New Year, to many of us, means new resolutions. Some are for us, the grown-ups, such as working out at the gym. Others are for our children, that we’ll spend more quality time with them, for example. When it comes to resolutions we can make, few can impact on as many areas of our life as eating well. From keeping the whole family’s energy levels at their peak to helping our children learn and play at kindy, good nutrition can benefit all the family.
The trick with New Year’s resolutions is finding a way to stick to them for long enough that they become a habit. While we all start with the best of intentions, Professor Richard Wiseman, of the Psychology Department at the UK’s University of Hertfordshire, found that a staggering 88% of people who made a New Year’s resolution had not been able to stick to it one year later. While this seems dispiriting, the study did also pinpoint ways to help us succeed with resolutions. Read on for a step-by-step guide to boosting your family’s nutrition for 2023.
Where to start
Many of us know very well where the glitches are in our children’s or our own eating patterns. A great place to start is by making a list of areas you’d like to improve. If you’re having trouble thinking of areas to work on, here are a few ideas:
- Are most of the family’s snacks healthy?
- Would you like your children to eat more home-cooked meals?
- Do you feel it would be good for your family to eat less high-fat and high-sugar foods?
- Would it be good to encourage your children to drink milk or water rather than sweet drinks?
- Do you all enjoy some active time on most days of the week?
- Are you and your children enjoying a range of fruit and vegetables?
- Is your family eating a meal containing oil-rich fish, such as salmon or sardines, each week?
- Would you like to grow some vegetables with your children (even starting with a few bean seeds in a small pot)?
You might feel very keen to get started ASAP, but I would suggest waiting until the holiday food is out of the house and you are back to the usual routine of work, childcare, school, and other activities.
Once you’ve made a list of areas you would like to improve, think about what you would like to tackle first. Trying to overhaul your (or your kids’) diet all at once really reduces the chance of success. Instead, make changes one step at a time. Work on making them a habit before making more changes. So take your list and put it in order of which changes you think are most important. Or you might even start with the easiest because the sense of achievement you get after making even the simplest change can spur you on to make further changes.
A 4-step plan for success
A great first step with any goal is to make it realistic and achievable. Take the case of a toddler who is resistant to eating any vegetables at all and usually eats none. There’s much more chance of success with a resolution to eat just a half serving of veg a day than by aiming to increase all the way to two to three servings of veg every day. And half a serving is just so much better than none. Increasing the amount again can be a resolution for another month.
A second key to success is to make goals very specific, planning all the details such as how, when, and where you will make the changes. For example, rather than simply making a resolution that you will give your children more fruit, plan to offer chopped fresh fruit every evening for dessert. And instead of just making a resolution to offer more home-cooked meals, make sure the ingredients will be ready in the fridge. Plan times to think about what to cook and make a shopping list, and actually buy the food. Gentlemen, this detail-oriented approach is particularly important for you. Professor Wiseman’s research showed an extra 22% of men achieved their goals when they set them out very specifically.
As a third point, if you are making a resolution that involves eating less of something, for example, unhealthy snacks, keep in mind that you may need to add something to replace it. For example, if you plan to cut down on biscuits children are eating, you’ll need to have a more nutritious snack on hand to offer. Maybe some chopped fruit or hummus and breadsticks.
One last step: Ladies, tell your friends about the goal you are setting – Professor Wiseman discovered that women significantly increased their chances of success if they told their family or friends about their goal. This may be due to the support they gained, or possibly the fact that they may be hassled about it later!
Stick to it
While a new year’s resolution may seem simple enough on paper, it can be much more challenging to stick to when riding the ups and downs of real life. After one or two slip-ups, it can be easy to believe that we’ve failed, and that there’s no point in continuing. Professor Wiseman’s studies have found that women were particularly susceptible to this. For anyone who is feeling that they are having a setback, this can be the perfect time to go back to that goal and look at how far you have come – remember that any improvement is a sign of success and can lead to long-term health benefits.
Evaluation and celebration
The word ‘evaluation’ is more likely to make us think of workplace performance reviews than our family’s health and may be something we dread. However, it is imperative if we want to be sure our changes have worked and to get that warm inner glow of satisfaction. You might want to mark a date on your calendar, perhaps 3 weeks or even 3 months into the future. Just knowing you are going to check up on yourself will help you to stick to your goal. For an even bigger incentive, ask a friend to check up on you, and to mark the date on her calendar.
Children may need a bit more visible evidence of success than this – a sticker chart is ideal, whether it is a sticker for each serving of fruit and veg or maybe for every 15 minutes of active play. If your goal is family cooking or growing vegetables, you could even stick photos of your children’s growing plants or homemade food on the fridge each week. And there’s no rule against adults keeping track of their own progress with a sticker for each serving of dairy foods, or for feeding their baby home-cooked pureed meal.
The last, and most enjoyable, step is to reward yourself and your family for the changes you have all made. Look for a reward that is not an unhealthy food. It may be a desirable magazine for you or your children, a sticker book to reward the children, or a special family outing. Even a dedicated hour of your time to do just what your youngsters want, whether it’s dress ups or a favourite game, or a craft activity, can be the least expensive but most ‘rewarding’ treat for all of you.
For more information:
- For trustworthy advice on children’s nutrition, check out the Dietitian’s Association of Australia website
- For information on how many serves of each food group different members of the family should aim for, see here
- To find out how much of each food is in a serving, see here
- And you can learn more tips from the New Year’s Resolution research here
©Fiona Hinton 2022
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: Please note that this blog is for general information only, and should not be taken as a substitute for qualified medical advice. Please discuss medical issues with your child’s doctor before taking any action.
About Fiona: Fiona Hinton is a dietitian, but describes herself as a nutrition translator, taking the science of nutrition and translating it into foods we love to eat, to nourish both body and soul. She has over 20 years of experience as a dietitian, working in a wide range of areas from hospital wards to running her own private practice. Fiona has a special interest in children’s nutrition. As a mum of three school-age boys, she has first-hand experience of the issues associated with feeding young children, such as weaning and fussiness. Fiona specialises in real-life strategies and practical suggestions to convert nutrition advice into food kids will eat. Fiona has collaborated on several books, including one with best-selling children’s food writer Annabel Karmel, as well as training childcare staff in children’s nutrition.