I KNOW we can do better!!
June 26, 2010 3:31 PM   Subscribe

My family has terrible eating habits. Just awful, I'm ashamed of how my family eats sometimes. Help me turn our eating around..

We eat out way too much, we order pizza the other days. I KNOW the importance of good healthy eating but I get so flustered when trying to plan meals and get our family to eat better. I need a system that breaks it down for me.....small steps, easy explanations that will help us start eating better. I need a system to help me plan, shop and prepare meals and get us off the processed food. I'm a techie nut, food...not so much. Please help me to find an online system that will help me to turn our families eating around. Kind of like a Flylady for meals? Thanks all...
posted by pearlybob to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 117 users marked this as a favorite
What you need is Savingdinner.com.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:38 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

No Take Out is also a viable option. This is especially useful when you are leaving work and realize you haven't planned for dinner, but don't want to order pizza AGAIN! There are also a lot of great recipes in the archives for when you start planning ahead.
Good luck!
posted by purpletangerine at 3:45 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Relish costs money, but I have heard good things about them (no personal experience or recommendation, though).
posted by brainmouse at 3:49 PM on June 26, 2010

Mealsmatter.org might be what you're looking for and it's free.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:50 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

We're a pretty good eating household, but thanks for asking this question....that's 3 sites right there to keep me from calling the damned pizza place again.
posted by nevercalm at 3:56 PM on June 26, 2010

Linking to an old answer of mine. It doesn't really address the desire for a techie aspect, but working with AllRecipes.com or some such, you can plan the menus, sync the shopping list to the phone, and get some sort of tablet/kitchen computer, I guess.
posted by kellyblah at 3:57 PM on June 26, 2010

Once you get some basics stocked, I find SuperCook really useful to figure out what you can make with what you have. The "Do You Have" cloud on the left side of the screen is a good starting point to figure out things you could put on your shopping list in order to be able to make more meals.
posted by emilyd22222 at 4:07 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Menus4Moms is something I subscribed to for awhile. It incorporates planning for leftovers, cooking for the freezer, and so on into meal planning. It ended up not working well for my family long-term (the types of recipes didn't always suit us well) but I got a couple of my long-term family favorites from there.
posted by not that girl at 4:09 PM on June 26, 2010

I use Dr Gourmet, but I find its two week interface sometimes a bit kludgy. What I like is that he mentions which are good as leftovers, which aren't, and which are easy to double.

That being said, after I used it for a few months, I decided to just pull recipes from his lists, copy them into a Google Docs spreadsheet (so I can see it/edit it wherever I am), and make sub-lists of food for shopping. I take about 20 minutes a week to make our weekly list.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:28 PM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: Here is a series of articles that break down developing the habit of family meals one step at a time. It's not an online program or interface, but the steps are based on good clinical nutrition experience, and work for many families.

It's important to take one small step at a time, and not to overwhelm yourself. The first real step, as the articles say, is to keep eating what you're currently eating, but do it at a set time and in a set place to establish the context of what will come later.

Then, when it comes to change WHAT you're eating, the rule of thumb is to add on, don't take away. This makes it more enjoyable to add "healthy" foods to your routine, without setting up feelings of deprivation and rebellion (particularly if there are children involved.) So, have your pizza, but sit down as if for a proper meal, and add a salad, some fruit, milk, or vegetable dish.

As you move on, you'll eventually be including all the food groups and a wider variety of dishes at each meal, which is the cornerstone of good nutrition. It also doesn't preclude having the occasional fast food meal or takeout, or hotdogs-and-potato-salad or whatever.

The overall idea is to be eating well in enough in general that your occasional flights of fancy (or convenience) don't end up undermining how well you feel.
posted by Ouisch at 4:36 PM on June 26, 2010 [7 favorites]

Eating out and eating pizza aren't that bad! Some ideas:

1. To make pizza more healthy, try some or all of these options: whole-grain crust, extra vegetables (sliced tomatoes, green peppers, and broccoli are my favourites), extra sauce instead of double cheese (extra sauce is a fat-free way to avoid dry pizza), and cutting down the amount of fatty meat on the pizza- try chicken instead of pepperoni, for instance, or even better, a vegetarian pizza.

2. When eating out: skip the bread and butter, avoid fried or "crispy" entrees- anything baked, broiled, grilled, or steamed is probably a better choice. Ask for half the usual amount of dressing on your salad. Try vegetarian entrees to lower your saturated fat levels. Drink water instead of sweetened soft drinks.

3. Aim to eat 3-5 natural colours per meal. Brown and white are easy- try to make sure you eat green, orange, yellow, red, or purple plants with your meals, too.

4. Make it a fun event to cook one simple meal a week. You'll see how easy cooking is, and it will become less intimidating.

5. When it's BBQ season where you live- grill some stuff: chicken breasts, chicken or fish kebabs, corn on the cob (just throw whole leafy cobs on the grill, then peel and eat!), asparagus or zucchini- drizzle with one teaspoon of olive oil and a little salt and pepper, then grill, etc. Easy, healthy, fun, summery.

Changing your diet is actually kind of fun and it's easier than it sounds like. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:28 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Along with the planning sites above, I would consider:

- What do you like to eat at restaurants, and can you make similar dishes at home? How can you take shortcuts to make it easier? (For example, buying pizza dough and a jar of tomato sauce for pizza). I feel like when some people try to make the transition from restaurant eating to eating at home, where they fail is planning for recipes for too-healthy things they don't actually WANT to eat. As someone else mentioned, you can always get healthier later, but for the most part most things you make at home will be healthier than restaurant food.

- Depending on your schedule, is it easier to prepare a few meals on the weekend, or cook every day? How much time do you have to cook? I sometimes, especially in the winter, like to make a couple of big things on Sunday (like a huge pot of chili and pizza dough or a loaf of bread). I LOVE freezing dinner-sized portions of meals I cook for a later date. But most of the time, I'm more of a 20 to 30 minute meal maker.

- Keep a binder of recipes you've made, unless you really don't like them. You can always replace them with better recipes as you go along, but if you're feeling lazy, it's good to have something to turn to.

- If you want to start easy, you could always make, say, Wednesday nights 'pasta at home' night and Friday nights 'pizza at home' night. Takes away the guess work.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:34 PM on June 26, 2010

Personally, I don't like following recipes and I don't like grocery shopping from a list. Luckily, after you understand the basic principles of cooking, you don't have to do either of those things. Learning how to cook means you don't need to plan meals because you know how to use what's in your fridge at any given time. It doesn't need to be difficult:

1) Get a rice cooker and make sure you always have rice. Find some rice you like and buy a huge bag of it. Steam your rice in a rice cooker and you'll get the bulk of your carbs almost effortlessly. When you don't eat rice, replace it with bread or pasta.

2) Make sure you always have fresh vegetables in the fridge. It takes practically zero knowledge to use them in salads. Be creative and don't worry too much. It's hard to screw up salad completely. For example, a pile of spinach leaves, some sliced strawberries, dried cherries, nuts, fat-free raspberry yogurt, and raspberry vinaigrette makes for a delicious salad.

3) You can steam practically any vegetable. Melt a bit of butter or drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil and they'll be both delicious and healthy. You can do this with a million different vegetables. Some examples: broccoli, green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, bell peppers, mushrooms (take out the stems and put them in upside down and you'll get a pool of flavour).

4) Always have garlic and onions on hand. Garlic and onions are the most important vegetables you can buy. Frying them in a pan or a wok with some extra virgin olive oil is how you start cooking countless dishes, from risotto to stir fry. Risotto and stir fry are both easy to make and incredibly versatile. Use recipes at first; then, after a while, experiment.

5) Prego pasta sauce is delicious, healthy, and versatile. My brother cooks in a fine dining restaurant and even he often uses it at home. It's great for pasta, and it's great for imparting flavour to things like ground beef and chicken. Just fry some ground beef, throw in some Prego and tomato paste, and you've got something that mixes well with rice, pasta, or vegetables.

Between points 2-5, you should have lots of ideas for vegetables. Eat buckets of them; they're good for you.

6) Buy meat for protein. Cooking meat is perhaps the most difficult part of cooking, but it's also the most flavourful. Use some recipes to learn about which herbs and spices go well together. Always have lots of salt and pepper at home.

Good luck!
posted by smorange at 6:51 PM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: The best way to stop eating junk is to stop wanting to eat junk. The best way to stop wanting to eat junk is to gross yourself out.

Try a food tracking & dieting site like sparkpeople.com or livestrong.com. Sign up for an account and track your eating for a week or a month. Let yourself really see what you're eating, how many calories you're getting, how few fresh fruits and veggies you're having, how much sodium you're ingesting, etc. Diarying one's food intake is really astonishing, or at least it was for me. I had had no idea that my diet was so bad.

Once you have a clear idea of what you're currently eating and what it's doing to you, you'll naturally want to stop doing it. Which will help you with the next stage, which is developing better habits.

I think 'wanting to eat better' is a great desire, but it's so hard to force yourself to do it. It's too easy to order a pizza or grab some drive-thru when you're busy and have a family to feed; what you want is to find a way to dismiss those things as options entirely and there's no better way to do that than to really understand how incredibly horrible such meals are for you and your family.

You're awesome! Best of luck!
posted by goblinbox at 7:15 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

One small thing I have been doing to get us to eat healthier is when we are eating so so food like pizza is add a salad or veggie.
Are there some raw veggies your family likes??
Have a plate of carrots, broccoli or cucumbers out while pizza is cooking.
We eat veggies AND eat less pizza because we are filing up on something healthier.

Another step is inform yourself.
It is very easy to quit soda and "juices" with sugar or HFCS.
Get 100% juice.

Also whole grains! Find a couple cereals you can tolerate that are whole grain and low sugar. Add berries or banana.
Oh and make your bread 100% whole grain.

Those are 3 pretty painless steps my family has been able to handle.

Oh and do you have a trader joe's??
One of my favorite really really easy meals is their whole grain veggie lasagna. One of those once a week is easy and healthy. And it's a microwave meal.
posted by beccaj at 7:32 PM on June 26, 2010

I think search-by-ingredient recipe sites are a goddessend, and one of the top 5 best things about the net. I use www.allrecipes.com.au, but there's a squillion others. It's the best way to use what you've already got in the kitchen instead of resorting to take-away. Environmentally friendlier too. No resource-wasting pizza delivery or burger runs.

Better use of what food we already have means less takeaway and emergency options (like breakfast cereal for dinner regularly). Between that and getting a funky water filter so our tap water is drinkable, I feel like I'm doing a half-decent job of feeding and watering the sproglets.

Being unemployed by choice for the last few months has also helped, because I now sit down at the computer with my recipe books and a cute pre-printed blank shopping list, and I plan the menu for the week. I realised earlier today that I'm saving around AU$100 a week on the grocery budget! That blew me away. (But I understand that not everyone has the luxury to be able to take the time to plan ahead and shop accordingly, and take the time to cook more food from scratch instead of using "convenience" options. Having that time has made it much easier for me to stick to it, to turn it into a habit.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 9:03 PM on June 26, 2010

Realistically, you won't be completely giving up taking your family out for dinner. Try the menu guides in Eat This Not That. They point out the best and worst items on a whole slew of popular restaurant menus. It's really useful!
posted by alight at 8:07 AM on June 27, 2010

Best answer: Michael Pollan - Food Rules - easy simple, very doable, common sense.
posted by sequin at 4:31 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of the things I did to reduce our food budget was to learn how to cook some of our favorite restaurant foods at home. Granted, I'm very spoiled and my kids love stir-fries and Thai foods and sushi rolls. It especially helped when they got interested in the food prep process. "I can use a knife and help make food?" "You bet, kid! Here's what I need you to do." "Wait, this has onions and peppers in it?" "Yup, always has." And then the light bulb went off over their heads.

I have a 30-minute (start to serve, starting with frozen ground beef) chili I make that is a family favorite; it's full of veggies and served with grated cheese, sour cream, and Scoops. Recipe is in my posting history, but I'll happily dig it up and send it to you.

Another family favorite is my white sauce pasta. Chicken, white jarred sauce with extra milk, fresh spinach finely chopped (lots of it), mushrooms, onions, garlic, black olives and whatever style pasta. It works well as a lasagna dish if you have extra time.

We still get the frozen pizzas, but we're pickier about which ones, and then we still add extra stuff to them. My husband has taught my son to love anchovies via "bachelor dinners" that involve a lot of canned fishy things like sardines. Personally, I like the mustard kind over the tomato kind. Either way, they're both high in calcium and apparently good for the environment. My daughter says she hates them, but I know that secretly she doesn't. She's just being ornery.

Salads! Kids like raw stuff better than cooked as a rule, from what I can tell. If they don't eat it all, it isn't like you're out a lot of money most of the time. Add broccoli, carrots, red bell pepper, good lettuces, maybe some boiled egg, etc.

You can do this! It will make you all happier and healthier. MeMail me anytime for easy recipes that are quick, healthy, easy, and not expensive.
posted by lilywing13 at 1:03 AM on June 28, 2010

This is a great question!

One trick for getting the family to like vegetables more is to cook them in a way that makes them tasty and, well, not smell vegetably. Roast them.

I lightly coat the veggies (asparagus, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, brussels sprouts, anything with not too much water content) with olive or canola (the "good") oil. Sprinkle with salt and/or garlic powder and other seasonings, and roast on a cookie sheet in the oven at 425 degrees until tender. They'll be brightly colored, crispier, with tinges of golden roasty goodness. And they'll avoid the kinds of "cabbagy" smells that can fill the house when you boil or steam them. And you can serve them with some kind of salad dressing as a dipping sauce.

This is my family's favorite way to cook broccoli. All my kids love broccoli now.
posted by cross_impact at 8:15 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: Another thing to consider is a family nutritionist, being as this is pretty much exactly their job. They can do everything from take you grocery shopping, set up your kitchen, teach you to cook a few meals, or just hand over a menu and recipes. It might be pricy up front, but I'm sure the savings would add up with just a few meals out.

I've also got another meal plan subscription site to recommend: Cook for Good. The focus on this site is not only healthy meals, but seasonal and inexpensive. It reminds me of flylady, she walks you through things, and breaks down tasks in a weekly and daily list. I've never purchased a subscription, but have read over their sample menus and found it useful and well organized.

As far as techy stuff, whenever I see a recipe online that I like, I print it to .pdf and keep it in a folder. This folder of .pdfs could be hosted on google docs and shared with your spouse. I also like SousChef (mac), but I find that paper usually wins out. I've got an exploding binder of recipes in the kitchen. Also non-ditital is a kitchen whiteboard. When we run out of something, take a second and write it on the board. I also keep a list of what we plan to cook on this board, as come friday or saturday you might wonder "what the heck did I buy zucchini for?".

When it's meal planing time I'll flip through that digital folder and paper binder, and find a few that I like. I'll make a shopping list with SpringPad (iPhone and Android). I can also share this list with my BF, and we can go shopping together or separately and both have an up to date list. (SpringPad can also bookmark recipes and find its ingredients to add to grocery lists, but I haven't taken the time to import my other files.)

It's important is to keep things flexible. Don't set out thinking "Monday is veggie pasta, tuesday is tacos". As a couple, the BF and I pick out 5 main dishes and 5 veggie sides a week, and aim to cook 4 servings per meal. (With leftovers for lunch.) We're aware of what dishes need to be cooked first, based on what is going to spoil faster. Other than that, we cook what meal we feel like eating that night, not what day of the week it is.

My number 1 tip is to have a meal that you can cook from your pantry or freezer with ingredients that wont spoil. Add one meal like this to your shopping list per week. A stand-by of mine is black bean burgers, with hamburger buns kept in the freezer and a frozen veg side. This is also a great meal to cook if your shopping day gets pushed back, you mess up a recipe, etc.

Also know that theres a learning curve, but you'll become more and more efficient over time. A "30 minute recipe" may take you an hour at first if you've never cooked before, but in a few weeks you'll be whipping it out in no time. Cost savings build up over time as well, with initial investment in tools and staples (like spices) pay off.

Be flexible with your self. Don't be afraid of breaking a plan, needing to improvise, or burning some food. Share the work with your family-- shopping, cooking, cleaning and planning all take time, and can all be shared duties. Having all of that on one person is going to spell disaster. And if you're a woman there is lots of sexist programing about it being your duty to keep your family healthy, being responsible for their happiness through food, etc etc. All of this is destructive, and if you're going to approach each meal with that weight on you, forget about thinking of a whole week of meals. Food is food, everything is just one step at a time, nothing will doom you forever, not even a pizza.
posted by fontophilic at 9:24 AM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you EVERYONE!! A MILLION hugs to all who contributed!! What a huge wealth of information!! I've actually cooked TWICE this week!! Salmon and steak kabobs!! And it was fun!! I found a site that I don't think anyone mentioned...Plan to Eat. 30 day free trial and 4.95 a month. It has a FB page if you want to check it out. You can load it with meals from any cooking site, plan your meals and then it sends your list to your phone. PRICELESS to me!! Please post any other tips and links that you may have...I'm reading them all. Eating well is so important and I want to do the best that I can, my children deserve it!!

Thanks all!!
posted by pearlybob at 7:28 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Awesome. I'm sure I speak for others when I say thanks for the update!
posted by smorange at 1:26 PM on June 30, 2010

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