“My spouse doesn’t like healthy food! What do I do?”
“I’m trying to get healthy, but my partner buys junk food which makes it hard for me to eat healthy at home!”
“How to get a significant other to eat healthier” is one of the top questions I get from clients. It can be challenging when you’re trying to adopt a cleaner way of eating but can’t bring your partner along for the ride.
I can relate, because I grew up a “whole wheat” girl, but I married a “white bread” guy. I was raised in the healthy-eating, organic-obsessed culture of the San Francisco Bay Area; he grew up in the deep-dish pizza-loving suburbs of Chicago. My childhood was filled with fruits, vegetables and home cooked meals–I was raised to be “picky” about what I put into my body and to eat junk food in moderation. For him, ice cream and French fries were a way of life.
So, when we got married, the question was: What would me and my fast-food husband eat for dinner? I realized that the only way I would be able to bridge the gap between my husband’s “white bread” world and my “wheat bread” world would be to cook healthy versions of foods that my husband enjoyed.
Gradually, I started making healthier swaps in my husband’s diet. Slowly he began to identify different flavors and spices, and he even started asking for vegetables in his dishes! I realized that he changed because I did these five things gradually to bring him closer to a healthier way of eating:
1. Don’t call it “healthy” or give it a label. My husband didn’t care about healthy food. Calling something healthy wasn’t going to entice him into eating it. In fact, giving a meal a label (healthy, paleo, vegan, gluten-free, etc.) may actually turn off your spouse from eating it, whereas if you call it by the recipe’s name (e.g. Tex-Mex Burrito Bowls) it sounds much more appetizing.
2. Don’t force or guilt, don’t judge. Guilting or forcing someone to change just doesn’t work. All it does is make them feel bad about themselves and actually make them more resistant to change. For example, if your partner eats junk food all day but then still eats the healthy meal you made, praise them for the healthy meal and don’t comment on the other foods eaten that day. Aim for progress, not perfection.
3. Add in extra veggies without asking, but involve him in the meal decision. Make the decision on “what to eat for dinner” together, but then you take control of the cooking and add in or sneak in extra veggies. If your partner is still resistant to anything green, add veggie purees into foods like pasta sauce or smoothies. If your partner isn’t resistant to veggies just add more of them into each meal you make! After the meal ask for their input and feedback so they feel involved in the process.
4. Make easy, simple swaps, and keep junk food away. Whole or sprouted grains for white (bread, pasta, rice, etc.), whole grain cereals for sugary ones, sparkling water with natural flavors for soda, etc. These are easy, healthy swaps that you can make in your partner’s diet without them really noticing! Additionally, you can make healthier versions (or “swaps”) of meals your partner loves (e.g. healthier mac & cheese, lightened up lasagna, etc.). Most of my husband’s favorite foods I’ve made at a fraction of the unhealthy fats and calories, and he has loved them all. One agreement that kept me in control of the groceries was: I would do all the grocery shopping and cooking, and he would do all the dishes and cleaning. This limited the junk food in our house and helped changed how he ate.
5. Make it taste good! No one likes food that tastes bland or bad. If you can make a healthy meal taste good, it might make all the difference to getting your partner to be more open to healthy options. This worked wonders with my husband and was one of the main reasons he became more open to healthy eating!
Anjali Shah is a food writer at http://pickyeaterblog.com/, a best-selling author, a board certified health coach, mom of two, and an advocate for healthy, clean eating for individuals and families. Get her Free 7-day plan for clean eating here. For more information visit www.pickyeaterblog.com.