It’s easier than you may think to get your family to eat more whole foods – plus, it is great for your family’s health and wellbeing! With these whole food tips and parenting hacks to help you get your kids on board, you and your family will be eating more whole foods in no time. With evidence linking the consumption of processed foods with health problems, including heart disease in adults and the obesity epidemic among children, there’s never been a better time to dig into whole foods. To help you succeed, here are 5 ways to help you and your family eat more whole foods.
What is a Whole Food?
A whole food describes a vegetable, fruit, legume, whole grain, sometimes animal meats that have had only minimal processing. A peeled banana or sliced apple is still considered whole foods. As are a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, a handful of nuts and seeds, or a warm salad made with farro and roasted vegetables. Minimal preparation allows the food to maintain its nutritional integrity, and thus offers your body the most power-packed dose of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other helpful phytochemicals. Whole foods are nutritionally dense food!
Why Eating Whole Foods is Healthy
Experts agree the high nutrient content of whole foods promotes health in our bodies.
Here are 3 reasons why eating whole foods is healthy:
- Whole foods are unadulterated sources of nutrients, meaning you get maximum nutrition in every bite, which scientists call nutrition density.
- Inside whole foods are phytochemicals, natural plant compounds that help keep the body healthy.
- Inside the body, a single nutrient doesn’t work alone, it interacts with other nutrients and food components – it’s a complex interaction.
Whole Foods are a Healthy Choice
The British Medical Journal reported in 2019 that scientific evidence clearly links the consumption of ultra-processed foods with higher risks of cardiovascular, coronary heart, and cerebrovascular diseases. The consumption of processed foods has also been linked with elevated risks of other diseases, including type 2 diabetes and premature death.
In Canada, processed foods make up just under half of the total daily energy intake, according to the Canadian Community Health Survey. Found in convenient packaging, requiring little effort to prepare, and created with flavours that elicit pleasure (sugar, salt, fat, and additives), processed foods have become best-sellers in supermarkets. Adding to the problem is the difficulty in deciphering claims on packages of processed foods. When researchers asked over 300 adults about their perception of ultra-processed foods, and the claims on the labels, alarmingly, consumers ranked these low nutritional foods with better nutritional values than deserved. Yet, these foods are not healthy. Eating whole foods is healthy!
Move to eat a diet based primarily on whole foods and reduce the amount of sugar, salt, and artificial colours and flavours you and your family consume.
How to Get Your Family to Eat More Whole Foods
From Registered Holistic Nutrition experts are 5 ways you can get your family to eat more whole foods, including how to get your kids to buy-in.
1. Make a Swap
Sometimes a simple swap can be the easiest way to get your family to eat more whole foods. Move towards a food’s most pure form. For breakfast, swap the processed instant oatmeal with a bowl of cooked rolled oats sweetened with maple syrup. In a busy household, preparing small mason jars with overnight oats can be a quick way to offer a whole food breakfast. Make them even healthier, but topping with fresh fruit or nuts before you eat them. In your kid’s lunchboxes, swap out that fruity-flavoured processed snack for applesauce; after a while, move to a whole, or sliced apple. For lunch, you can whip up a Greek Salad with Tuna in about 5 minutes or, turn last night’s leftovers into a warm Grilled Asparagus and Sweet Potato Salad.
2. Shop the Perimeter
Families eat what is close at hand. Are the foods in your house processed? It is easier to get you and your family to eat more whole foods when the foods around you are whole foods. Next time you’re out buying groceries, shop the perimeter. There you will be able to fill your cart with whole foods that you and your family love to eat. Select your favourite fresh fruits, vegetables, hummus, tofu, eggs, whole grains, seafood, and meats from the perimeter of the store. Stop in the middle aisle to pick up a few other whole foods, such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, beans, nuts, seeds, and maple syrup.
3. Go Slow
Making changes to your eating style can be overwhelming if you try to take on too much at once. For the best success at getting you and your family to eat more whole foods, start with making one whole food swap while making efforts to shop the perimeter of the store. Next week, take on another whole food swap and continue to shop in the perimeter of the store. Slowly, the types of foods available in your house will shift to mostly whole foods, and the foods you’re serving will slowly transform into more whole foods.
4. Choose Fast Whole Foods
Fresh fruits, such as cherries, bananas, pears, and apples can be eaten within seconds, requiring a simple wash or peel. Your family will eat more whole foods if it is convenient. Choose fast whole foods when at the store that your kids can easily access. This will help get your kids on board with eating more whole foods. Many vegetables are fast whole foods too! Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and French green beans can be served up within seconds, requiring only a simple rinse. Pair these fun-to-eat-with-your-fingers, whole food veggies with a hummus dip from the store, and within a minute you’ve created a healthy, whole food snack. This is a great parenting hack to keep the kids from raiding the pantry when you’re making dinner.
5. Stock Up on Winners
Kids of all sizes, even the big kids in our houses, are more likely to be on board with changes to your eating style if you stock up on the foods they love the most. Each week, while creating your shopping list, have your family members tell you their top three fruits and vegetables. When these whole food favourites are on hand, both you and your family will find it easier to eat more whole foods. Get the kids involved in the cooking. Being involved in food preparation motivates kids to eat healthier. A fun way to start is to give your kids a container. Allow them to fill it with a mixture of their favourite nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and even some dark chocolate chips. Over the next few days, you’ll find their hands digging into these whole foods to help them stay fueled.
For more resources like this, visit our Raising Healthy Children bulletin page.
Consumer Perception of the Healthfulness of Ultra-processed Products Featuring Different Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labeling Schemes. J Nutr Educ Behav 2017 Apr;49(4):330-338.
Bioavailability of Micronutrients From Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods: Zooming in on Dairy, Vegetables, and Fruits. Front Nutr. 2020 Jul 24;7:101.
Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2019 May;365:l1451.
Ultraprocessed food consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes among participants of the NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. JAMA Internal Medicine 2019; 180(2): 283–291.
Association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and all cause mortality: SUN prospective cohort study. BMJ 2019; 365: i1949.