Improve Your Family’s Diet

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Want to improve your family’s health? Consider a change in diet.

Improve Your Family's Diet - Want to improve your family's health? Consider a change in diet.

A few years ago, on an initial visit to a new GP, my husband was told that he had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He’d had some blood work done prior to the visit, but this was the first time he’d met this doctor. Within 15 minutes of meeting him, the doctor was writing a prescription for blood pressure meds. For my 47-year old husband.

FishPapa — who wasn’t all that crunchy or health-foody (That’s my job. And my made up word.) — said, “Well, don’t you think I could try some diet changes, first?”

The doctor was stunned. Literally stunned. “Well, sure. Most people are hesitant to do that. They just want a pill.”

Wow. Just wow. Rather than try some changes in what they eat, folks were happy to take medicine. Medicine is for sick people. My husband wasn’t sick. Some numbers on a chart said he would be or could be, but he wasn’t there — yet.

He chose a different route. In fact, by eating more fruits and vegetables, increasing his whole grains, and using healthy fats, his numbers dropped dramatically as did his weight. A simple adjustment in his diet did better than a pill.

Now, I know that this is not easy for everyone and there are circumstances when medicines are called for. I don’t believe this was one of them. An improved diet was what my husband needed. I think that is the case for a lot of us.

Improve Your Family's Diet - Want to improve your family's health? Consider a change in diet.

Coconut Cashew Banana Bread

Ladies, we’ve been played.

Back in January I started a book called Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss. It took me three months to get through the book. There was so much meat to chew on in that sucker, but it was well worth it. It’s a look at “how the food giants hooked us” on processed foods and I learned a ton. Two FishBoys have finished reading it while FishPapa and FishBoy11 are currently working their way through, so it’s become a family learning activity.

On more than one occasion, I cried while reading. The attitudes that marketers and food manufacturers had/have toward women, and particularly mothers, was insulting on multiple levels. Women were/are seen as chumps. Once the brand gets their support, the battle has been won. They prey on her desire to feed her family quickly and economically when she’s desperate to get to bedtime with all her marbles.

If they can get to Johnny, they can get to Johnny’s Mommy….

Obviously, I’m generalizing a bit; not every food manufacturer is a cad, but the case was made really well that the food giants believe women can be easily duped. The thought kept running through my mind, “Ladies, we’ve been played.”

I’m not saying this as a hyper, sensational, food nutzo. I’m saying this as a mom who thought she was doing right by her kids and found out maybe she was wrong about a few things. Yogurt sounds healthy, but’s really more like dessert. Those granola bars that seem like a good thing actually have more sugar than a candy bar. Tang really wasn’t designed for astronauts, either.

My whole childhood was a lie!

Betty Crocker never existed, but she was created to battle real-life home economics teachers who were making waves, teaching housewives to cook healthy, wholesome meals from scratch. Moss writes,

To compete with the home-cooking skills being taught by Betty Dickson and the other home economics teachers, the industry wielded its very own Betty to preach the creed of convenience.

If convenience foods were healthy, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation. But, they generally aren’t. In fact, some of the food developers who Moss interviewed concede that they know the food is bad for people. Some don’t even eat it themselves. But, they claim, these things weren’t meant for everyday consumption.

Aha, there’s the rub. We’ve come to like our processed convenience foods so much, that what was meant to be an occasional treat becomes every day.

Improve Your Family's Diet - Ways to eat better and feel better

Well, I’m done.

Buying a few more organic items or making food items from scratch is just a small way that I’m trying to get back on the right track. Don’t get me wrong; we can’t afford to completely turn our diet upside down or swear off Double-Doubles for life. But, we are continuing this overhaul process on our kitchen, stepping away from the processed items and working in more whole foods which tend to be cheaper as well as healthier. Double win.

There are lots of ways for us to revamp our shopping, cooking, and eating habits — and still enjoy great meals with the people we love. All the while, in most cases, we’ll be improving our family’s health and sense of well-being.

It doesn’t have to be one way. But, I think that it’s vital for our well-being and for that of our kids for us to reconsider all those packaged items we’ve bought in the past.

I’m still in the learning stage. We’ve made good progress since the day my husband came home with his bad report from the doctor. But, we’re far from perfect. That’s okay. Perfect is not the goal. Doing better than yesterday is.

This past three months, I wrote a series on how I’m actively working to improve our family’s diet. Here are all the posts, in case you missed one or are just now tuning in.

How are you working to improve YOUR family’s diet?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Toni says

    I work on the principal that if it’s not in the cupboard we can’t eat it or drink it so, crisps, cordial and the like are rarely on hand.
    The kids get Easter eggs but tend to forget they’re in the fridge after a couple of days.
    I cook most things from scratch, none of us like bread that’s not whole grain and all prefer homemade.
    I bulk cook during school holidays and freeze. Your book has helped a lot with this. I was vegetarian when the children were born so eating veg has never been a problem in our house.
    I try to have 2 seafood, 2 meat and 3 veg main meals a week. I don’t always succeed, especially during term time when I work but we do our best and if there is something in a meal that’s not the favourite of one or other of the children I try to put it in perspective, just what is it that they like doing that that particular food helps, energy, brain, fighting colds etc

    • I think that principal is the trick: don’t let it in the house. I’m curious what kind of Easter eggs are in the fridge: chocolate or hard cooked or something else?

      • toni says

        Chocolate ggs, we’re in Australia so they need to be kept cold
        Out of sight out of mind works well with my children

  2. Sara K. says

    I read Salt, Sugar and Fat after seeing your references to it on your blogs (well ok, I had to return it to the library before I finished it, but I read enough to get a pretty clear picture of what the American diet has become). It didn’t come as a shock to me some of the tactics that advertisers use to get us to buy things we think are healthy, but I was shocked one day in the grocery store.

    My 8-year-old daughter picked up the store circular as we entered the store. She looked it over and pointed to Fruit Loops. “Mommy,” she said, “I think we should get these. I’ll eat them for breakfast”. Now, I am not a big cereal eater, I don’t buy it often, and I never buy the really sugary stuff. I told my daughter that we wouldn’t be getting those and the topic dropped. On the way home I questioned her about why she thought Fruit Loops would be a good choice. Essentially, she told me that she thought it would be healthy because it had the word “fruit” in the name. Wow. I was amazed at how easily she fell into that trap (then I remembered she is only 8!). I explained to her that the cereal didn’t contain fruit and that the company used the name to make people think it is healthy. The whole experience opened her eyes and even mine to how easy it is to believe the advertising we face every day!

    • Janet says

      Too funny. I had the same discussion with my daughter when she was little. She tried to convince me that fruit snacks were healthy since they contain fruit.

    • Yep. Glad she had that conversation with you. What a teachable moment!

  3. Yes, I do think that advertisers try to fool women. The trouble is, most of us are too trusting.

    Thanks for mentioning that book, and for getting the word out about eating in a healthy way. And congratulations to Fish Papa for standing up to the doctor!

  4. Cheri A says

    I’m adding this book to my reading list. I really wish that doctors would be retrained and get more nutritional information in school instead of how to just prescribe meds. Big Meds is not in the business of curing people at all. Your husband’s visit is just one example of that.

    I love being able to be on this food journey with like-minded people who are real. I wish I had some IRL friends who felt the same way.

  5. Meagan says

    Sat, Sugar, Fat is an excellent read. Very well researched and written. For my family, the key to improving our diet was eating most meals at home. It helps that we live in a very small town where our restaurant options are limited. We also are not at a stage of life where we’re running around from one activity to the next so I have time to spend in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking so making all meals at home is not burdensome on me, even though I work outside the home full-time. Right now, I’m working on getting the kids to eat a wider variety of veggies so we don’t suffer from side dish fatigue. I’d like to make meatless meals more regular, but still have to get my husband on board with that idea. I also want to cut back on the amount of cheese we consume. I love cheese, as do my kids, but my digestive system is beginning to disagree!

    • There’s a big chapter on cheese in the salt sugar fat book. It was really interesting how cheese moved from a course to an ingredient. If you go back 40 years cheese wasn’t in as many meals as it is now,

  6. Steph says

    The Daniel Plan is also a good resource for developing a healthy lifestyle. I haven’t made it through the whole book yet but have enjoyed it thus far.

  7. We’ve been working on improving our family’s diet for a while now. It’s been baby steps. Years ago, I started buying only “whole wheat” bread only to discover that not all “whole wheat” is the same. The next baby step was eliminating (99% of the time) high fructose corn syrup (part of my discovery during the bread quest). We’ve been pretty successful at that. Now I am primarily focused on buying “real food”. I’ve defined that as being ingredients I recognize. Ever so slowly the processed “junk” is leaving our home. Sadly, I haven’t found a reasonably priced chip for lunches (twice the price isn’t reasonable to me) that my kids and husband love.
    Just recently Thrive Life released nutritional information on many of their freeze dried foods comparing them to “fresh” at the store. That information has increased my hesitancy to buy produce at the store and to try to replace a lot of it with the freeze dried form, especially for meal prep. It’s SO nice to read the ingredients on a can of THRIVE and see just 1 ingredient for most of their products – no added colors, preservatives, salt, sugar, etc.
    And yes, I’m a Thrive Life Independent Consultant but more importantly, I’m a mom trying to feed my family healthy, delicious meals.

    • Would the fam be okay not having chips? Or having them less often? That was one of the changes I made.

  8. Susan S says

    I was in the same boat as your husband with respect to the high cholesterol. I started a healthier diet – kicked off by a Whole30 – and after two months my cholesterol had dropped 67 points!! Amazing. And I didn’t eat that poorly before. Just goes to show what some good old exercise and healthy eating can do for a person! I also have this book but am finishing up a couple of others along the same lines first. Love reading about your steps towards healthier!

  9. Sarah says

    Thanks to you we finally made the switch to plain yogurt. Not sure we really are making progress – we had pineapple upside down cake for dessert yesterday – but cake is supposed to have sugar in it, yogurt doesn’t need to.

    My husband picked up Salt, sugar, fat at the library for himself and I said, “Wait, I want to read that, Jessica Fisher mentioned this book”. I’m working my way through it now. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • I hope you like the book. I’m assuming you eat yogurt more often than cake, so you’re good. 😉

  10. Diana says

    Funny you mentioned this book today–I just finished it a couple days ago!

    My biggest complaint is how he ended the book: he didn’t really present making things from scratch as a legitimate option to buying processed foods. He seemed to be in favor of choosing less sugary, salty, and fatty processed foods instead of buying components and making your own. As I recall, he even mentioned that there’s not time to get a decent meal on the table if you get off work at 5:00. Whaaat?! 🙂 There are absolutely ways to get unprocessed foods ready to eat fairly quickly–that’s what your whole first cookbook is about, right?!

    Anyway, I really enjoyed the book and learned a LOT about a ton of different areas (thankfully I’m not usually one to be swayed by advertising anyway). I definitely will be viewing most pre-sweetened yogurt, granola bars, etc. as treats instead of convenience items now. It is fascinating to read about the interplay between companies and within companies, and how they do purposely make it hard for us to resist their products. Definitely makes me willing to spend more to support companies who are truly proud of their products instead of just proud of their products’ money-making abilities.

    I wish I had more energy to spend working in the kitchen (and cleaning up afterwards) because I love to cook and bake things from scratch! It’s definitely the best and cheapest way to get control of what goes into your food. After our baby is born in June, though, I might have more energy (but maybe no time! We’ll see… 🙂 ).

    • Interesting conclusion, I hadn’t thought about that take-away. It made me more passionate about teaching people alternatives to packaged food.

      Give yourself a lot of space right now. Every season has its priorities. Growing a baby is what you need to focus on now.

      • Diana says

        Well I hadn’t thought about your conclusion (on attitudes toward women) so I guess we’re even! 🙂 Actually, I think those things are related in some way but haven’t thought through it totally.

        Thanks! I am trying to 🙂

  11. I started reading this after you mentioned it on Twitter. I FREAKED out. Like you, the yogurt and granola bar thing really got me. I only buy plain yogurt now. I was a reasonably healthy shopper/cook before, but I’ve tweaked things a little more and I’m very honest with the family about why.

    • With three of the boys reading the book, that really helps my case. Good for you on making changes right away.

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