You want your family to eat healthy so you’ve tried to add more vegetables to their meals, cut down on the processed, packaged snacks and cut back on sugar.
Trying to get your kids to eat healthy is challenging enough but when your spouse still brings junk food into the house, orders take-out when he’s on dinner duty and doesn’t serve your kids vegetables, it can make it that much harder.
It turns out this is a real problem for families in the U.S. A recent small study published in the journal Appetite shows families say dad’s eating habits were less healthy than mom’s.
So how can you make sure you and your kids eat healthy when your spouse doesn’t?
Here are some strategies to try.
1. Fight fair
When it comes to talking to your spouse about any type of conflict or difficult subject, you probably already know that using “I” statements instead of “you” statements is a good idea. Saying “I think” or “I feel” takes the blame off your partner so he doesn’t feel defensive.
When you broach the food conversation, instead of saying, “you always bring junk food into the house,” explain, “I really want our kids to eat healthy because insert your reasons. What can we do to make this happen?”
2. Lead by example
Do your best to make eating healthy a priority for yourself and your kids, whether dad is on board or not. Make a salad for lunch and share it with your kids, cook healthy meals and prepare healthy snacks, and find ways to lighten up your family’s favorite dishes.
3. Work together
Getting your kids excited about eating healthy will help them understand that’s what your family does, even if dad doesn’t. Depending on your kids’ ages, bring them grocery shopping and let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try, let them help you prepare and cook meals, or pick out new healthy recipes you can make together. The more they feel a part of the meal planning process, the more likely they’ll want to eat healthy.
4. Set boundaries
If your spouse buys cookies, chips, and other unhealthy snacks, store them in the pantry, maybe even in a small container, instead of on the kitchen counter. Of course your kids will know they’re there, but you want to encourage them to grab for a piece of fruit instead that’s in the front of the refrigerator.
5. Share meals together
You don’t have to eat dinner together every night but sharing meals together—whether it’s breakfast every morning or Sunday brunch—is one of the best ways to ensure your kids will always be healthy eaters.
In fact, according to a study out of the University of Illinois, children and teens who share 3 or more meals a week with their families eat healthier and are more likely to have a healthier weight than those who don’t.
6. Make small changes
If you make small, gradual changes each week rather than overhauling their entire diet, there’s a better chance of getting everyone in the family on board. Although they might not love swapping spiralized veggies for pasta, try upgrading sugary cereal for rolled oats with fresh fruit and nuts, or serving fish instead of meat, for example.
If your spouse has been eating unhealthy for most of his life, it’s going to be difficult for him to make changes. If he understands why it’s so important however, he’ll be more willing to help although it might take a bit of negotiation. He still might order in pizza when you’re out, but maybe he’ll agree to eat those chips at work instead.
8. Be patient
You might not convert your spouse overnight, but if you stick with it, he may come around. If all you can do is eat healthy yourself and get your kids to eat healthy, it’s still a major win.