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Mastering meals step by step

Step one

No meals and don’t want them!

Keep in mind, we are talking about the how of eating, not the what. Meals are when you take time to eat and pay attention to your food. Family meals are when everyone sits down together and shares the same food. Meals put the sustainability and sociability into eating. If it is just you, it is nobody else’s business how you eat. But it is different if you have children. To feel secure and to eat and grow well, children depend on your providing meals and snacks at predictable times.

Why you might not want to have meals

  • You don’t enjoy mealtime food. People often eat meals for duty and eat between times for pleasure. The solution? Eat food you enjoy at mealtime. Food you enjoy is likely to be good for you.
  • You don’t want to be bothered. If you don’t bother with eating, eating will bother you! Whether you know it or not, it scares you to wait until hunger drives you to eat. It makes you grab whatever is available. Knowing you have a meal or a snack coming reassures you that you will be fed and gives you time to think about what you want to eat.
  • Meals are a drag. Were your childhood meals unpleasant? Did people scold and fight? Were you forced to eat more or different food from what you wanted? You can make different choices for yourself. You certainly don’t have to force your child to eat.
  • You don’t have time. Meals do take time. Would you take time for meals if the food were good and you could enjoy having a quiet, pleasant time? To devote time to meals, the juice has to be worth the squeeze.
  • You eat on demand: You continually ask yourself, ”Am I hungry? What am I hungry for?” Did you learn to eat this way to address out-of-control eating? Good for you! Now that you can give yourself permission to eat, why not add on structure? Knowing when you will be fed can increase your peace and comfort. It can also let you forget about eating between times.

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Step two

Get the meal habit

Everybody does better with meals. Meals are for taking care of yourself. To get started with meals, change the how first; think about the what later – lots later. Make meals your idea-don’t just offer them when hunger strikes.

How to get started

  • Eat what you are eating now. Just have it at regular meal- and snack-times.
  • Use snacks to support mealtime. Sit-down snacks between meals let you arrive at meals hungry and ready to eat.
  • Round up the family to eat together. .
  • Let your child decide what and how much to eat from what is on the table.
  • Make mealtimes pleasant. Talk and enjoy each other. Don’t scold or fight.

Yes, I really mean it

That really says eat what you are eating now. Don’t let anybody put your food on a ”bad” list. You like what you like. To feed yourself well, you need to feel good about it. Pizza makes a fine meal, so do chicken nuggets and French fries. Just have them at mealtime, sit down, and enjoy them. Put the lunch meat, bread, and mayonnaise on the table, and make the sandwich to suit you. Throw in some milk and you have a meal. If the shock of drinking milk is too great, drink what you are drinking now.

Take your time

Getting the meal habit takes a while. Remember, you don’t have to make fresh-cooked food. We are talking about structure-and structure-and structure. A meal is a meal when you use it to take care of yourself.

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Step three

Add on, don’t take away

Once you have the meal habit, you may find yourself getting tired of eating the same food all the time. Tweak your menus to make them more interesting. Don’t go too fast, or you will spoil a good thing. Make only one or two changes at a time. Add on, don’t take away. You may want to include some broccoli and ranch dressing with the pizza, or add canned peaches to the chicken nuggets and French fries. You might even want to bust out and have a new main dish. Whatever you do, don’t get caught in the shoulds and oughts. For feeding a family, be considerate of tastes and limitations without catering to their likes and dislikes. For you and your child to do well with eating, it has to be enjoyable.

How do you deal with a family that is skeptical of anything new?

  • Let eaters pick and choose from what you put on the table. They may eat only one or two foods.
  • Don’t try to please every eater with every food. Settle for providing each eater with one or two foods they generally enjoy.
  • Don’t offer substitutes or short-order cook.
  • When you introduce new foods, also offer something familiar that everyone likes and can fill up on.
  • Don’t give choices on the main dish. Always putting peanut butter or cereal on the table tells your child, ”I don’t expect you to learn to like new food.”

Use snacks to support mealtime

For you to arrive at the table hungry and ready to eat, you can’t continually consume food or drinks between times – except for water. But neither you or anyone else can  be expected to last from one meal to the next without eating, either. Help everyone comfortably last until mealtime by offering snacks at set times midway between meals.

Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family gives ideas for delicious add-ons to your same-old meals. Click for details and purchase.

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Step four


Are you getting a taste, so to speak, of the adventure of mastering meals? You have reaped the rewards of step two or step three. Now you may want to experiment with meal-planning – or you may not. It is up to you. You have already accomplished a lot. If you choose to go ahead, consider some advance planning. Know in the morning what you will have for dinner. Figure out meals a day or a few days ahead of time. Give yourself full marks for having a meal whether it is cooked from scratch, defrosted in the microwave, delivered to your door, ordered at a fast-food restaurant, or pulled out of a bag. An essential part of both eating competence and the division of responsibility in feeding is reassuring yourself and your family that you will be fed. After that, let yourself and other family members decide what and how much to eat from what is on the table.

Here are some family-friendly meal-planning tactics

  • Include all the food groups: Meat or other protein; a couple of starchy foods, fruit or vegetable or both; butter, salad dressing or gravy; and milk.
  • Always offer plenty of ”bread” or some other starch that family members like and can fill up on. That could be sliced bread, tortillas, pita, Indian flat bread, Asian pancakes or wraps, cornbread, biscuits, crackers, rice, potatoes, or pasta.
  • Remember, when you introduce new foods, also offer something familiar that everyone likes and can fill up on.
  • Include high- and low-fat food in meals and snacks. This satisfies both big and small appetites.
  • Make mealtimes pleasant. Make conversation. Don’t scold or fight. Observe a division of responsibility in feeding.
  • Regularly offer forbidden food.

If you are ready, you might want to get more organized with cooking, planning and shopping. 

Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family can help you get organized without getting caught in the food rules. Click for details and purchase. 

Is life getting too busy and step four too hard? Go back to step two or step three when you need to. Have the occasional cook’s night off, and have popcorn and cocoa in front of the television. Remember, even the most ho-hum meal is better than no meal at all.

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Step five

Avoid virtue

You do not have to eat food that sucks the happiness out of your mouth. Too often, people who get organized with meals get caught in the food rules. How do broiled chicken breasts, steamed broccoli, and a baked potato sound to you? Probably not so tasty, because they are so low in fat. But how about broiled chicken breasts, baked potato with sour cream, and raw broccoli with Ranch dressing? Fat makes food taste better and keeps you from getting hungry right away.

Most of us can’t sustain virtue

If you are feeding children, being virtuous with food simply doesn’t work. Children eat food that tastes good, not what is good for them. They depend on fat in food to make it appealing and to get enough calories.Virtue is low-fat, low-salt, low-sugar everything.

  • Virtue is eating vegetables and whole grains because they are good for you, not because you like them.
  • Virtue is being “good” and then sneaking off for rewards or relief.
  • Virtue is periodically loading up on the very foods you have been avoiding.

If you can sustain virtue, go for it!

It is your business how you eat. But if you are feeding a child, or if you are sneaking off to escape from your virtue, chill out. Reintroduce pleasure and sustainability. Drop back to level four, three, or two.

Instead of being so restrictive about what you eat, why not put your creativity and energy into getting organized with cooking, planning and shopping? Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family can show you how. Click for details and purchase. 

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Cooking, planning and shopping

Cooking, planning, and shopping are big topics. To help you get started, here are some thoughts from Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Click for details and purchase. 

Become a fast and thinking cook

In order to celebrate eating and take good care of yourself with food, you have to cook-and keep on cooking. Plan to cook from scratch, use convenience foods and convenient ingredients, or cook ahead and eat leftovers. Yes, you can cook. For a recipe to get you started, check out Tuna Noodle Casserole. Whether you are preparing meals at step two, three, or four, Secrets gives you recipes and quick food-preparation tips.

 Use planning, don’t abuse it

You are using planning when you rough out a menu for the next few days, then take 5 minutes the night before to check the menu for the next night’s dinner, get the canned goods lined up, and put the frozen vegetables toward the front of the freezer. You are using planning when you take shortcuts and make extra and use leftovers for another meal. But you are abusing planning when you make your meals complicated and pile on so much work you can’t sustain the effort. You are also abusing planning when you say, ”Oh, we shouldn’t eat that; it isn’t good for us.”

Consider your shopping strategy

Think about it, experiment, and find a way of shopping that works for you. Random grocery shopping wastes time, energy, and money and defeats your cooking endeavors. In Secrets, I suggest shopping at three different levels:

  • Every 3 to 4 weeks: Big staples shopping. This is a major shopping excursion at a grocery emporium to stock up on foods that keep, such as frozen, canned, bottled, and dry foods, cleaning supplies, and paper goods.
  • Weekly: Produce, dairy, and fresh meat for the week.
  • Quick-stop: Milk, maybe bread or bananas.

To take the trouble out of eating and put the joy back in, make feeding yourself and your family a priority.

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