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Learn how to lose weight when cooking for your family

Joy Bauer explains how to easily plan meals that that fit into your weight-loss plan — and excite your loved ones.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Trying to slim down is hard enough when the only person you have to answer to is yourself, but if you have a family, there are even more factors to consider, such as their likes and dislikes. Instead of viewing this as an obstacle, embrace it as an opportunity to teach kids good eating habits that can last them a lifetime. Shift the focus away from weighing less and talk about how much more energetic, strong and healthy you feel when you eat better. In this Woman’s Day article, Joy Bauer explains how to plan meals for you and your family:

Get organized
Knowing where all your ingredients are saves you time (no more searching for that oregano) and money (no more buying a new jar of oregano when you already have one hiding at the back of a crowded, messy shelf. I speak from experience!). If your kitchen drawers and cabinets are cluttered, check out  for some helpful pantry organizing tips and products.

Do a master cleanse — of your kitchen
Throw away expired or unhealthy foods, and restock with healthier items. If you don’t want to actually chuck food, invite friends and neighbors to a Bon Voyage Party for those hot dogs, chips, cookies and other not-so-healthy fare.When the party wraps, consider it the first birthday for your new, cleaner kitchen.

Create a list of must-have items, then stock up!
These are foods that can be made into a simple, nutritious meal when time is short and everyone’s hungry. For instance, scrambled eggs and whole-wheat toast with a side of baby carrots and hummus dip can be whipped up (and cleaned up) very quickly. Just be sure to check your inventory every week or two, and add items to your shopping list if you’re running low.

Cook with your kids, not just for them
Even the pickiest little ones tend to like food they’ve helped prepare.

Make the cooking process fun by assigning special tasks, such as picking a theme for the meal, creating a written menu and placecards (include place settings for favorite stuffed animals and dolls), and decorating the table with items that fit into the theme (like mini Italian flags if you’re going Italian-style or leis if you’re doing Hawaiian). Just this year, my family has gone to Hawaii, India and the Italian countryside without leaving our home! Remember: The way food looks is key for young kids, so the more “fancy and fun” the table setting and food presentation, the more they’ll be inclined to try new things. Older kids are often receptive as well (thanks to shows like Top Chef, cooking has become cool). Assign “dinner duty” to your middle school and high school kids one night each week, from planning to prep. It’s a win-win:

You get help in the kitchen and quality bonding time while they learn cooking skills that will stick for life!

Cooking strategies
Instead of preparing separate meals for everyone, make something that fits into your weight-loss plan, then make easy tweaks to it for the rest of the family. For example:

Lunch: Sandwiches can be made open-face on one slice of bread with lettuce, tomato, onion and crunchy baby carrots on the side (for you) or on 2 slices of bread with cheese and baked chips on the side (for them).

Dinner: Salads can be topped with low-cal dressing (for you) or full-fat vinaigrette, cheese, dried cranberries and slivered almonds (for them). Turkey meatballs can be served with steamed veggies (for you) or pasta (for them).

Desert: Dessert can be berries topped with a dollop of vanilla nonfat yogurt or whipped cream (for you) or lowfat ice cream topped with berries (for them).

Choose a few family faves and lighten them up by making substitutions. For instance, my “Chicken Cordon Bleu” uses Canadian bacon instead of regular bacon, and reduced-fat cheese instead of the full-fat stuff.

Use lean ground turkey instead of high-fat beef for burgers, tacos and meatballs. Cut white or sweet potatoes into strips, mist with olive or canola oil and bake in the oven, and… tada, you get fries with half the calories and fat.

Whip up kid-friendly mac and cheese using whole-grain pasta, 2 percent reduced-fat Cheddar and skim milk. In fact, you can turn pretty much any fatty-sugary-carby-salty meal into a healthier (and delicious!) version.

Stretch-a-meal Cook in large quantities and freeze the leftovers. It may take a bit longer to double a recipe, but it’ll save you time in the long run. Meals that freeze well include chili, lasagna (use lowfat cheese and ground turkey; add veggies) and soups. My favorite stretch-a-meal ingredient is ground turkey — I use it for tacos and pasta with meat sauce.

Must-have food list


  • Skim and 1 percent lowfat milk; nonfat and lowfat yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Eggs and/or egg substitute
  • Lowfat cheese (2 percent reduced-fat chunk, block, shredded and part-skim string)
  • Fruit (whole or fruit salad; apples and citrus fruit can keep for a long time)
  • Ready-to-eat veggies (baby carrots, celery sticks, etc.)
  • Hummus
  • Lowfat mayo
  • Low-calorie salad dressings
  • Nut butter (peanut, almond, soy or sunflower)


  • Vegetables (preferably in bags so you can pour out the exact amount you want)
  • Berries, unsweetened
  • Ready-to-cook chicken breasts and tenderloins
  • Ground turkey and chicken (at least 90 percent lean)
  • Veggie burgers
  • Frozen grapes and sliced bananas
  • Frozen 100 percent fruit pops


  • 100 percent whole-wheat pasta and bread
  • Brown and wild rice
  • A couple of boxes of high-fiber (3+ grams per serving), low-sugar (8 grams or fewer per serving) cereal
  • Canned sardines, wild salmon and chunk light tuna
  • Canned beans
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds (anything goes, from almonds to soy nuts and sunflower seeds)
  • Small boxes of raisins

Joy’s bottom line
Plan, plan, plan. It takes a little effort, but it’s always worth it. Not having healthy options on hand (or in mind) makes it easier to give in to temptation and resort to eating something not-so-healthy, especially when you have hungry kids (and/or a husband!) clamoring for food.

Frame it as a positive: Eating healthy is not about eating bland, boring food or about deprivation. As you can see from the meal ideas and food lists I’ve recommended, healthy eating can be absolutely delicious, and if you think — and talk — about it that way, your family will, too. Focus on all the yummy foods you’re trying to eat more of, and it’ll become second nature.

Take a deep breath: Remember to take some time for yourself every day. Even if all you can spare is 5 minutes to do a deep-breathing exercise, it will help you focus on what really matters, and what can slide (one chocolate chip cookie never ruined a weight-loss plan). Balance — not perfection — is the ultimate goal.

For more healthy living tips, visit