Developing healthier eating habits

So I have a new project under my belt. My grandparents are back in town for the winter and I am working with my grandmother on developing healthier eating habits.

Easier said than done.

Changing over from a diet rich in heavily processed foods to a whole foods plant-rich diet takes a lot of work, dedication and drive. It also takes some pretty strong willpower. It’s so easy for some of us healthy living bloggers to say “put down the cookie and pick up an apple, duh!” But when a person struggles with unhealthy eating habits, emotional eating, binge eating or simply making poor food choices… it’s not so easy!

I know the best way for my grandmother to change to a healthier diet is for her to take small steps. Baby steps. Each week I am challenging her with something new, and hoping that as the weeks go by the processed foods will slowly empty out of the kitchen, replaced with whole and natural foods.

One of the reasons I am undergoing this project is because of my grandmother’s health. Between her heart problems and being overweight, she needs a change in diet to better her health, and her doctors are strongly encouraging weight loss. So grandma’s challenge to a healthier lifestyle begins this week. Because as most of us know, healthy living and healthy eating¬†is not dieting–it’s a lifestyle.¬†

This week I challenged her to focus on food groups. Instead of telling her to quit eating this or that, I am simply asking her to eat more of certain foods. Namely, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. After discussing her usual eats, we came to the conclusion that most days she has one, or maybe two servings of vegetables. So I decided to challenge her to 3-5. Most days she has one serving of fruit, but sometimes none. I am challenging her to 2-3 servings of fruit daily. These are baby steps for her in the right direction. I also challenged her to switch from white pasta and rice to whole wheat pasta and brown rice, and to try not to have bread and butter with every meal (her favorite!) We are also switching out her usual ice cream bars and pre-made cookies and cakes (from the grocery store bakery) with some homemade and healthier desserts, as well as some store-bought products like applesauce, yogurt, and dried fruit.

For food groups and serving suggestions I referenced the Harvard School of Public Health nutritional guidelines. I really like their nutrition recommendations because they emphasize keeping red meat, cold cuts, and pork to a minimum, as well as limiting milk and dairy (1-2 servings a day is recommended). They really focus on the fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthy protein (lean meats and plant protein sources).

Grandma and I went shopping together today and loaded up on fresh fruits and veggies, brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, organic tomato sauce, ground turkey and chicken (to replace her favored ground beef), frozen shrimp and salmon, dried fruit and nuts, and some odds and ends for me to make a few healthy desserts to keep in the freezer to satisfy a sweet craving.

So far, grandma has been doing great with the challenge! I asked her to keep a food journal for at least a couple of weeks to hold her accountable on food groups. Today she met all of the goals I set for her, and she and I both are proud! I spent all afternoon in the kitchen prepping some healthy foods and snacks for throughout the week. So far she’s made some great changes. It just so happens that by challenging her to eat more of certain food groups, she cut out a lot of processed foods to make room for the whole foods! :)

Sugary cereals or pastries for breakfast… Oatmeal for breakfast!

Grilled cheese for lunch… Barley and bean salad for lunch with chopped veggies!

Candy, chips and cheese dip for snacks… Carrots, hummus and dried fruit for snacks!

Spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread for dinner… whole wheat spaghetti, homemade veggie marinara, and turkey meatballs for dinner!

Eventually we will focus on her caloric intake, and really getting that where it needs to be. She is not very active at all, so monitoring calories and portion control will be essential for weight loss. But for now she is focusing on adapting a few healthier eating habits, which in the long run is essential for weight loss, weight maintenance and healthy living!

I really like Happy Herbivore’s list of 10 Rules for Making Healthier Choices when it comes to eating habits. Although it can be difficult to adapt to all of these right away, they are great guidelines for a long-term healthy lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that certain foods that I don’t eat every day are still okay in moderation (everyone wants some french fries, onion rings or a cupcake once and awhile right?) but let’s all remember the meaning of the word moderation. Moderation is not a few times a week. Moderation is a few times a month, or a handful of times a year. That is moderation. I told my grandmother that some of her favorite foods are going to have to go in the moderation zone now. Yes, sometimes I am the bearer of bad news.

But the good news is that grandma is on board and if things go really well, maybe grandpa will learn a lesson or two along the way ;)


  1. Sierra says:

    Wow! First of all, you are one gutsy lady to approach your family about eating better like you did with your grandma! And your grandma sounds like one smart lady to start taking your advice! :)

  2. Lindsay says:

    Well I probably should have mentioned that she ASKED for help. I think that is an essential element when giving someone advice–they must be willing to take it, and want to listen! Also, her heart problems are so severe that the Doctors are telling her she absolutely must lose weight or she could be looking at heart surgery. So she has some pretty strong motivation at this point. But like I said, we are still taking baby steps and making small changes one at a time :)

    But thanks for your support girl!!

  3. Tt in nyc says:

    Glad to hear your grandma is willing to change- and what a great advisor to have! My grandma used to love going for walks, she would listen to books on tape and “save” them for her morning and afternoon walks, it was low impact but a grandma friendly excersize to do

    • Lindsay says:

      Oh that is such a good idea! Going to walks and listening to books on tapes…PERFECT for any grandma!! I am also thinking of getting her into biking because I think it will be easier on her hips. So far she is really staying on board with everything :)

  4. Jessica @ Dishin' About Nutrition says:

    Love this post! My boyfriend CONTINUES to sneak a box of Coco puffs into the grocery cart and I swear we have had blow out fights about it! haha I mean, I’m just thinking of his best interest…haha. I think I will propose that he can have a small bowl of coco puffs once a month :)

    • Lindsay says:

      Thanks for the comment Jessica! I can imagine how hard it is to live with somebody that keeps wanting to bring junk food into the house. If it’s only coco puffs that’s not the end of the world but if tons of junk food that makes it so much harder! Coco puffs in moderation ;) I like that!

  5. Katelainey says:

    What a great granddaughter you are to help her through this! I can’t imagine how hard it would be to teach someone new habits, let alone having to change those habits after so many years!! Keep us posted on her progress. :)

    • Lindsay says:

      Thanks Kate! i’ve wanted to try to help my grandma improve her eating habits for awhile now but it’s just recently that she has wanted the help and finally asked for the help! I’ve learned that you can’t force things on people, they have to want it for themselves. Teaching her new habits is tricky but she has been so open and willing to learn. Last time she tried to lose weight when he doctor was firm with her, she tried with nutrisystems! blah! i asked her if the food is better this time and she wholeheartedly agreed ;)

    • Lindsay says:

      Thanks girl! Easy does it, and one step at a time. You can’t help people change habits unless they want and are willing to make the changes. Sometimes setting a good example is a great first step! :) baby steps!

  6. Brooke says:

    This is GREAT!! Best part, is your Grandma is on board with making these changes! I can’t wait to hear the progress and see how wonderful she feels (hellooooo new energy!!). I have a feeling that Grandpa WILL learn a few lessons along the way :)

    Keep us posted!

    • Lindsay says:

      Thanks girlie! I know I’m soooo happy she is on board this time around! She is loving all of the healthy food I’ve been making her and I’m trying to teach her a few tricks so she can prep dishes for herself when I’m not around. Also she’s losing weight already! I can’t even believe it! Just goes to show what kind of crap really is in some of the processed junk food she’s been eating. Grandpa is trucking along. Slow and steady ;)

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