It’s one thing to make healthy food choices for yourself. It’s an entirely different experience to incorporate those food choices into your family’s daily life.
One Drop coach and mother, Danica, registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), licensed dietitian (LD), and certified nutrition support clinician (CNSC), came on the Life Without Limits podcast to talk about how to get everyone—even young children—on board with making healthy food choices.
“It can take many exposures for a kid to learn to like something,” she says. “Getting kids involved in preparing food can be helpful. For example, bringing them to the grocery store. Say ‘Hey, why don’t you pick out one fruit and one vegetable for the week? Let’s talk about how we’re going to incorporate that into a meal or into packing your lunch.’ That might make them more likely to eat something if they can recognize it and know, start to finish, where it came from.”
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Kim Constantinesco: Welcome to the Life Without Limits podcast, the One Drop podcast that explores health and habits straight from the lens of experts. I’m your host, Kim Constantinesco, and we’re super fortunate to have One Drop coach Danica on the show today. We’re talking with her about how to make healthy food choices a family affair. Welcome, Danica. Thanks so much for coming on.
Danica: Thank you so much for having me, Kim. I’m excited to be here.
Kim Constantinesco: So, Danica, tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to become a clinical health coach.
Danica: Great. Yeah. So I have always pretty much had a passion for nutrition. It started kind of early on in my younger years being in – brought up in a home where cooking was fun and family involvement was encouraged. And I went down the path of becoming a registered dietician, which I’ve been for the last ten years, and have just always had that interest and passion for nutrition and helping people, helping individuals improve their health and managing their chronic conditions.
And I spent most of my career working with people who have been faced with complications as a result of their chronic disease and just kind of felt like something was missing that maybe with a touch point earlier on, you know, after their diagnosis or even before diagnosis the complications could’ve been prevented, and these folks could be more confidently managing their conditions. And I just knew that, you know, I wanted to take more of that proactive approach when it comes to health and wellness, and so that actually brought me to my position now as a One Drop clinical health coach, and I really have just enjoyed building relationships with people and – that I work with and helping them find their own and improving their health.
Kim Constantinesco: And I know from working with you that you are incredibly passionate about your job, about helping people. What is it that you enjoy most about your job as a clinical health coach at One Drop?
Danica: I really love just connecting with people and helping them find their own unique way, so not one person has the same path, so I just really enjoyed working alongside people as they’re figuring out what does work for them. Is it a small change? Is it a big change? What does that look like for them? And getting that joy of being able to share in those little victories with people has just really been fulfilling, and when you’re helping someone achieve something like bettering their own health, you know, there’s no price for that. The effects of that are going to be lasting, and so I’ve just really enjoyed making that connection with people and helping them see through what is the vision of their life look like when they are healthier and getting them to that point.
Kim Constantinesco: And with you being a registered dietician and also a mother, let’s talk about food and household preferences. I think it often goes unnoticed that a person’s household for better or for worse can impact food choices and in turn health goals. So, for example, if you’re trying to incorporate more vegetables into your dinners and your family doesn’t like vegetables, it can be more challenging for you to follow through perhaps on buying and preparing vegetables. Can you talk a little bit about this phenomenon?
Danica: Absolutely. So any time there are dietary changes in the household, it’s going to affect everybody, everybody in the family, you know, regardless of age. I like to think of, you know, adults are sometimes just big kids, and kids are just little adults. So everyone has their preferences, and a lot of that is shaped by what they’re used to and what they’re comfortable with eating, so whether you’ve got a five-year-old that has never eaten broccoli or a 55-year-old that never has, it’s going to be an unfamiliar and probably not that appealing food at first. So I’ve worked with people over the years that really do regard this as one of the biggest barriers and challenges to making healthier food choices, and it can be really discouraging to cook something that you know others are not going to eat, even though you’re just trying to better your own health.
So it definitely does come with its challenges, but I think just having that patience, having those conversations with your family members and being open with it, you know, even being open about the challenges, saying, “You know, this is really hard for me to cook this way and know that it’s not helping my own health,” you know, having those frank conversations and just getting the family involved in those choices. You don’t want to just one day say, “Oh, we’re going to have this whole new meal that you’ve never had before, and, you know, good luck.” You know, talk about what those changes are that you are hoping to make, and try to take it one step at a time, one day at a time, whether that’s just adding in, you know, another side dish or incorporating – for your example of incorporating more vegetables, maybe you incorporate it into a dish, you know, rather than just serving it on the side.
Just trying to find that happy medium where everyone can be informed about what’s going on and maybe even have some input too, just kind of giving everyone in the family a chance to talk about what does that mean for them, what does that look like, how can they help, you know, can they do the grocery shopping with you, can they, you know, help prepare the meal? You know, giving everyone a chance to, you know, have some of that autonomy and being able to be involved in those choices can make it not such a challenging situation, at least not every meal.
Kim Constantinesco: Well, that makes so much sense around, you know, just having that transparency, having those open, honest conversations with the people in your household rather than just kind of bulldozing forward with the changes you’re trying to make and then dealing with the reactions later, so that makes a lot of sense.
So I want to talk specifically about how to get others in your household on board as you’re trying to make food choices that align with your own health goals, specifically young children. Do you have specific strategies around how to get aligned with young children, how to get them aligned with you and the changes that you’re making?
Danica: Yeah. I think, again, with the, you know, transparency and communication, I think that – at least it sets up a good foundation because not only do you want your family, your children specifically to learn to like healthy foods, you know, they have to know what that food looks like, you know, what the texture is. When it’s prepared different ways, what are the different floors they’re going to expect? And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to like all of those foods, at least not the first time.
Sometimes it can take many, many, many exposures for a kid to, you know, really accept a new food that, you know, they’re not used to and that maybe is not as appealing as, you know, a starch or a piece of fruit, so, you know, just communicating with them. Why are you incorporating this food into their diet? Why is it a healthy food for them to have? You know, what are some of the benefits?
You know, just like, you know, I would challenge any person to for themselves know why they’re choosing a healthy food, what nutritional benefits are there for them. Their kids, at least on a more elementary level of that – you know, they don’t necessarily have to know the different nutrients that are involved but, you know, can this make your bones stronger? Can it make you see better? You know, getting that vitamin A, you can see better. So just even kind of those very baseline little tips to help them understand why these foods are good for them is helpful and also trial and error.
Like I said, it can take many exposures for a kid to learn to like something but just understanding that it could take multiple reps before they will accept it. And you might have to try different preparations, something in a dish, something on its own, something raw, something steamed versus roasted. You’re going to get different flavors, so, you know, they might like it one way and not another way, at least at first, so, you know, just being okay with trying a few different ways.
And like I said, also getting kids involved can be helpful, going to the grocery store with them. “Hey, why don’t you pick out one fruit and one vegetable for the week? And let’s talk about how we’re going to incorporate that into a meal or into packing your lunch or having as a snack.” So letting them kind of be involved in that process and maybe having them, you know, rinse the berries or getting kid-safe knives and having them help chop the veggies. Those are different ways that they can kind of be involved in the process, and that might make them more likely to eat something if they can recognize it and know from, you know, kind of start to finish where it came from.
Obviously, you can certainly sneak vegetables into dishes, whether it’s a smoothie or baked goods or adding veggies into, you know, your pasta sauce. There are some ways that you can just get the veggies or get, you know, other nutritious foods in without them knowing, but that ultimately doesn’t set them up for liking it down the road because if they don’t know what it tastes like or looks like on its own, they’re not going to be as likely to go for that another time that they’re presented with it.
Kim Constantinesco: And I know you’re a mother yourself, so tell us a little bit about your own experiences and what eating approach you tend to lean into with your own family and, you know, getting your kids involved.
Danica: So with my approach, you know, there’s no perfection when it comes to feeding kids. It’s, you know, different personalities and preferences. It’s not perfect every day. That’s certainly for sure, so I definitely have learned a lot of patience along the way with, you know, understanding that one day they might eat something, and the next day they won’t. That doesn’t mean that you can never serve that food again. It just means maybe give it a couple days and try again because especially as children are growing, they’re trying to assert their independence and making those choices for themselves, and they’re allowed to do that.
I’ve actually – something that has really resonated with me as a parent is the Ellyn Satter's division of responsibilities for eating, and with that, the parent is responsible for what is being served and also when and where the child is fed, and then the child is able to decide and is responsible for how much and whether they’re going to eat what is being offered. So, you know, trying to take out some of the battle around mealtime is, you know, offering things that I will expect my kids to eat, you know, things that would be considered more safe foods, things I know that I like, and then whether or not they choose to eat everything else, that’s going to be up to them, so not – go only by what I think that they’re going to eat, trying to offer some of those foods but also knowing that they should still be able to eat the foods that I’m preparing for the whole family.
So have that division of responsibility and then also just getting involved and talking about food, and even though sometimes it takes a little bit longer and is a little bit messier, that hands-on approach of, you know, knowing where food is coming from and helping with the preparation can make a really big difference in my experience with how foods are being accepted. You know, I have a garden at home, and, you know, when kids are seeing how the food is grown and bringing it in and washing it and helping prep it, it makes it a little bit more of an experience. And with that experience generally brings a little bit more of a willingness to participate in eating those foods that are a little bit healthier. So definitely striving for perfection is not part of the equation but, you know, just having that patience and, you know, that communication and, you know, just continuing to try but not going to, you know, force anything that they’re not willing to eat.
Kim Constantinesco: And I love that approach, what you just mentioned about, you know, ultimately the parents are the ones deciding kind of what’s being served on the table, but it’s the kids who are determining how much to eat and exactly what to eat, so you ultimately have that control, but you’re giving the kids a perceived level of control.
Danica: Absolutely. And another thing with that is you don’t necessarily – you’re not necessarily always going to see the fruits of your labor at that point in time. You know, sometimes it takes kids a while to process what they’re being introduced to, and you may not necessarily see that right then and there. “Oh, I told them about this healthy food. I served it.” They may not have necessarily eaten it consistently, but maybe that will resonate with them in a few years down the road. Or when they’re on their own, independent, they will, hopefully, be much more appreciative of I know what these foods are, I know what it takes to healthy food in my diet, and I have a little bit more of an understanding of those foods, and they’re more familiar so that ultimately down the road they at least have some of those tools available to them to incorporate those healthy habits into their lifestyle. Whether or not they, you know, fought you a little bit more about it in their youth, you know, they are at least going to have a little bit more of an understanding and some more familiarity around healthy foods.
Kim Constantinesco: Mm. That’s a great point about that possible delayed benefit, so you may not see the immediate benefit of a child taking to a food right away or a certain type of eating approach, but it could play a role down the line, which is fantastic. So having kids at home can perhaps lead to cupboards that are filled with more treats than if it were only adults in the house, so what strategies can you lend to our community that might help with stocking kitchens with more healthy options that people of all ages can enjoy?
Danica: Yeah. I think also looking at healthier alternatives for things that you already enjoy. You know, if there’s a cracker or some sort of crunchy snack that your family enjoys, trying to find a healthier alternative, you know, trying to find maybe a whole grain option or maybe, you know, being a little bit more mindful about reading those labels and looking for, you know, the sodium and sugar content of items and just trying to – you know, the first step might be looking for a slightly healthier alternative to have available in the home.
And then another option would also be trying to swap for like foods, so if, you know, the go-to is maybe like a sweet treat, trying to choose a fruit or something as a snack alternative that is still playing into those tastebuds and giving that sweet taste but is not going to be something that has a bunch of added sugar in it, so trying to stick with maybe some more like food alternatives and also just trying to find some healthier options for some of the things that you may already be keeping in the home.
But knowing that, you know, just going in a pantry binge and tossing everything is and inserting new healthy items is probably not going to be the best way to have the family be happy with those changes, so again, maybe just making one swap at a time, you know, this grocery run. And then maybe the next grocery run or in a couple weeks, you know, try to swap for something else, or, you know, when something runs out, maybe not always restocking that same item and, you know, having conversations about why some foods need to be around all the time, why some foods don’t necessarily need to be around all the time. But you want foods to not feel like they’re completely off limits or that anyone was doing anything wrong because you’ll start to think about the relationship to food.
But just kind of talking about what are some foods that you have more often and some foods that you may not necessarily need to have as often, or, you know, “Hey, it’s not on the menu this week. We’re going to try this option, and maybe next week, we’ll have that other snack available if you want it.” You know, sometimes it’s just giving those options, but, you know, understanding the communication aspect still can play an important role.
Kim Constantinesco: Well, and what you just mentioned about tastebuds being so different among people within a given household – you know, I know a lot of families that get caught up in the world of making two separate meals or more so that everyone is happy and satisfied. Do you have any insight into how a family can steer itself away from cooking two separate meals and provide one meal that, hopefully, satisfies everyone?
Danica: Yeah. That’s definitely something that in my experience I’ve heard about time and time again is I’m making a meal for me and then one for my spouse and then one for my kids, and, you know, you’re just kind of a short order cook for whoever is the one in the house that does more of the cooking. So what I usually encourage is try to find some sort of common ground maybe with at least one ingredient, whether that’s the main ingredient or a side dish, you know, trying to find something that can at least somewhat appeal to the group as a whole and then maybe having some options that can be added on. And this is when techniques like meal prep can be really helpful if you have, like, a protein already prepared, you know, in a more simple matter, then you can – you know, okay, maybe this person wants a certain condiment or, you know, wants a different side to go with it. Just trying to at least find some sort of common ground in one main ingredient or side or something like that.
And then another thing is just to offer a safe food for those individuals in your family that, you know, may be a little bit more particular about their preferences. So, you know, if you know that you’re serving a dish that family member may just be picking out certain ingredients from, you know, that that can be okay too, that they might not necessarily have to like everything that is being served. But, you know, they can also still get filled up with the meal with some sort of safe food, whether that’s, you know, the fruit or a side dish that’s being offered.
You know, have something that’s a little bit more familiar if you know that the dish as a whole is not necessarily going to be something that appeals to everybody but trying to find at least a common ground and then trying to also at least serve a safe food but not necessarily three different meals but at least having, like, a side dish or something that you know that the family member can get at least some satisfaction from the meal from. And then if they need to pick around the other things, you know, it might actually help them to be more willing to try it because if they’re hungry, they might be more willing to try something new.
Kim Constantinesco: These are some great tips for inside the home, Danica. I do want to touch a bit on when a household is outside of the home. So traveling with a family and ensuring you stick to food choices that benefit your health can be really, really tough, so tell us how someone can stay on track while away from home and traveling with family or with your household.
Danica: One simple thing that you can do to kind of get started would be to pack what you can if you know that you are going to have room in your luggage or if you’re doing a road trip, if you can pack a cooler, you know, having some options available that you know are within your dietary limitations or preferences. You know, packing what you can can be helpful at least to get you started for that first – you know, that day of travel or, you know, the first couple of days having, you know, healthy snack options if you know you’re going to be kind of relying a little bit more on being on the go, so that can be helpful.
If you are planning your trip and you know that you have the option to have access to a kitchen or even a mini fridge, that can also help with some planning because you can go to a grocery store and stock up on a few healthy items, and also, you know, whether that’s refrigerated items or even some shelf-stable items, you can pick out a few things that you know can at least get you by for having some snacks or at least one meal where you’re not necessarily having to dine out.
Also, you can – you know, if you have a little bit of time to prepare for the trip and research maybe what some of the restaurants are in the area, you can kind of start to look at those menus and kind of have a game plan of where are some places you might want to go to, not necessarily planning out every single meal because that’s not necessarily, you know, something people want to do or is very feasible for everybody but, you know, just kind of having some general ideas of what are some options you might be able to have if you have access to a kitchen or the restaurants that might be nearby so you know that you might be able to have some options that could be accommodating to your preferences.
But also just knowing that sometimes traveling is meant to be a time where you have to be a little bit more flexible and know that if you have a little bit more of an established healthier routine at home, you can definitely go back to that after your travels. Sometimes when you are traveling, that’s kind of part of the fun is being a little bit more flexible and having, you know, that time where you can try new foods or explore different cultures, different cuisines, things like that. But if you know that you have that healthy routine, that base that you can come home too, you can definitely get back to that as well.
Kim Constantinesco: Well, and it gets back to that point of, you know, really striving for making that next best decision in the moment versus always trying to strive for perfection in your eating approach.
Kim Constantinesco: Okay. So, Danica, if you can leave listeners with one last piece of advice around how to change food habits among a full household of people, what would you say?
Danica: I would say that my biggest takeaway would be to give yourself and your family grace when it comes to trying new foods and incorporating healthier habits into your routine. So just like with being a health coach, I don’t expect those that I work with to make drastic overnight changes or, you know, to completely change everything and never go back to foods that they enjoy. You know, it’s about finding new things and taking it one day at a time and making those little changes that really do add up over time, so give yourself grace, know that it might take some time. But with all good things, you got to be patient, and you just have to take it one step at a time, and, you know, hopefully you’ll be able to see everyone in your family being able to have that support and those healthy changes that you’re trying to make as well.
Kim Constantinesco: Danica, thank you so much for not only coming on but sharing your experience with us as it relates to your own family. It’s been so great to talk with you.
Danica: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for the opportunity. It’s been fun.
Kim Constantinesco: Keep it here for more episodes of the Life Without Limits podcast and more health experts ready to dish their top strategies for helping you make changes to your health and to your life. We’re in this together.
Host: Thank you for listening to Life Without Limits. If you like this episode, tell a friend. We’re here to help you take back your time, power, and life so you can live to your fullest potential.