As you know, I don’t take a hardline approach when it comes to food. I leave wiggle room for birthday party punch and the occasional bowl of boxed macaroni and cheese. I know that the best-laid plans for a healthy meal can go south thanks to evening school events, last minute invitations to have pizza with friends, or garden variety end-of-day exhaustion.
Yet I do have a handful of guidelines that steer my meal planning and decision making when it comes to food. They form the basis for how I feed myself and my family. I also use them to teach my kids the healthy habits I think will serve them well in life. We don’t always stick to them (see above exceptions and curveballs), and I don’t enforce them in a controlling manner. (And I’m not suggesting these are the right rules for everyone to adopt.)
But I like to think of these as our family default settings for healthy eating. Though we may stray from them–some weeks, more than others–they’re what we come back to:
1. Only veggies in the hour before dinner
The pre-dinner snack is very tricky, especially with hungry kids. But I finally settled on a system that works for us. The house rule: If you’re hungry in the hour before dinner, you may have an “appetizer” of veggies or you can simply wait for dinner. My older son typically waits. My younger son happily eats a dish of pepper rings, a big carrot left whole, or a bowl of crunchy romaine leaves. Read more about this in My Pre-Dinner Snack Strategy.
2. No more than one sweet drink a day
I talk to the kids a lot about sweet drinks because they’re such a problem in our current food culture. What counts as a sweet drink? Chocolate milk, 100% juice, soda, lemonade, fruit punch, and anything else with sugar.
3. Dessert no more than once a day
This one can actually be a tough one for me, since chocolate frequently calls to me after lunch AND dinner. But limiting it to once a day helps keep my sweet tooth in check. The same rule applies to the kids. Since they like to have a sweet treat after (sometimes with) dinner, I typically don’t pack a goodie in their lunchboxes or serve sweets at other times.
4. Everyone has a vegetable on the table they like
As in most households, our individual veggie preferences don’t always align. My younger son and I love broccoli; my husband can’t bear it. We all eat salads except my younger son. Everyone but me likes peas. I try to serve two veggies with dinner (one is usually a green salad). But as long as everyone’s got a veggie available that they like, I’m happy. (Here’s a broccoli recipe half of us love: 15 Minute Roasted Broccoli and a Brussels sprouts recipe three-quarters of us enjoy: Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts)
5. Water or milk with lunch and dinner
Coffee and sometimes OJ show up at breakfast. Otherwise, we only have water or milk available for meals. Exceptions sometimes (but not always) apply at restaurants.
6. Meatless Monday dinners
I talk to the kids about the importance of eating lots of plant foods and moderating meat consumption. So far, I’ve had mixed reviews for Meatless Monday since it’s also a night when I also tend to experiment more. For every hit (tomato alphabet soup), we’ve had a few misses (zucchini fritters).
7. Fruit as the snack default
If my kids come to me saying they’re hungry for a snack, I always offer fruit first. Usually, they take me up on it and might add something else, like peanut butter with apples or a banana with some crackers.
Do you have any family “food rules” or guidelines that you eat by?