Too Much Junk Food? Simple Ways to Reset Your Family’s Diet for Good

Your resolution for healthy family meals was made in good faith. But if you’ve slipped and your kids are existing on junk food, don’t despair! You can get back on track.

Feeling like you’ve failed at your attempted diet for 2022? Is your pledge to feed your family only the healthiest foods available just a distant memory? Is junk food creeping its way back in? If the answer is yes, know that you are not alone, it’s not your fault (and diets don’t work anyway).

You can turn 2022 around and feel successful by creating new healthy habits. This can be as simple as adding more fruits and vegetables to your plate, increasing your exercise and meal planning. By listening to your body’s hunger cues and working to create a healthy relationship with food, you’ll naturally become a more intuitive eater — and, better yet, your children may even be more likely to learn to do the same.

If you find yourself falling back into old habits, the first step is to identify why. Here are some of the most common challenges busy parents face, and some easy solutions for rebuilding those healthy habits.

Meal planning

Are you meal planning?  Meal planning doesn’t have to be time consuming. Just follow these simple steps: inventory what you have, find a few new recipes or old favorites, make a grocery list, and prep on the weekend. This will prevent dining out, going through the drive through or eating whatever is the most convenient — often because you are too hungry and need to feed yourself and your family immediately.

Nighttime snacking

As a dietitian, I often hear, “I do so good all day and then at night I just can’t stop snacking on junk food.” The cause of this is usually not enough calories are consumed during the day, or meals and snacks are often lacking balance and variety. Not skipping meals and including a healthy snack will prevent cravings for all those calorie-dense foods at night.

Loving sugar?

I also hear, “I am a sugar addict.” This can be due to lack of balance and skipping meals — in addition to lack of sleep and stress. Maybe you don’t feel addicted but just have a liking for sweet foods. There are plenty to choose from that can satisfy your desire for sweetness and also provide a lot of nutrition too.

Not enough balance

When I mention balance, what I’m referring to is a habit of selecting foods that you like to eat, but that also keep you satisfied for longer periods of time. Balanced meals and snacks have staying power. To achieve this balance, try adding some protein to your carbohydrate-containing food. This can help you feel full longer.

This is a place where dairy foods can fit in perfectly. Dairy foods contain both carbohydrate and protein as well as 13 essential nutrients that your body (and your kids’ bodies!) needs every day. When you are craving sweets — or when your kids are asking for something that you know is laden with sugar — try a bowl of fruit with yogurt or make a smoothie with frozen fruit and milk. Or just a glass of chocolate milk can be satisfying too!

Check off those ‘recommended servings’

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans — developed by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services — recommend that individuals ages 9 and older include three servings of dairy a day.

Despite the many benefits of dairy, many people do not get their recommended servings. Many people aren’t getting their recommended servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains either.

One way to make sure your family is getting the nutritious foods you all need is to keep a food journal. Pretty soon, you’ll start automatically tracking what you eat to make sure your family is getting enough of all the food groups.

You will also find that when you start substituting nutritious foods for junk food, and home cooked meals for takeout, you’re edging out less-healthy convenience foods and drive-thru dinners — saving calories and money.

But there’s more. Eating whole foods and dairy will give everyone in your family more energy. It’s likely to improve their moods, too! Once you feel the benefits of a happier, healthier atmosphere in your home, you’re much less likely to rely solely on junk food and takeout again.

My recommendation for a healthier year? Let’s change our mindset. Let’s stop focusing on what you need to cut out of your diet and your family’s diet — and focus on what nutritious foods you can add!

Learn more about creating a healthy diet for your family at milkmeansmore.org.

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