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Eating Healthier as a Family: Ten Small Changes that Can Make a Big Difference

Feb 20, 2007

Laura Plunkett., BA Psychology recounts her strategies for raising a healthy child and addresses many of the fears and concerns parents often have in her book, The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes. This week she discusses Eating Healthier as a Family: Ten Small Changes that Can Make a Big Difference. You may want to print this out for your patients.

Changing a family’s diet requires two crucial elements: patience and persistence. Keep in mind that this is a long-term project so go at your own pace. Decide upon a change and stick with it. Don’t let them see you waver.


1. Explain that changes in your family’s diet benefit everyone’s overall health, not just the child with diabetes. Eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains while avoiding sugar, white flour, and processed foods pays healthy dividends for everyone.

2. As we struggle with our own eating impulses, we know how hard it is to deny ourselves without support and encouragement. Think of your family as an organization like Weight Watchers. Your job is to keep a close eye on your child’s ups and downs, set limits, and offer constant praise and encouragement.

3. When you shop, concentrate on the outer edges of the store where you find fresh produce, meat, fish, whole grain breads, dairy, and frozen fruits and vegetables. Avoid the cookie, cracker, juice, candy, and soda aisles.

4. Each time you place an item in the shopping cart, consider whether it has nutritional value. If it doesn’t have vitamins, minerals, protein, or fiber, leave it in the store.

5. When you get home, wash and cut up the fruit and vegetables and put them on a shelf in the refrigerator so that they are the first thing your children see when they open the door.

6. Place a snack plate of green pepper, carrots, cucumbers, celery filled with peanut butter, and some ranch dressing next to your children when they are watching television, playing computer, or doing homework. Over time, add pieces of raw broccoli, cauliflower, baby tomatoes, red peppers, snap peas, green beans, or celery filled with cream cheese. You can add chunks of cheese, rolled up cold cuts, and fruit as well.

7. A salad at dinner gives everyone raw, enzyme-rich food. Serve it before the meal when your children are really hungry.

8. Feed your children at home before parties. This will help them limit themselves to one or two slices of pizza and a small serving of cake or ice cream. Feeling full, they may be able to skip the frosting, the cookies, and the candy.

9. Save dessert for special occasions rather than keeping sweets in the kitchen. A walk to the ice cream store makes it a treat and less accessible than reaching into the freezer.

10. Take your time and take small steps. Picky eaters need to taste foods many times before they will accept them. You can move from white bread to a slightly darker oat bread before introducing a hearty whole wheat bread. Just when you are ready to give up, you may find your child is ready to give in!

These tips are excerpted from The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child by authors Laura Plunkett and Linda Weltner. More nutritional tips are available at www.challengeofdiabetes.com

Laura Plunkett has a BA in Psychology with Honors from Brown University. She has been a head teacher in a preschool intervention program, a research assistant to Dr. Aaron Beck studying anxiety disorders and depression, and had a thriving therapeutic private practice for 14 years with families, individuals and couples. She is a workshop leader and public speaker who is comfortable with large audiences and often speaks together with her mother on issues of parenting. Her avocation during Danny’s illness has been doing research on the latest developments in diabetes and nutrition and corresponding with researchers and specialists in many countries. She is a member of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.