Healthy Eating for All Stages of a Growing Family

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Not all healthy-eating strategies were created equal and not all work for all stages of life. Keep some of these strategies in mind to adapt your diet whether you're pre-kids, thinking about starting a family, have little ones at home, or the kids have left the nest.


When you're pregnant, weight gain can become a major preoccupation. You're eating for two! Hooray, right? Not so fast. The fact is that you only need an average of 300 extra calories daily to grow a baby. That amounts to a decaf venti soy latte and a big banana. Nonetheless, many women see pregnancy as a license to pack on the pounds. Your usual measures of weight gain are no longer reliable. Your pants are tight? Of course they are! You can't button your blouse? No surprise there. All the boundaries that have helped keep you in check have evaporated or rather, expanded.

In addition to losing your usual boundaries, you might become preoccupied with food. If you are nauseated in the early months, this becomes license to chow down big time when the nausea passes. Stay mindful and stick to the healthy diet you know (and treating yourself now and then is certainly within those rules!). 

A Note for Dad

Did you know that the average dad gains 14 pounds in the course of his partner's pregnancy? In one study, not only did the average dad pack on those extra pounds, he also added about two inches to his waistline. And of course Dad's sympathetic pregnancy doesn't disappear when the baby arrives. 

On the very bright side, being a parent is the best motivation ever for losing weight and getting into the best shape of your life. You have the most important reason you'll ever have to be healthy and energetic and an example of how to live life to the fullest.

Bringing Home Baby

If you are eager to get started on weight control immediately post-baby, that's fine. But if you don't feel motivated, give yourself a break. Let the first four weeks ride. Don't focus on your weight while your baby is settling into a routine. You will lose those pounds! The first twenty pounds will come off in time with a little effort. But right now you have to adjust to your new role as a mom and enjoy that wonderful baby.

Healthy Restart

Adding a new baby to your life is the perfect occasion to revise your own nutritional life. A great beginning is to clean up your kitchen. Toss all the unhealthy treats and snacks. Cross soda off your shopping list for good. Don't be lured into buying giant bins of sweet or salty treats at warehouses. You'll be doing your kids a huge favor if you get them off on the right nutritional track with healthy snacks of fruits and vegetables and treats like homemade popcorn. If your kids don't start out with unhealthy foods, they won't expect them. I'm not suggesting that you ban all sweets, but it's wonderful to grow up in a household that embraces healthy food and doesn't obsess about unhealthy food. 

Children and Food Issues

It's important to remember that you want your children to have healthy attitudes toward food and the best way to give them that gift is to be a good example. Your children look to you as a role model and until about the age of seven or so, they want nothing more than to be just like you. So it's important to be positive about food and eating. Get them excited about cooking and trying different foods. Remember that just because you don't like asparagus, there's no reason why your child might not love it. Keep trying to get your baby to eat healthy foods. You never know, on that thirteenth try, he may gobble it up.

Home All Day Hungries

The most important advice I have for stay-at-home parents is to try to create as much of a schedule in your day as possible. Structure is your friend when it comes to weight loss and management. No matter if you have an infant who's nursing every three hours or a three-year-old who seems to want to nibble constantly, try to eat your meals at regular times.

Avoid Food Rewards

If you're a working parent, it's oh so easy to become the "treatmaster." You feel guilty for working and not spending every moment with your child, so you want to coax a big smile out of your child with a cupcake or a secret stash of soda. And if they don't finish their treat, you get the double pleasure of being the hero and eating the treat. This is bad for everyone. You introduce an unhealthy eating pattern for both you and your child. Don't keep these secret treats around and then you can't rely on them. Instead, just spend some quality time, giving your child your undivided attention. A game of peek-a-boo or reading a book together is calorie free and ultimately more satisfying than any food treat.

Manage Children's Birthday Parties and Holidays

Childhood is a festival, and it should be, but try to make the focus of holidays more than food and make holiday food reasonably healthy. Slim down that traditional cheesy green bean casserole. Put a time limit on holidays. Buy Halloween candy the morning of Halloween so you aren't picking on candy for a month.

At birthday parties, make rules for yourself. Don't nibble through two or three parties a month. My advice? Skip the cake and go with the pizza (or whatever is being served for the meal). Cake can make you slide into a devastating plunge, so enjoy your one slice of pizza and be done with it. If you know there is no way you can control yourself around pizza or cake, have a meal before the party so that you're full when you get there, and spend your time blowing up balloons, drinking water and breaking up toddler fights.

The Empty Nest

When the kids are gone, eating well can become easier in many respects. You don't need to stock the treats and carbs that the kids enjoy, and you usually can prepare lighter meals. But sometimes the loneliness of the empty nest can trigger emotional eating, and sometimes the changed and perhaps reduced structure of your days can trigger boredom binging. Try to retain some of the structure you've were already following. Find yourself going out to eat more? Check out my universal dining out tips here.

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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