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Eat Better as a Family

Summer is here, and our keiki are enjoying long days at the beach and playing with friends. Of course, kids need good nutrition to fuel all that activity! That’s why there’s no better time to give your family’s meals and snacks a reboot.

We all know eating well is important, but many parents are already so busy that it’s hard to know where to start. The good news is that eating better doesn’t have to be another project for you to take on. There are simple things you can do to help your family eat healthier, starting right now. Here are some ideas.

Eat Together

Sharing meals isn’t just good for family bonding, it also promotes healthy eating habits. Commit to turning off screens during mealtimes, which can lead to distracted overeating, and talk about your day or play a game instead. And if evenings aren’t the best time for your family to gather, don’t worry! You can get the same benefits by sitting down together for a family meal at breakfast or lunch.

Make Healthy Swaps

You don’t need to overhaul your entire meal plan to eat better. Start by swapping fresh fruits and vegetables for more highly processed foods. Sub sliced peppers and mushrooms for pepperoni on pizza night. Or replace shredded cheese with diced avocado on Taco Tuesday. Fruits and veggies also make great toppings. Try sprinkling steamed, chopped broccoli florets on baked potatoes. If your family has ice cream for dessert, top it with slices of fresh mango.

Switch Up Your Cooking Methods

Even if you eat the same foods, you can lighten them up and make them healthier by changing your cooking methods. Summer is the perfect time to fire up the barbecue and grill some chicken instead of frying it in oil. Roasting, steaming, and braising food in broth are also healthier options. Or jump on the trend and invest in an air fryer.

Make the Most of Snack Time

If you’re trying to help your family eat better, you can get a big bang for your buck by focusing on snacks. Studies have shown that people of all ages consume a huge portion of their empty calories between meals. Replace those sugary treats, sodium-laden chips, and other processed foods with easy-to-pack fresh fruits and vegetables like carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, edamame, sugar snap peas, tangerines, apple bananas, and sweet and juicy lychee. Or pack roasted, unsalted nuts for a protein boost.

Get Kids Involved

A great way to teach keiki healthy eating habits -- and encourage them to try new foods -- is to ask them to help with meals. At the grocery store, invite your kids to help you pick out produce or choose a fruit or vegetable to try. And look for age-appropriate ways kids can participate in the kitchen. Little ones might enjoy twirling washed lettuce in a salad spinner, while teens can learn how to chop, season, and sauté.

Try Meatless Mondays

If changing your entire routine feels overwhelming, consider starting with just one day a week. Introduce your family to Meatless Mondays (or pick a different day of the week) and mix things up with a veggie stir fry, black bean tacos, portobello mushroom burgers, or even (gasp) tofu musubi.

Eat the Rainbow

It’s no secret that colorful foods are packed with nutrients, and eating a wide variety is a great way to ensure kids get all the vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy. Encourage keiki to venture beyond familiar cucumbers or iceberg lettuce and try a rainbow of foods. Or turn it into a game and let kids pick an assorted color daily, then challenge them to see how many foods they can try in that color group.

Let Go of Perfection

Remember that there’s no “right way” to eat healthily. You don’t have to force-feed your kids smoothies or keep track of the latest miracle foods to do a good job feeding your family. Instead, by role-modeling sensible choices and teaching kids healthy habits, you’ll help them develop a positive relationship with food. In the long run, that’s much more important than convincing them to love kale or overcome their fear of tomatoes.

The bottom line is that Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, so whatever foods your family enjoys, you can make meals healthy and fun. By starting with small changes, trying a few new things, and getting the whole family involved, you can make a positive change for your family’s health.


By Chrissy Miller, RN

Employee Health Manager, Maui Health