Jewels Doskicz, RN, is a freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. She and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.

We’ve reached a disagreeable place in nutrition, where one of the top risk factors for poor health is our food. Cardiometabolic disease, meaning interrelated risk factors that increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease, is driven by changes we’ve seen in the quality of our diet, states Dariush Mozaffarian in Oxford Nutrition Reviews.

His research has found that, “Weight gain has been typically framed as a problem of excess caloric intake, but, subtle changes in the quality of diet are associated with long-term weight gain.”
As a mom, I have gone above and beyond for the past decade and a half with the exhausting process of finding healthy recipes, going grocery shopping, preparing meals, and teaching my kids about the importance of our food choices.

And as a nurse, I agree with Mozaffarian’s suggestion of changing “the focus of research and public policy from one based on counting calories to one based on diet quality.” I propose that this process must be driven by love and care, rather than shame, guilt, or fear.

The power of small changes

Making adjustments to your diet and swapping out certain foods for others can make a world of difference.

Susan Weiner, MS, RDN, CDE, CDN suggests these simple diet changes to eat more healthfully:

Eat cut up veggies instead of veggie chips. Natural vegetables are lower in calories and sodium and are higher in fiber. They will give you more nutrition bang for your buck.

Try unsalted nuts with a sprinkle of dried fruit rather than a processed bar. Snack bars are often full of sugar and other difficult to pronounce ingredients.

Make your own smoothie instead of buying a prepared version. Try making your own smoothie with Greek yogurt, at least one fruit, and some vegetables. Be careful with prepared smoothies that contain added sugar and three or more fruit servings because they may be very high in calories, carbohydrates, and sugars.

Make your own salad dressing to replace store-bought versions. Even fat-free store-bought dressings can be high in sugar, have added unhealthy ingredients, and require more than a serving for taste. Try making a dressing with olive oil, your favorite vinegar, and oregano. 

Eat Greek yogurt with unsalted nuts and fruit and avoid the kiddie yogurts or yogurts with added toppings. Greek yogurt is very high in protein.

Helping children develop their relationship with food

Exposing children to a varied diet is important. I suggest enforcing the policy of “you eat what we eat,” meaning that you don’t provide a separate kid’s meal of macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. This can help your kids develop a varied palate.
I like to remind parents that kids are not choosing their own foods—for the most part—until they mature. Our kids eat what we buy and cook. As our kids age, the hope is that positive eating habits will be ingrained in them from a lifetime of wellness, led by the example from the loving people that raised them.

Every family is different, and we all face a variety of unique challenges.
In my family, dissecting our diet was a product of necessity. We live with type 1 diabetes, food allergies, and celiac disease. We are food researchers, label readers, and nutrition experts in our own right, which help us make the best food choices possible for our situation.

Concession stands illustrate the problem well. You’ll hear kids ask for drinks by color: “I’ll have the red Gatorade.” And while a mom stands by stirring a giant-sized can of processed cheese from a crock-pot over a dish of nacho chips, kids line up for candy bars, donuts, sodas, and other ungodly choices.

I always wonder—“Where is the fruit?” Once again, these kids will only buy what we serve them. How we ever morphed into a society that is okay with feeding our children non-foods is beyond me.

Maintaining a healthy diet and weight is not only about how much we eat, but rather, what we are eating. Poor nutrition is everywhere. Children must learn at a young age that nutrition is a lifelong health priority. When we make positive changes in our diet, no matter how old we are, it ensures we can all be the best version of ourselves. Our good intentions must have actions behind them, especially for our next generation. Start small and stay aware.