Tips for Healthier Family Meal Planning & Cooking

As a mom who makes all the menu plans, the one who grocery shops, and the one who cooks for my family, it’s clear to me that by making easy meal changes, I can make a positive impact on how my family eats. In the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Dr. Brian Wansink, he shares how even small changes in people’s everyday food decisions can make a positive difference on their health.

Tips for Healthier Meal Planning and Cooking

One of our usual menu plans

But where do we start and can a small change really make much of a difference?

I believe small changes can make a difference and we don’t have to look any further than what is happening in my restaurants today. 

Unilever Food Solutions

The Unilever Food Solutions’ “Seductive Nutrition” approach, is designed to help chefs and restaurant professionals, to create healthier dishes that are equal in taste, value for money and overall satisfaction to their less healthy counterparts.

If restaurants can do this, why can’t we as parents do our own version in our homes? I believe we can. I have put together a list of tips and ideas for making quick and easy meal changes that can result in healthier, yet delicious meals for our families.

Healthy Salad

Use bold, flavorful cheeses so you can use less

Tips for Healthier Family Meal Planning & Cooking

Enjoying slightly smaller portions: For example, I love buffalo wings, but instead of 10 buffalo wings, I can have 8 of them and save 110 calories. I’m also rather fond of au gratin potatoes, instead of 1 cup, I can reduce it to 3/4 of a cup and save 80 calories.

Using vivid adjectives to trigger positive meal expectations: This tip is similar to how it’s done in menu descriptions in restaurants. For example, when creating a menu plan (which is posted for the family to see), I can describe “baked potato chips” as “Crispy Oven Baked Potato Chips”. Instantly, the description is more appealing. Rather than just “carrots”, I can say “Snappy Seasonal Carrots”. Here’s a list of descriptive words to use in menu planning.

Use healthier cooking methods as much as possible: Which means more grilling, braising and steaming. By grilling fish and oven baking chips, you can save 374 calories over the fried versions.

Grilled Spicy Shrimp

Grilled Spicy Shrimp

Substituting lighter ingredients: Rather than coleslaw with regular mayonnaise, a substitute of light mayonnaise, can save 137 calories per 3/4 cup.

Create improved dining experiences: By using better dinnerware, “restaurant” like plating, & fun ways of serving food, family members may find healthier foods to be more appealing. Dr. Wansink found in his studies that people rated the taste of a brownie higher when it was served on a nice dinner plate than on a cheap plastic plate. Grilled vegetables on a skewer is much more appealing to my children than just a pile of vegetables on their plate.

Increasing vegetables in recipes: Find ways to work vegetables into recipes, as well as offering them as a side dish. For example, my baked turkey meatballs with spinach are a favorite.

Baked Turkey Meatballs with Spinach

Use leaner meats and proteins: Save calories by using “choice” or “select” grades of beef and pork labelled “loin” and “round”. Offer chicken breasts instead of the dark meat (legs and thighs), and be sure to remove the skin. Substitute egg whites for some or all of the egg yolks in egg dishes.

Use bolder tasting cheeses: For example, by using sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese, it gives more flavor so you can get away with using less.

Place sauce/dressing on the side in small ramekins: My children like this because it feel like they are eating in a restaurant. Rather than squirting a pile of ketchup on a plate, they end up just filling up a small sauce cup, which holds much less.

Sauce Cups

Serve sauces, dips and dressing in small cups

What are your easy ideas for healthier menu planning and cooking?

Note: The actual amount of calories you save may be more or less than those listed in this post depending on the specific ingredients and recipes.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post from Mom It Forward, on behalf of Unilever Food Solutions. This post contains affiliate linking. All opinions are 100% my own.

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