On a Diet? How to Feed Your Family

We'll help you stick to your plan and cook for your gang.


There you are, nibbling dutifully on your carrot sticks, surrounded by a sea of cookies and chips. It's like being an alcoholic in a crowded bar.

Trust me, I know. A relatively new mom, I've been dieting for four weeks (eight pounds and counting!) and actually once asked my husband if I could sniff his chocolate cake.

If you're a mom who wants to lose weight, the biggest challenge is finding low-fat meals your family won't snicker at. If it's your husband who needs to shed a few pounds, you need recipes that will help convince him a healthier lifestyle is not a life sentence.

In fact, serving your family meals that are lighter and leaner is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. Today, one in five children in America is overweight and studies have shown that obese children and teens are more likely to become obese adults. Studies have shown that obesity is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and even some cancers.

The best place to start is to make a plan. Plan a week's worth of delicious, low-fat meals and then head for the grocery store. By carefully planning menus, you are more likely to stay focused when you get home tired and cranky at 5 p.m., and more likely to experiment with new recipes.

Tips and Strategies:

Rule 1: Make changes gradually. Announcing to everyone that you are going to replace their beloved steak and fries with tuna delight is not the best strategy. As supreme ruler of your house, remember these words: "What they don't know won't hurt them."

Introduce one new low-fat meal a week and start experimenting with family favorites as to ways you can slim them down. If you are drinking 2-percent milk (which has 36 percent of calories from fat), switch to 1-percent milk and finally to skim, which has no calories from fat. Use olive oil instead of butter or buy a butter-flavored nonfat cooking spray.

Try cutting ground beef by a third or half with ground white chicken meat. My toddler loves sausage and bacon for breakfast, and maybe someday I'll tell him they are made from soy and turkey.

Rule 2: Read labels. Take time to scan the labels of the foods you have been buying and see how they measure up. That bag of chips your kids love to munch may be loaded with fat. Just 20 Flamin' Hot Cheetos contain 10 grams of fat. So-called "fruit drinks," such as Fruitopia and Sunny Delight, may look like juice, but they contain only 5 to 10 percent juice and are loaded with sugar. Remember that most packaged foods labeled "low fat" are only a reduced-fat version of the original and not necessarily a healthy choice.

Rule 3: Don't make too much food. Kathleen Daelemans, chef and host of the Food Network's TV show Cooking Thin, advises people to only make enough food to feed those sitting at the table. For example, if you have four people for dinner, that means 12 to 16 ounces of meat. Daelemans knows what she is talking about. She has lost 80 pounds despite being surrounded by food all day long.

Rule 4: Crunch away the day. Make fruit and vegetables visible in your home. Seems obvious, but studies have confirmed that households that have fruits and vegetables available for meals and snacks eat more of them. Naturally low in fat and calories, fruits and veggies are full of fiber to help a dieter feel satisfied.

Another reason to crunch: Research has shown again and again that increased intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with improved health and reduced risk of major diseases. The National Cancer Institute recommends eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Rule 5: Premeditate the pantry. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with low-fat staples (chicken broth, light sour cream, low-fat mayonnaise, light margarine, applesauce, and lemon) so they are there when you need them.

Rule 6: Lay 'em in low. Buy only low-fat snacks, such as light microwave popcorn, raisins, baked potato chips, Fig Newtons, graham crackers, and real-fruit juice bars. Buy ready-make veggies and precut salad. It takes time to wash and cut and chop. Remove that excuse. Also, a healthy snack choice is right there when temptation strikes.

Rule 7: Forget family style. Heaping bowls of food on the table only beg for seconds. Serve a regular portion size from the stove and if people want seconds, they have to get up and get it.

Rule 8: Go fish. Eat more fish and do more with it. Marinate it, grill it, and top it with a low-fat chutney, mustard, or salsa made from fresh ginger or mango. Most fish are low in fat and there's a big added bonus: Fish oil contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids which help stabilize the rhythm of the heart, reducing your risk of sudden cardiac death. Salmon, sardines, mackerel, rainbow and lake trout, shellfish, yellowfin tuna, and sea bass pack a lot of omega-3s.

Rule 9: Get inspired. Invest in new cookbooks to find terrific low-fat foods your family will love; take them to bed with you and really read them. Here are a few to start with: Better Homes and Gardens Family Favorites Made Lighter (Meredith Books, 1992), The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2000), and Weight Watchers Simply the Best: 250 Prizewinning Family Recipes (John Wiley & Sons, 1999).

Rule 10: Start moving You'll get faster results from any healthy eating plan if you exercise. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise every day -- such as brisk walking, gardening, and vigorous housecleaning -- will burn daily calories as well as extra calories your body has stored as fat.

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