I’m not sure if this is surprising or not, but this goal – eat a variety of foods – is actually the hardest one for me to implement in my house. Introducing new foods can be met with skepticism (or outright displeasure or disgust) and personally I find it frustrating to spend time making a meal to have everyone turn their noses up at it. Eating a variety of foods also means that I have to continually plan, experiment, and test recipes which requires time and energy.
But this goal is also one of the most important to me. I know that maintaining a varied diet is one of the surest ways to support health, and it helps reduce the likelihood of falling into food ruts or eating behaviors that can be very difficult to break. Plus, encouraging them to taste new foods makes achieving this goal a little easier.
Here are a few simple strategies I’ve found to be particularly useful for encouraging all of us to have a varied diet:
- No repeats. One of the easiest ways I know to encourage a variety of foods is to not eat the same thing two days in a row. This is hardest for me to stick to at breakfast – I’m usually still on my first cup of coffee and not interested in fighting over the morning meal and/or I’m in the process of preparing everyone’s snacks and lunch and would rather just go for something simple (aka cereal, again) than be creative. Interestingly, it was really easy for me to stand by our “if you ate it yesterday for breakfast than you have to have something else today” rule when I was accountable to the world – or at least my 5 readers – every morning during our #365daysofbreakfast experiment.
- Switch the meal. If you or your kids are particularly resistant to new foods, you can simplify this rule by not offering the same food at the same meal. So, if it’s too hard on your son to not eat toast in the morning, as it can be for a certain 3 year old that I know, then have toast for breakfast one day and afternoon snack the next. Even this simple swap can help get you and your kids out of the “same ol'” habit.
- Shop sales. Shopping the sale items – particularly for fresh foods – can help increase the variety of foods you’re family is consuming. This can make meal planning slightly more challenging, however, so you may find yourself doing that on the fly or making a second trip to the store for missing items.
- Eat Seasonally. Shopping what is in season – either from a farmers’ market, farm stand, your backyard garden, or from the supermarket – makes it easier to eat a variety of foods. When eating this way, variety is achieved over a longer time frame (like, over the course of a whole year) and through the use of new and creative ways for consuming the same food (how many different can you find to prepare zucchini?). One of the great things about eating seasonally is that foods are generally picked and consumed at their peak flavor, so they taste wonderful. (I find this to be especially true for tomatoes.)
- Same food, different brand. Similar to shopping sales in the fruit & vegetable isle, you can look for different brands/varieties/sales in other sections of the store too. We usually have at least one type of cracker in our house, but I try hard to mix up which crackers, specifically, we have on any given week. If we bought Cheddar Bunnies last week, then they are not likely to make it into our cart again this time around.