 10 almonds.
10. Roasted pumpkin seeds
Serve 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds.
11. Light popcorn
Enjoy 4 cups light popcorn or 150 calories worth of any light brand.
Serve 1/4 cup or 1 handful of nuts.
13. Rice cakes
Top 2 rice cakes, each topped with 1/2 ounce slice reduced fat cheese and sliced tomato.
14. Turkey-bell pepper roll ups
Roll 5 slices of turkey with unlimited red bell pepper sticks.
1. Pesto pasta and salad
Serve 1 portion of pesto pasta using the recipe found here. You can increase the portion size to 2 servings of the same recipe if you substitute zucchini noodles for traditional pasta. On the side, enjoy a salad with unlimited non-starchy veggies dressed with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette.
2. Turkey tacos
Make 2 tacos using the recipe found here.
3. Slow cooker oatmeal and side of scrambled eggs
Make 1 serving of slow cooker oatmeal using the recipe found here. Top with 1/2 chopped apple, 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts and 1 teaspoon maple syrup. On the side enjoy 1 scrambled egg and 3 egg whites combined with preferred veggies and 2 tablespoons shredded cheese.
4. Turkey black-bean burgers and sweet potato fries
Make turkey burgers using the recipe found here. Serve on a whole grain bun with 1 tablespoon ketchup, 1 teaspoon optional mayo, lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles. Serve sweet potato fries on the side using the recipe found here.
5. Thin-crust veggie pizza
Enjoy 2 slices of any thin-crust veggie pizza (frozen, restaurant or homemade). For a homemade version with a sweet potato crust use the or this version with a cauliflower crust. On the side, serve a salad with non-starchy vegetables and 2 tablespoons vinaigrette.
6. Chinese takeout
Order chicken and broccoli with 1/2 cup brown rice. For an extra healthy option, order steamed chicken and broccoli with sauce on the side. Use just 1 to 2 tablespoons of sauce and a few dashes of reduced-sodium soy sauce.
7. Slow cooker chicken and black bean chili
Make 1 serving of chili using the. Serve with an optional dollop of Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese. On the side, enjoy 1/2 cup brown rice. If you’re looking to add a little extra spice, you can also try Joy’s Slow Cooker Chicken and Vegetable Curry recipe