african american family clean healthy eating

When it comes to eating healthier, one of the biggest roadblocks is doing it with a family to accommodate.

You’ve got a four-year-old who won’t eat anything other than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; a 7-year-old who won’t eat anything that isn’t breaded, fried, or neon orange; a thirteen-year -old who doesn’t understand why 100% of their daily vitamins can’t come from potato chips and soda pop; and a spouse who takes all this new-fangled food foolishness personally, as in “Why are you doing this to me?!” 

It’s rough out here.

When we realize that our fitness goals will also require improving the quality of our meals, we also have to consider what this teaches our family members who might’ve grown up attached and accustomed to the way we used to eat, sometimes developing our bad habits. The fastest way to learn just how emotionally attached people are to their food, is to change it on them without warning. But don't worry, 

Here are three tips for successfully converting the whole family over to clean and healthy eating, from someone who has definitely been there:

1) Be upfront and honest. I had a father who, when I refused to eat liver for dinner, covered it in a “secret sauce” and told me it was chicken. Halfway into the dinner, I lamented that his “chicken” tasted an awful lot like liver… at which point he replied, “That’s because it is liver!” Now, despite the fact that liver is one of the healthiest and most reliably inexpensive cuts of meat on the market, I still won’t eat it. He’s ruined it for me.

All jokes aside, being upfront and honest about the food choices you’re making for the family will not only give them confidence to trust you as their nutritional guide, but it’ll also give you the opportunity to explain your rationale behind why certain things are healthy and others, not; why certain things should be consumed regularly, and others, not; and also what classifies something as healthy, or junk. You’re laying the foundation for them to make their own healthy choices when they’re no longer under your watchful eye. You’re empowering them with information.

2) Don’t change everything overnight. Waking up to a completely cleaned out kitchen actually has the potential to be traumatizing for some people. For some, it can tart the exact opposite of what you want – someone who hides food and consumes it in mass quantities out of shame: they can’t handle having everything taken from them so quickly, and self-soothe by hiding and eating in silence, away from you. This can lead to a lifetime of unhealthy experiences with food, and even affect low self-esteem.

Remember, the goal here isn’t to go cold turkey – the goal is to slowly introduce newer, healthier dishes and ingredients to the family, encourage them on their way, and create a foundational understanding for them so they can make healthier choices for themselves when they’re not eating at home. Cold turkey won’t always effectively teach that. People are attached to certain foods for any number of reasons, and the best way to help them is not to make the choice for them, but to help them make that choice themselves.

3)  Choose recipes that include ingredients your family is already familiar with, or maybe recipes that are from the same culture as other foods your family loves. Do they love pasta? Try a pasta dish with a lemon sauce, pesto, lots of veggies and your protein source of choice. Enchiladas? Try a lighter taco with shredded chicken breast, lots of veggies, and greek yogurt as an alternative for sour cream. Try dishes that are familiar, with a few healthy swaps here or there to make the process a little bit easier on the slowly converting family.

The trade off here is simple, but important – you get meals that help you achieve your fitness goals, and you also help your family easily (and passively) learn about healthy living without it being pushy. Total win-win! A little patience, a lot of thoughtfulness, and a lot of education can go a long way. Give it a try – your body (and theirs!) will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is a trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching who also chronicles her own 160-lb weight loss journey on the award winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Hit her up on Twitter, or check her out on Facebook.