This may come as a surprise, but the goal to “eat a variety of foods” is the hardest one for me to implement in my house. Introducing new foods can be met with skepticism (or outright displeasure or disgust) and personally I find it frustrating to spend time making a meal to have everyone turn their noses up at it. Eating a variety of foods also means that I have to continually plan, experiment, and test recipes, which requires time and energy.
But this goal is also one of the most important to me. I know that maintaining a varied diet is one of the surest ways to support health, and it helps reduce the likelihood of falling into food ruts or eating behaviors that can be very difficult to break. Plus, encouraging them to taste new foods makes achieving this goal a little easier.
Here are a few simple strategies I've found to be particularly useful for encouraging all of us to have a varied diet:
- No repeats. One of the easiest ways I know to encourage a variety of foods is to not eat the same thing two days in a row. This does require planning, particularly for that meal that is the hardest for you to get on the table. For me, it is breakfast - I'm usually still on my first cup of coffee and not fully ready to participate in creative meal prep. If that is also your hardest meal, you can see a years worth of suggestions here. If it’s lunch or dinner, there are (literally) hundreds of thousands of resources you could tap. (Which actually might not make things easier!)
- Switch the meal. If you or your kids are particularly resistant to new foods, you can simplify this rule by not offering the same food at the same meal. So, if it's too hard on your son to not eat toast in the morning, as it can be for a certain 3 year old that I know, then have toast for breakfast one day and afternoon snack the next. Even this simple swap can help get you and your kids out of the "same ol' same ol’" habit.
- Shop sales. Shopping the sale items - particularly for fresh foods - can help increase the variety of foods you're family is consuming. This can make meal planning slightly more challenging, however, so you may find yourself doing that on the fly or making a second trip to the store for missing items. Be sure to choose items that look the best – sometimes these sales are determined by what’s built up in the stockroom and food may be approaching its prime.
- Eat Seasonally. Shopping what is in season - either from a farmers' market, farm stand, your backyard garden, or from the supermarket - makes it easier to eat a variety of foods. When eating this way, variety is achieved over a longer time frame (like, over the course of a whole year) and through the use of new and creative ways for consuming the same food (how many different can you find to prepare zucchini?). One of the great things about eating seasonally is that foods are generally picked and consumed at their peak flavor, so they taste wonderful. (I find this to be especially true for tomatoes.)
- Same food, different brand. Similar to shopping sales in the fruit & vegetable isle, you can look for different brands/varieties/sales in other sections of the store too. We usually have at least one type of cracker in our house, but I try hard to mix up which type and brand of crackers, specifically, we have on any given week. If we bought Stone Ground Wheat crackers last week, then they are not likely to make it into our cart again this time around.
Like this post? Here are more practical strategies around the following food goals:
- To be willing to taste new foods.
- To provide the skills necessary for them to listen to their internal signals of hunger and satiety.
- To involve them in meal planning and food preparation.
Kiyah J. Duffey, PhD
Director of Global Scientific Affairs at LA Sutherland Group
Adjunct faculty, Virginia Tech
Kiyah Duffey received her degree in Nutritional Epidemiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is now Director of Global Scientific Affairs and LA Sutherland Group. She is also a freelance nutrition consultant, blogger, and mother to three. In her day job, Kiyah’s research aims to understand the association between diet, obesity and heart disease. She is the author of numerous scientific articles on these topics, and her work has been featured in Men’s Health Magazine, USA Today, and the BBC News and on NPR’s Morning Edition, Good Morning America, and the NBC Nightly News. But her true passion is food: reading and writing about it, shopping for it, talking about it, cooking it and sharing it with others. Someday she’ll figure out how to marry her passion and expertise more fully; in the meantime you can follow her efforts to do so at www.ourregularlyscheduledprogram.com where she blogs about family, parenting, career, and the search for a healthy, balanced life. Or connect with her via facebook or Twitter.