It’s a conundrum faced by many people who have embarked on a weight-loss journey: how to eat meals with your family without sabotaging your weight loss plan. After all, just because you’re eating to lose weight doesn’t mean your partner and children have to participate in the same program, right? Right!
Even if you’re following a weight loss plan like Jenny Craig, you can commit to the program 100 percent while still enjoying those all-important family dinners. All it takes is a solid plan, a little planning and forethought, and some tried-and-true tips to help you succeed — and keep your family healthy at the same time.
Read on for our complete guide to healthy eating for families!
1. Be up front about your needs and goals
Research has shown that getting support from friends and loved ones can be a vital element of your weight-loss success.1 At the same time, however, so-called “family social undermining” (including family members bringing foods you’re trying to avoid into the house, or eating those foods in front of you) can help sink your efforts to lose weight — or even cause you to gain weight back once you’ve lost it.2
To get the support you need, discuss your goals and plan of attack with all of your family members. Although it may be hard for younger children to understand, simply telling them you’re trying to be a healthy eater may help explain any changes they notice — plus, you’ll be setting a good example by showing them how to make healthy food choices.
Be specific about the plan you’re undertaking and what it entails. Keeping everyone involved will allow your family to support you and be sensitive to your needs while avoiding potential pitfalls.
2. Don’t eat separately from your family
Just because you’re on a weight-loss plan doesn’t mean you need to avoid your family at mealtimes! In fact, you shouldn’t as research has shown several overarching benefits to children of having meals as a family, including:3
- It helps to provide structure for the day
- It allows for family check-ins
- It allows you to model healthy interpersonal interactions; these include problem-solving skills and cooperation
What’s more, according to the American College of Pediatricians,3 there are also longer-term benefits to having regular family meals, including that children are more likely to develop healthier eating patterns, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer saturated and trans fats.
3. Consider making complementary meals for your family
If you’re on the Jenny Craig program, you’ll get a weekly plan that lays out all the meals you’ll be eating over seven days. Why not base your family’s dinners on yours so you’re all eating similar meals on any given night? For instance, if you’re having Beef Teriyaki, how about making a nice stir-fry for your loved ones? Broccoli & Cheese Stuffed Potato? Make it a potato bar night: Bake some yams or potatoes, lay out different options for toppings (with lots of veggies to choose from!), and let everyone build their own potato. Be sure to round out the meal with a healthy salad and a side dish of non-starchy vegetables that everyone can enjoy.
Even if you’re enjoying a delicious dinner of your own, it can be tempting to watch your family eat a meal that is not on the weight loss plan you’re following. But if they’re eating something similar to what you’re enjoying, you can help head off feelings of deprivation while allowing you to feel more a part of the family dinner.
4. Do some prep work ahead of time
Even if you’re following a weight loss plan that provides healthy, ready-made meals, you’ll still want to augment those meals with plenty of fresh or frozen vegetables and a small amount of fruit each day. Plan and prep them ahead of time so it’s easier to get dinner on the table — the same goes for any ingredients you can prepare ahead of time for your family’s meals. Not only will doing so make your end-of-day routine easier, but having a portion of your meals prepped ahead of time can also save you time in getting dinner on the table … and help you avoid possible hunger spikes caused by a delayed meal.
Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Rinse and chop up raw vegetables like carrots, broccoli and bell peppers and keep them in a reusable container to grab when you need a quick and convenient snack.
- Portion out fruit servings in individual containers – berries, apple slices and oranges are all great options. Try to keep fruit servings between ½ to 1 cup.
- Have a vegetable stir-fry ready to toss in a pan for an easy side dish. Or, use one of these quick side dishes that take less than 5 minutes to make!
And speaking of hunger, if you do get hungry while preparing dinner, try drinking a large glass of water or eating a side salad while making your family’s meal; save your entrée for the family table.
5. Use this as an opportunity to make healthier meals for your family
Since you’re on the path to better nutrition, why not do the same for your family? Look for ways to make your family’s meals healthier by trying the following:
- Instead of cheese made from whole milk, try low-fat; keep an eye on how much you include at each meal (use this handy visual portion guide to help)
- Use whole-wheat or brown-rice pasta instead of white
- Swap out white rice for brown rice
- Got a casserole on the menu? Add extra veggies — and if your kids seem to have an aversion to “too many” vegetables, steam and puree some to add to the dish (a great trick for pasta sauce, too!)
- Use olive oil in place of butter
- Canned vegetables can be high in sodium,4 so look for low-sodium varieties; or use fresh or frozen instead
6. Give your kids the opportunity to make healthy choices
Kids like to feel like they have a say in things. Instead of telling yours that they have to eat their broccoli, give them a choice: Would you rather have carrots or broccoli? Asparagus or cauliflower? Squash or sweet potato? Even better, let them choose a new fruit or vegetable to try when you go to the store.
Along those same lines, consider letting them choose one family meal per week — and if they have difficulty choosing a healthy one, give them a list to choose from.
The aim is to guide your children toward making healthy choices without forcing them to do so. The Department of Health & Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health5 recommends that you allow your children to make their own decisions about food — while making sure there are plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy meals and smart snacks available to them.
7. Involve your kids in meal prep
Children are more apt to eat food that is prepared for them if they’re involved in the process, so if you have the time (and patience!), let them partake in the prep work. Got a preschooler? Let him or her choose the fruit for the fruit salad, rinse it and then stir everything together after you’ve done the peeling and chopping. Got a child who’s able to read? Have your child read the recipe to you as you prepare the meal.
8. Celebrating a birthday? No problem!
If your family is indulging in a delicious chocolate birthday cake, that doesn’t mean you have to sit on the sidelines. Try Jenny’s delicious Chocolate Lava Cake — and throw a candle or two on it while you’re at it! (Don’t forget to garnish it with some strawberries or raspberries!)
As you undertake your weight-loss plan, know that you are not only helping to give yourself better health, but that you are modeling healthy eating and self-care for your children. And that is truly something to celebrate.
Do you need more tips and tricks on how to eat healthy as a family? Your Jenny Craig consultant can help! Click here to get started today.
Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus
Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
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