Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Stuck in a Food Rut? Feeling Like You’re Constantly Stressing About What to Cook For Dinner? What the Kids Might Eat!? This Dietitian Has Five Tips & Hacks!

“What should I cook for dinner?!?” – it’s the thought that can occupy our thoughts, waaaaay too much! So how do we make dinner a less stressful event – whilst still being nutritious and something the kids will actually eat? A leading NZ dietitian shares her secrets…

If dinner time has become a stressful time in your home, you’re not alone. So many of us spend so much precious time trying to think up what to cook next (and worrying whether the kids are going to eat it!) and whether we’re eating nutritiously without breaking the budget.

Lily Henderson is a NZ Registered Dietitian, and is currently the Nutrition and Development Kitchen Manager for My Food Bag – so, if you have a question about what we should be eating and why, she’s your go-to.

Lily gave us five tips for gently improving our diet, taking away some of that ‘what are we going to eat’ stress, and ensuring the kids are most likely to eat what’s on their plate!

1. Think Small

Maybe you started off 2024 with a pact to eat more healthily – and maybe you were doing so well. But then the kids started back at school, or work a bit more stressful or you went on holiday and got out of a rhythm.

Lily says the secret to eating a more healthy, well-balanced diet is to actually not try to completely overhaul your diet and instead make small tweaks.

“If we have an ‘all or nothing’ approach to our diet and lifestyle, we can get into a cycle of yo-yo dieting and feeling like we’ve failed,” she says. “Instead, accept that your diet and lifestyle will always look a little different over the Christmas period and January is a great time to get back into a routine and build in more consistency with your habits. This is a more sustainable approach and means that we focus on consistency and being the healthiest version of ourselves all year round!”

“I love the saying from James Clear an expert in habit formation ‘when you can’t do it all, do something small’. This is a great mantra to have on board over social periods, while travelling for work, during times of sickness or while on holiday.”

2. Plan Ahead

How early in the day do you start worrying about what you’re going to have for dinner? How much time do you waste thinking about it? How many times do you have to quickly stop into the supermarket because you’ve realised you don’t have a crucial ingredient? How many times have you opened the fridge and wracked your brain for what you could possibly make with the wilting veges and hodge-podge of items you can see?

Lily says one of the best things she does in her household is planning a lot of it out in advance.

“I lie to plan out four to five meals each week so that our evenings are sorted – I also keep weeknight meals super simple,” she says.

She looks for fast, easy, no-fuss meals that she can shop for well in advance and whip up nice and quickly at the end of the day.

3. Involve Your Kids

Lily has two children, aged six and three, so knows what a rollercaster it can be trying to get something on the table that they’ll eat (which is obviously rarely the thing they like to eat last week?).

Creating meals your children can and will eat – that are also nutritious – can be yet another stress to worry about when planning and cooking meals. But Lily says we should take a step back, not stress so much about what everyone on Instagram seems to be feeding their perfect kids and give ourselves a break.

“As parents I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but there is no perfect diet,” she says. “What’s most important is having an approach that works for your family.”

“I tend to make sure I’m serving up foods that are familiar to my kids but also give them exposure to foods they may not have previously accepted too. Just because they didn’t like something when they were three years old doesn’t mean they still won’t like it when they’re five years old!”

And Lily says one of the best ways to get your kids interested in eating what you’re cooking, is to involve them in the whole process.

“Take opportunities where you can build your child’s food literacy,” she says. “Get them involved in food prep – you’ll be surprised at how many veggies they eat when they are involved in peeling and chopping them. Talk about food, where it comes from, and what it does for our bodies at every opportunity.”

4. Go Mediterranean

Ok, we’ve all heard this a thousand times – that the people who tend to live the longest lives are those who live in the Mediterranean and some of that is due to their diet. So, if you’re looking to make any little changes to your diet, involving more Mediterranean dishes is the way to go.

“Yes, when we look at all the different eating patterns, the Mediterranean diet is a bit of a rockstar!” says Lily. “Originating in the 1960s, it’s stood the test of time and is backed by good quality science which means there’s consistency in the results from large observational studies and clinical trials.”

“What we know from the evidence is that following a Mediterranean diet can help to manage weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. It can also reduce the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes and promotes healthy ageing and longevity.”

So, what makes it so special?

“It’s a plant predominant way of eating, which means plenty of veggies, fruit, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. It still has moderate amounts of dairy foods, fish/seafood and chicken which makes it a realistic way to eat a plant-based diet. This combination of anti-inflammatory foods delivers fibre, antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals which support positive health outcomes.”

5. Look After Your Gut

You’ll have heard a lot of people – including us here at Capsule – talking about the importance of gut health and the incredible wide-reaching impacts it can have on our overall health and wellbeing.

But, how do we do it?

“The food we eat is one of the most important ways to influence the type and balance of bacteria living in our gut,” says Lily. “There’s evidence beginning to show that following a Mediterranean diet can positively influence the diversity of our gut bacteria. When we have lots of different types of bacteria in our gut, it becomes more capable and resilient, which has a powerful influence on our physical and mental health.”

And the good news is, if you’re making a move to include more Mediterranean inspired meals in your diet, you’ll also be helping your gut health in the process.

“One of the reasons a Mediterranean diet is likely to be beneficial for your gut is because it’s based around a wide range plant foods and these are rich in fibre and polyphenols, which our ‘good’ gut microbes love,” says Lily.

There’s a lot of hype around gut health at the moment, so Lily recommends looking past it and sticking to the basics. She recommends three things:

  • Focus on whole foods – Not only do we want to base our diet around different plants, but we want them to be as close to how they are found in nature as this helps to support the growth of our ‘good’ bacteria. Highly processed foods are less likely to contain fibre which our gut bugs love and are more likely to be packed with salt, sugar, and saturated fat.
  • Drink plenty of water –Water helps our body breakdown food so it can absorb nutrients and may help to support a diverse range of gut bacteria.
  • Think beyond food Don’t underestimate how other lifestyle habits like regular physical activity, getting enough sleep, and minimising stress can also support our gut health too.

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