I don't know about you, but as I age — and as they age — I worry about my parents.
It really is true that we can't control other people; we can only control ourselves, our space and our reactions to other people. And even though I know this, I have to gently remind myself of this when dealing with my parents and their not-always-ideal eating habits.
Firstly, and learned by me the hard way, let's get the three things you might avoid when you're talking to your parents about their eating habits out of the way.
1. Don't "teach" them about nutrition.
I used to try to teach my parents about nutrition. But guess what? They don't really care about it and they didn't particularly appreciate that approach.
2. Let go of the all-or-nothing approach.
Most people do not want to be told that they will never eat dairy products or meat again ever again. We don't want to hear that from a dietician, a doctor, or a family member. Healthy eating is most sustainable when we allow ourselves a bit of breathing room. My parents (and most of us) will never be 100% anything — whether that's paleo, vegetarian, or vegan. What matters to me is that their diet and lifestyle is evolving towards health, happiness and comfort.
3. In most cases, detoxes and diets aren't realistic.
My parents are in their sixties; they don't want to do detoxes or diets. Instead focus on easy, enjoyable, sustainable habits they can integrate into their routine.
So what do I do? Well, first I feel grateful that my parents are healthy and generally are open to taking actions to stay in good health.
I take charge of the food for most my parents' visit and they (mostly) appreciate being taken care of in this way! Even if they only eat plant-based meals 70% of the time during our two-week visits, they notice the results — dropping a few pounds, feeling a bit more comfortable in their favorite jeans — and they notice the deeper things like better sleep, improved digestion and more energy.
Here are seven things you can do with your parents to support them towards health.
1. Create a strong breakfast.
Breakfast is an easy one to make healthy. I serve oatmeal and create different toppings for variety like maple syrup, cooked apples, brown sugar, a dollop of jam, and fresh berries. Creating a simple, filling, whole food breakfast is a good place to begin the day.
2. Go on food shopping field trips.
Go food shopping together and take time to point out healthy foods and products and find healthier alternatives to their favorite products and foods.
3. Make soup a daily routine.
I make a simple soup for one meal each day. I alternate between purees and simple vegetable soups — some with beans and some without. I always serve the soup with a starch like noodles, rice, potatoes or fresh bread.
4. Serve cut up fruit as an appetizer
This is so easy! And plus, it makes dinner feel like a special event and helps us fill up a bit before we get to the meal. My family's favorite is cut up apples. If you want to add vegetables to the fruit platter, even better.
5. Pay respect to their favorite vegetables.
If you do anything in the vegetable department, improve on what that already love. Know your parents favorite salads and vegetable dishes and improve on those by making the dressings healthier (if they like that) or by using healthier cooking methods (baking and steaming for example).
6. Serve a nourishing starch at each meal.
Focus on serving a plain beautiful starches like sweet potatoes, potatoes, pumpkin or rice at every meal. If you want to add toppings to the starch homemade ketchup, tofu sour cream or applesauce please most. And fresh herbs always add flavor.
7. Give them healthy desserts.
Most people want something sweet sometime during the day and you can serve a plant based dessert with confidence (because everyone will love them) and calm (because they are health-giving); start with this this zucchini chocolate cake.
Getting healthier food on your table during family visits can be touchy and tough, but if we approach it with transparency, and an open heart, slice of chocolate zucchini cake, it's a lot more likely to be a more positive experience for you and your parents too.