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Q: My son has just been diagnosed with the gluten-related autoimmune skin condition dermatitis herpetiformis, and we recently found out that my daughter is severely allergic to milk products and experiences digestive distress from all grains. My husband has irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, and asthma; I have digestive bloating; and all of us are overweight and don’t eat enough vegetables. Going on a grain-free, sugar-free, dairy-free diet seems like it would be best for us, but I’m overwhelmed about how to go about that. Can you offer some pointers?
—Tanya W., Madison, Wis.
A: It’s common for health crises to compel transformation in diet, and summer is the perfect time to make the switch so your family can become accustomed to this therapeutic way of eating before your kids go back to school. And, really, it’s a good idea for everyone to adopt at least a few of these healthier dietary practices.
“Changing your diet now can save you time, heartache, and money in the future,” says Leah Webb, MPH, author of the new book, The Grain-Free, Sugar-Free, Dairy-Free Family Cookbook (Chelsea Green Publishing). Families who are not in crisis mode might favor a more moderate approach to their diet, but getting grain- sugar-, and dairy-based junk foods out of the diet can benefit everyone. “Don’t settle for mediocrity when it comes to diet when the alternative feels so much better,” says Webb.
Parents have a responsibility to help their children learn and understand how to fuel their bodies in a healthy way. Feeding our kids the proper foods takes effort, but the payoff is substantial.
Summer is the best time to make healthier changes to your family’s diet, so that everyone has a chance to get used to them before they go back to school.
Basics of Making Healthy Changes as a Family
Start with yourself. Improve the way you eat and the effects will likely gradually cascade down to other family members.
Next, serve only one healthy meal each at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t cook to order or offer alternative foods for individual kids. Try to pair new foods with something familiar that they like. But if your kids don’t want to eat the new foods, don’t get discouraged: Keep trying to offer them. Studies show that children won’t even try a new food until it’s been offered many times, according to Webb.
Also, encourage your children to get involved in the kitchen and participate in small tasks during the food preparation process. Kids are much more interested in trying new foods if they have a hand in fixing those foods. Plus, the more they learn to do in the kitchen when they’re young, the more prepared they will be to make their own nutritious meals in the future.
Simple jobs that kids can do in the kitchen include cracking eggs, stirring, adding measured ingredients, mashing tuna for tuna salad, chopping soft vegetables and fruit (with a nylon kitchen knife, for safety), and pushing buttons on blenders or food processors to blend ingredients. If you have a small herb or vegetable garden, teach your kids how to snip fresh herbs or pick vegetables when they’re ripe.
Practical Tips for Implementing a Clean Diet
To put a clean diet into practice for your family, it’s important to get organized and plan ahead. Try these guidelines from The Grain-Free, Sugar-Free, Dairy-Free Family Cookbook:
- Stock your pantry and freezer with staples you regularly need for the meals you make. To turn your kitchen into a grain-free, sugar-free, dairy-free producing machine, you’ll need to have at least a few key items on hand, from dried unsweetened shredded coconut to applesauce to almond flour and coconut and avocado oils. Look for high-quality, preferably organic products, and save money whenever you can by buying in bulk and taking advantage of special discounts.
- Make a weekly meal plan and only buy the items you need. Check out weekly sales before creating the week’s menu. But keep the plan flexible and subject to change if you unexpectedly see a vegetable you didn’t plan on serving being on sale that week.
- Pick five meals to prepare for the week. Don’t plan to eat something new every single meal of every single day. Decide on meals that you’re willing to reheat or eat as leftovers, and include those leftovers in your meal plan. Know which meals freeze well and make extra servings of those meals. Also include snacks in your meal plan.
- Mix and match leftovers. Meals don’t have to be fixed combinations of food. Instead, creatively combine the meat entrée you had on Monday with a different side dish or put it in a different form (for example, in a salad) on Tuesday to create different meals on different days.
- Get creative with snacks. For young kids, serve—or, better yet, have them assemble—fun-to-make snacks, such as banana snowmen (with banana slices, blueberries, strawberries, raisins, and seeds), apple slice monsters (apple wedges with sunflower butter and strawberries), and turkey cucumber rolls (with thinly peeled cucumber slices, turkey slices, and hummus).
- Invest in a good lunch box. When packing lunch for your kids or your spouse, Webb recommends buying and using bento-style boxes such as Yumbox Tapas or Bentgo Fresh: these boxes are leakproof and they allow you to easily pack a variety of foods without those foods mixing together—the dry foods can be separated from the wet.
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