Got a Family? How to Cook for Them and Lose Weight

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6 tips for cooking for a family

Losing weight involves a lot of changes. At least it did for me.

One of the most significant changes I had to make was in how I cooked and prepared food. If you have read my book, you know that when John and I first got married, I knew absolutely zilch about making meals. The only thing I could make was dessert. Truly. So he and I went out to eat a LOT and I gained a lot of weight during those early years of our marriage.

Once the children started coming along, we lessened how frequently we went out to eat and I had to learn to cook. And I did learn. I didn’t do a lot of fancy things in the kitchen, but I could make a good chicken casserole, decent potato salad, and buttery biscuits. Even though I learned how to cook, I didn’t cook very many “weight loss” friendly meals.

Most of the meals I prepared were relatively high in calories, had a lot of processed ingredients, and were not nutrient dense. I served canned vegetables with the main dishes, did a salad now and then, but for the most part, I cooked to get dinner on the table and be done with it. I also made dessert almost every night.

Although I dieted constantly during the 10 years that I was morbidly obese, I never worked very hard at learning to make healthier meals at home. I tried to lose weight by eating less of the unhealthy stuff but that never worked for long. Or, I tried to lose weight by making myself a different meal than I made the family. That never worked for long either.

During my last weight loss experience, I made a radical shift in my thinking. I decided that I needed to change the way the whole family ate and not just change the way I ate. I also made another really important decision. I decided that I did not want to feed myself different foods than my family was eating.

I needed to cook for my family (and myself) and still lose weight.

The best thing about that decision was that I lost weight, but the next best thing was that I learned a lot about healthy cooking techniques, changed the types of foods I was feeding my family, and developed habits that helped me maintain my weight for all these years.

If you struggle with how to cook for your family and still lose weight, I want to encourage you to figure it out. This is one of the most important lessons to learn. Real life weight loss looks a lot like real life maintenance. If you cannot cook for your family in a way that enables you to lose weight, then you might need to make a change.

Think about it this way: Good food for weight loss is often good food for families.

Here are six tips to help you cook healthy for your family and still drop the pounds.

1. Find Healthy Substitutions – Look at your favorite recipes and identify those unhealthy ingredients. Find better and healthier substitutions such as making your own condensed soup (recipe here), sautéing in water instead of oil, and reducing the amount of cheese or other high calorie ingredients in foods.

2. Try One New Recipe a Week – Don’t change everything at once or you may have a rebellion on your hands. Try a new healthy recipe each week while at the same time “lightening” up the old ones.

3. Involve Your Family – It doesn’t matter if there are just two people in your family or nine like in mine. Get them involved in the planning, cooking, and preparation of meals. It makes a difference in how enthusiastically they will eat it if they’ve helped prepare it!

4. Be Enthusiastic – If you serve a new dish with a sheepish look on your face and say, “This is a new recipe and it’s supposed to be really good for you,” your family will immediately be on guard. Believe me, I learned this lesson first hand. Instead, when you make something new, present it with flair and confidence.

5. Find Your Sneaky Side – I’m not sneaky by nature, but when it came to losing weight and changing how we ate, I found my inner sneak. If I added flax seed to casseroles or used Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, I told no one. And no one ever knew. Be sneaky when adding healthy ingredients to the foods until your family is more on board.

6. Watch Portions for You and Everyone Else – Children are obese all over this country and it’s probably not just from school meals. As a mom, I have a responsibility to make sure the kids have the foods they need in the right quantity. I serve from the stove most nights and give each person the amount they need. If they want more food they can have it, but they have to eat all their vegetables/salad/fruit before they can have more of the main dish or bread.

I know this was a long post, but cooking for my family is something I’m passionate about. It is so important to cook for yourself so you can meet your weight loss goals and also cook for your family. The two do not (and should not) be mutually exclusive.

Do you have tips on cooking for your family while losing weight? Was it a struggle to get everyone on board with eating healthier? Diane


  1. says

    Great tips, Diane! I recognize some of the same things I do with my family. There is always room for improvement, but when I look back on how I used to cook ten years ago as compared to now, it’s a huge difference. In the right direction!
    Amy recently posted…Happy New Year!My Profile

  2. says

    For me, I got angry about having to cook a meal for me and a meal for them. Even when it wasn’t my turn to cook, I had to make up something else for myself because of what they chose. Fortunately, their meals weren’t so bad because I had long ago deleted things like sautéing in oil or butter and just using water, steaming, etc. so they were used to healthy cooking techniques. Part of the trick for making it work as a family was actually stopping ME being so restrictive with my own meal.

    I’m still working on that still, actually. What I’ve come to realize is that I can be very restrictive when I am on my own, but I need to loosen up a bit for family dinners. I just need to manage that and not feel as though I’m failing because something happens to have a sprinkle of cheese on what is otherwise a perfectly healthy meal!

    Part of eating healthy for me has been about repetition, because I am just so exhausted and I actually don’t enjoy cooking. I am a good cook, but I find it boring and irritating because I have other things I would like to do. Repetition makes bulk cooking an easy option, but isn’t fun for the family who wants variety. That’s the part I’m struggling with the most (and I do make the kids cook too, but I have to oversee that, so it’s not a break for me.)
    Kyra recently posted…2014 Virtual 5K RacesMy Profile

  3. says

    I think your best suggestions is to NEVER TELL THE FAMILY when you’ve substituted lower fat ingredients. That is my secret too….if they knew…they’d never eat it.
    I also have found lots of low-fat ingredients to use in my recipes, and you know what? Most of them taste JUST THE SAME as the full-caloried versions. I use sugar-free syrup, at 20 calories per quarter cup serving. Even the lite syrup has 100 calories per serving, and I can’t tell any difference! Some of the NON-fat ingredients are not very good however. You have to know which ones you can get by with using. I have found that usually the low-fat substitutions are better than the entirely NON-fat ones.
    Pam recently posted…Turning Back TimeMy Profile

    • Babbalou says

      lucky you if you can’t tell the difference. I am sick as a dog all day if I have a small amount of sugar free syrup

  4. says

    I shop and prep and cook to stock the kitchen, but no longer cook specific meals. Ages of my kids and the fact that we all eat different things (vegan daughter, vegetarian daughter, husband and I eat almost no processed and watch carbs carefully even in whole food form, food allergies) means that we all prepare our own meals out of what I have stocked. This works well for us. But the point is still the same as your post – I stock kitchen with well chosen mostly whole food items. We get a produce box every week, service allows me to chose all items, which helps a lot.

    VERY HAPPY TO SEE SOUP RECIPE. Do you know if there is a substitute for cows milk that works with this?

  5. Janis says

    Crock pots. My favorite tip for healthy cooking that results in leftovers, no cleanup (if you use the plastic liners), and almost no effort whatsoever. Get some good meat, fresh veg, water, bouillon, spices, set it on low for 8 hours, walk away, then come back and eat. No frying, no added fat, no nothing — just meat and produce. Throw in a handful of barley for some more bulk.

  6. says

    Thank you for sharing your tips, Diane!

    I was curious to see your family picture at the kitchen table, and now, I want to buy a big mirror for my dining room! LOL

    My own trick to “elongate” healthy dishes is to make soup with the leftovers. A stir fry full of vegetables makes a great soup when you add broth to it the next day.
    HappinessSavouredHot recently posted…Making the world a better place – Part 2My Profile

  7. says

    Well, we aren’t trying to lose weight but I think it helps if the kids are involved some on the planning. And, when we are going to make any major changes I talk to them about it and ease into things!!
    Kim recently posted…Great Weekend ReadsMy Profile

  8. says

    I usually blow it when I make a new, healthy recipe or sub in a healthier ingredient. I’m usually too excited to keep it a secret, and that’s my downfall. My biggest hurdle (it seems) for me to continue to lose weight is exactly the problem this post confronts. I want to eat uber healthy, but I don’t think my kids will go for it. My husband will, but three complaining kids puts me off. So, I’ve got to learn to keep my big mouth shut when I serve something new. Also, I do need to be more consistent in making them finish their veggies before having seconds on other dishes. All my kids are of healthy weight, but I want them to stay that way and have a love for healthy food. Then we call be and stay healthy together!
    BlessedMama recently posted…Me Birthday Grub, Yum!My Profile

  9. says

    I make so many ethnic foods and foods that have a lot of heat that honestly I make them their own meals most of the time. I make it with the ingredients I have though. For example, if I make a hot chicken and rice dish – I will give them the chicken and the rice but not the sauce I will put on it. To be honest I never really cooked processed or junk food anyhow. I was raised on good, whole food, lots of vegetables and I do the same for my kids. That not to say there isnt junk food served on occassion here. And once in a while I give in to the trappings of processed food.

    I think every one should eat healthy most of the time. Kids eating all this high fat, high salt crap makes them not appreciate the real deal at all. Its kind of sad.

  10. says

    I think it’s important to learn to make healthy foods that the whole family will eat as it is not realistic to make different foods long term. I love the get the family involved tip. When everyone has a say and gets involved, they are usually a lot more excited to eat it!
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted…Weekly Meal Prep 101My Profile

  11. Amanda says

    There are only 3 in my family (me, my husband and our daughter). I would usually cook a giant meal because that’s how I learned to cook. I always justified my giant meals for 6 saying we could eat the leftovers another day but we always just stuffed ourselves and left to to none for later. Now, I cut my recipes in half and do a big salad. So far this works great!

  12. says

    “I never worked very hard at learning to make healthier meals at home. I tried to lose weight by eating less of the unhealthy stuff but that never worked for long.” I can so relate. In the beginning I was only willing to eat less of the fattening stuff, but it never worked. For me, less wasn’t all that much less. It wasn’t until I learned to cut the fat, salt, and sugar from my meals that I began to see real progress. And I agree, it helps to bring the whole family on board. Fortunately, those in my household were agreeable to changing the way we ate, but my husband still sticks up his nose at some of the twigs I put on the table at dinner time, and oh, does that man love white bread! 😉 I mean, wonder bread, white bread. Not sure I will ever break him of that habit. LOL
    L recently posted…3 Fears I have for my FriendMy Profile

  13. says

    This is a huge issue at our house! In some ways, I do great, I use low fat sour cream, low fat cheese, chicken stock instead of high sodium broths, etc. and always serve fresh fruits and veggies. But the problem is, my kids have their favorite entrees (things I’ve made in the past that aren’t so healthy) and they won’t eat anything new and different, especially if they think it’s healthy. I don’t know how to handle this. I hate to make them eat something they don’t like, yet they aren’t open to trying new things. Lately I’ve been saying if you don’t eat what I’ve made, you can find your own dinner but it has to be a fruit, a vegetable and a protein (ex: sliced ham with carrots and an apple). Is this a good fix? Anyone have suggestions? I have about given up on the issue!

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