The Kitchen Makeover

How to Improve Your Family's Eating Habits

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Strategies for improving your family’s eating habits: Changing what’s in your kitchen, how it is organized, and how it is used. Helpful tips for your family to get on the road to better nutrition.

In most households, especially those with children, food is consumed throughout the home, but the kitchen is the primary clearinghouse where food arrives, is stored, prepared, distributed, and consumed. One of the key strategies for improving your family’s eating habits involves taking a hard look at what’s in your kitchen, how it is organized, and how it is used. In our work counseling families on healthy eating, we often advise families to undertake a “Kitchen Makeover,” to set them up for success in reaching their health goals.

A kitchen makeover typically involves four steps, each of which has many elements. Some of these, we admit, are more draconian than others. As we are realists, we will detail all of the steps, but we’ll mark the more radical changes with an “extra credit” label to provide your family with some minor psychological alleviation as you attempt these changes. The steps are:

  1. Get rid of unhealthy food.
  2. Substitute it with more healthy choices.
  3. Build out your kitchen infrastructure.
  4. Update your kitchen rules of use.

Purge Your Home of Unhealthy Food

We’ll start with what might be the most difficult of kitchen makeover steps (we promise it will get easier from here!): get rid of the unhealthy food. If you are trying to clean up your family’s eating habits, the simplest way to start is to purge the house of unhealthy choices. If junk food is there, somebody will eat it, so it’s best to remove the temptation. There are enough unhealthy temptations outside your home without compounding the problem by allowing these influences into your sanctuary.

One way to make this process slightly less traumatic is to formalize it with a “food funeral.” Get your family together and collectively scour your cabinets, refrigerator, and other containers of unhealthy choices, and deposit them in a trash bag, which can then be disposed of immediately in some formal ceremony of your own design. Perhaps someone can play some somber music or say a few subdued, bittersweet, and fond words of farewell.

Extra credit exercise: Take photographs of your open kitchen cabinets, refrigerator, and other food-bearing locales and take these to your dietitian for analysis. They can circle the dubious items and provide guidance on which foods to remove. If you like, you can even take “before and after” pictures. If your dietitian can compile enough of these you might even find them running someday on late-night television infomercials.

By unhealthy choices we mean such things as chips, candy, cookies, regular soda and sugared drinks, ice cream, frozen yogurt, pastries, muffins, highly processed grain foods such as bagels, white breads, and crackers, and spreads with unhealthy fats such as butter, mayonnaise, and margarine. We are not suggesting you eliminate all these things entirely from your diet (although you wouldn’t be hurting yourself if you did). But we are suggesting you get them out of your kitchen. The quality of the food in your kitchen radiates throughout your household and influences habits that can stand your family members in good stead as they move outside your household to face the hard temptations of the wider world.

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