Making the healthier choice convenient takes effort

Tips to help make healthy food options convenient and affordable.

Often the biggest challenge with following a healthy diet consistently isn’t know what the healthier choice is but being able to access the healthier choice quickly and easily. Unfortunately for many, “junk food” is consistently fast, convenient, readily available and affordable. Add to this that most families have either a single parent or both parents working – time becomes increasingly scarce and people make choices based on convenience, not necessarily health.

Based on National Health surveys, Americans fall way short in meeting the recommendations for fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy, but eat in excess of the recommendations for added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. In theory – essentially just shifting our choices to more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and dairy would likely result in a significant reduction in added sugar, saturated fat and sodium. 

By modeling good dietary practices, and also providing the structure and discipline for children to consume a healthy diet, we would see a significant improvement in obesity trends, and possibly many other areas of health as well. The following are tips and choices can help make this transition to a healthy diet easier,  more convenient and affordable:

  • Limit sugary beverages: Milk with meals, water between meals, juice once a day, and an occasional soda or sweetened beverage (once per week for example) can have an enormous impact on sugar and calorie consumption. Send your child to school, practice, or an after-school activity with water not pop.
  • Setting boundaries for children, such as encouraging them to stick to the structure of eating three meals a day and ensuring that half of their plate is made up of fruits and vegetables is a significant step towards increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and decreasing “junk food”. There are many resources, including this  USDA page and MyPlate website. They include great resources for fast, convenient and healthy recipes – and they have additional resources that you may find very useful, such as shopping on a budget.
  • Plan, plan, plan: It is challenging to adhere to the USDA guidelines if you don’t have the food available. Have a list of staples, make a menu, then use the list to grocery shop for these items. This can save a lot of money, especially if you plan to purchase things that are in season.
  • Don’t keep “junk food” in the house. If you do, try not to store it where it is visible and readily accessible to kids. 
  • Have fruits and vegetables in stock and within your kid’s vision and reach.
  • Take  healthy snacks with you so that you aren’t tempted to buy from concession stands, or convenience stores
  • Don’t be afraid to say “No” and stand by your decision to limit “junk food”. There is no question that this can be challenging, draining, and it will take some time. Focus on including your child in this makeover - have them help with menu planning, shopping lists and snack ideas, so they will have more buy-in. 
  • Share with your child that you are being more careful with their food choices because you love them and want them to grow up with a low risk of getting diseases like heart disease or diabetes; you want to help them be a better athlete or have the energy to do the things they enjoy. Choose whatever language speaks to them best. 

Adhering to a healthy diet can take a lot of discipline – but by doing so, you are showing love to your child that can have incredible benefits. Michigan State University Extension offers many classes and resources that can help you and your family stay on track.  

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