When you’re managing meals for the whole family, it can be difficult to sustain a healthy diet for everyone. Instead of following strict diets like keto or intermittent fasting, many people have opted for calorie deficits to help them lose weight and stay healthy. However, it is difficult to track calories every day, for every meal, so is it really necessary to count calories?
It depends. While calories do matter for weight loss, the best weight loss plans actually do away with counting calories as they look at big-picture nutrition data. After all, you can have the same number of calories whether you eat a cookie versus a grilled chicken — but with a completely different impact, as they don’t contain the same nutrients. While maintaining a healthy weight is important, ensuring your meals are packed with vitamins and minerals may be more beneficial, and helps with overall caloric management. If you’re looking for alternative ways to manage calories in your family’s meals, here are some tips to consider:
Adjust according to age and health
It’s essential to remember that age and health play a large role in determining calorie intake. Children and teens require a lot of energy for their growth and development so when their calories are managed, they may form negative associations with food and weight. However, if you’re in a household with health issues relating to diabetes or eating disorders, dietary restraint may improve health outcomes. The best way to deal with any health issues is to consult a doctor for their recommended intake, allowing you to make informed decisions on how to portion food.
Incorporate your family’s favorite snacks
As someone planning meals for your family, it’s important to strike a balance between food restriction and allowance. One study on food cravings suggests that restrained eating was the most central predictor of eating behaviors and negative emotions — leading not only to cravings, but also to hunger, sadness, and loneliness — which is why it’s not a great idea to stick to a completely “junk-free” diet. You can work these findings into your meals by budgeting a certain amount of junk food in a week, while also adding healthier alternatives to replace some snacks. For example, your children may enjoy portioned chocolate bars one day and snack on trail mix, which also contain a small amount of chocolate, on other days. This way, your family can still enjoy their favorite treats without feeling overly deprived.
Use pre-portioned food
When it comes to counting calories for big meals, pre-portioned foods can help by giving exact nutritional information right on the package. Although this is not the savviest option, it can save you time and energy from trying to estimate your servings, especially when you’re busy handling other jobs or duties. These pre-portioned foods are also be available on most food tracking applications, making it easier to manage caloric intake and nutrition as a family. Some foods you can consider are chicken sausages, packets of nuts, single-serving cups of guacamole, or hummus — all of which are great additions to your family meals.
Consider meal prepping
In recent years, many people are interested in watching recipes for home-cooked meals and snacks through social media, but find it difficult to prepare their own. By blocking off a designated meal time, you can take the right step toward managing household nutrition. You can get the rest of your family involved in the process by splitting the responsibilities between members to ease the workload, which also carries the added bonus of spending time with your family. It can be challenging to commit to meal prep, but cooking food at home is the best way to stick to a consistent, wholesome diet.