Do Your Family Meals Make it Hard to be Healthy?

What is it with January? Is there any other month you can think of where there is so much pressure to perform?

Did you make your New Year’s resolutions? Have you foregone all booze for Dry January? Have you cut out every last scrap of meat to join in with Veganuary? And it’s not just about what you don’t eat or drink. Are you going for a walk, come rain, hail or snow, racking up your magical 10,000 steps each day? What about yoga? Meditation?

The New Year ushers in so many ‘opportunities’ to create a NEW YOU but it would be crazy to try and do it all.

But what if you DON’T want to join in with the January fitness frenzy, but you DO want to improve your health?

Now with gyms closed and more time spent at home, ‘eating more healthily’ may be on your mind. Naturally, for the long term, not just 3 or 4 weeks. Perhaps you’ve considered eating more plant foods, more protein, fewer carbs, meal replacement shakes, or intermittent fasting, Maybe you’ve chosen the change with the greatest appeal and already started to give things a go.

Oddly enough, there’s one everyday event that can throw a spanner in the works and even derail your plans. I’m thinking of family meals. If your intentions are set and you have a desire to improve your health, this is something you’ll want to consider too.

Will eating dinner with your family actually make it hard for you to be healthy?


Surely changing how you eat to improve your health should be simple. You imagine that once you’ve decided WHAT you’ll be doing, next on your list is finding ways to address your old habits and replace them with new ones. Then you’re on your way to success.

But in reality it’s very different. When other people have a say in what gets cooked and served at dinner time, you have to consider their habits as well. That’s why, when it comes to eating meals with your family, you’ll need to factor in the answers to the following questions:

Will you do the shopping? 

Will you do the cooking?

Are you eating with other adults?

Are you eating with your kids?

If you answered No, No, Yes and YES! this is what it could mean for you.

  • Will you do the shopping?
  • Will you do the cooking?

If you don’t get to influence what is being bought or how it is cooked, the foods you really want to eat might never appear on your plate.

  • Are you eating with other adults?

If you eat meals as a family, you want to cater for everyone’s tastebuds, so you’ll probably eat what everyone else does so nothing goes to waste.

  • Are you eating with your kids?

If you eat meals with your kids you won’t want your food to look too special or be too different, so once again you’ll be more likely to eat the same foods as them. (I mean, do you really want to open up a whole can of worms about likes and dislikes and face the dinner table battles about what they will and won’t eat?)


I understand why your efforts to eat healthily can quickly be derailed. However, there are several ways to side step the potential stumbling blocks using the following ideas.

1. Know WHO is on your team

Even though you know exactly WHAT you’ll be doing (like eating less meat, or eating fewer carbs and wheat, or drinking shakes, or maybe intermittent fasting), you’re probably not in this alone. You’ll need someone in your household to be on your team.

WHO has got your back? 

Ideally this will be the person who cooks the meals and dishes them out. I’m not suggesting they’ll need to be responsible for you, or that you’ll need to be accountable to them. They’ll just be someone who knows of your plans and thinks, “Yes, sure I can help”. So they’ll remember to cook some vegetables for dinner, or give you a serving size that meets your needs. Or even better, they’ll let you help yourself so you can choose what you want to eat.

But, if this really won’t happen when you’re eating together as a famly, then that’s just one of those things. I suggest you don’t waste energy fighting a losing battle. Instead, focus on making your other meals exactly how you wish them to be.

2. Go for 80% – it’s good enough

This next suggestion is useful as it gives you a bit of breathing room. It also helps keep your plans realistic, adaptable, and most importantly family friendly.

Apply this thought to your efforts; or even to your plate: 80% is all that it takes.

Here’s what I mean by this.

If four of your meals are perfectly balanced, and the fifth sees you falling into old habits, don’t worry – you’ve got an 80% success rate which means you’re making progress.

If most of your plate is brimming with vibrant deliciousness, and a small portion is a little less so, don’t fret – you’ve got an 80% success rate which means you’re still on track.

If you eat your ideal meals for breakfast, lunch and snacks, and simply join in with every family dinner, guess what? – that’s right, you’ve got an 80% success rate which means you’re doing enough.

3. Serve a healthier side dish

This is where you can make all the difference and keep everyone happy at mealtimes.

Remember: side dishes rock!

It will take a little bit of prep – around half an hour of chopping twice a week. But with everything pre-prepared, you can whip up an extra dish on the side, put it on the table for everyone to ‘share’, but polish off most of it yourself.

Here’s what you might do:

Start with washing and chopping or grating vegetables then keep them in containers in the fridge. Carrots, cucumber, radish, tomatoes, spring onion, fresh herbs, olives and peppers are perfect. Open a can or two of your favourite beans and dress them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Boil an egg, grill some chicken or salmon and stash these away as well.

Then when you’re ready to eat use any combination you fancy to make a simple side dish. 

    • If you’re plan is to eat fewer potatoes, rice, pasta or other starchy carbs, add an extra spoonful of beans to help fill you up. 
    • If you’re faced with a spaghetti mountain dripping in cheese and tomato sauce, include an extra helping of protein to balance things out.
    • If there are lots of fried foods, include a rainbow of colours in your side dish, for extra anti-oxidants.

Although you’ll be eating a much smaller portion of the main meal and really tucking into your side dish it will still seem like you’re eating the same meal as everyone else. Almost. Over time your family will pay less attention, or want to try out your side dish too.

I’d say that’s the perfect result.  You can stealthily work on your goals to improve your health without creating a fuss.

Meals with the family can be challenging at the best of times. So when you make a plan to change the foods you eat you don’t necessarily want to upset the status quo. However, there are ways to sneak in your food choices and start to prioritise your health – with stealthy side dishes that are brimming with nutrient-dense foods. But if this isn’t possible then I suggest you cut yourself some slack and stick to the 80% rule – if all your other meals and snacks are exactly what you hope for, rest assured, you’re on a healthier track.




Flavio Teixeria at
Jeswin Thomas at
CDC-65 at
Austin Distel at
Alyson McPhee at

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