Author: Anjali Shah, Founder of www.pickyeaterblog.com
A “wheat-bread” girl with a “white-bread” guy: How I got my husband to eat healthy and love kale!
I grew up a “whole wheat” girl, but I married a “white bread” guy. I was raised in the healthy eating, organic obsessed, farmer’s-market-driven 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. I remember the day my dad actually brought home a donut–he cut it up into eighths and gave my brother and me a small piece to taste. Meanwhile, there’s my future husband, halfway across the country, in the middle of his standard daily breakfast of three donuts and milk.
When most people get married, they worry about things like money or in-laws. But when we got married, the question was: “What would the picky eater and her 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. And so, at the age of 24, I taught myself to cook.
Gradually, I started making healthier swaps in my husband’s diet, “sneaking” in the good stuff without him noticing. Slowly but surely, he began to identify different flavors like cumin, ginger, and garlic, and he even started asking for vegetables in his dishes! He said it was because he learned that healthy food could taste good, which was such a simple answer, it was eye opening. Previously, he had been convinced that, “most healthy food doesn’t taste good!” and “most diets and meal plans are bland and boring”. Helping my husband to realize that comfort-food meals could be healthy and taste amazing was the key to moving him towards a healthier lifestyle overall.
So how exactly did I do it? I followed a few basic rules:
1) Baby steps: I didn’t try to change everything about his eating habits at once, or even over the course of a few months. I picked my battles carefully: I started with things he wasn’t likely to notice — like switching out white bread for wheat bread, white rice for brown rice, or white pasta for whole-wheat pasta. Then I moved on to getting more fruits and veggies into his diet and steering away from processed foods, but it was literally one step at a time! I picked my battles and didn’t expect change overnight. It took probably about 2-3 years for him to change completely on all of his eating habits.
2) Don’t judge: I never spoke negatively about the foods he was choosing to eat. I never made him feel judged or bad for eating frozen pizzas for 5 days in a row or going through a carton of ice cream in one sitting. Instead, I just suggested alternatives or additions to his meals, or encouraged him to try a bite of what I was having. This made him more open to trying new things and changing because he didn’t feel bad about his “white-bread-eating” habits.
3) Recreate comfort foods in a healthy way: This was critical to showing my husband that healthy food could taste good! Some of his early favorites: My healthy lasagna, my madeover veggie chili, my homemade pita pizzas, my healthy mac & cheese and my 7 layer dip
4) Lead by example, take control: Instead of forcing healthy food on my husband, I just led by example and allowed him to observe what I was eating and how I was making my food choices. I also took control of the grocery shopping to make it easier to buy healthier versions of the food he would normally buy without making it too intrusive for him. Making the healthy food accessible and mainstream through my own example was a big step towards getting him to eat healthier!
All in all, what I’ve come to learn through marriage and through food is that change takes time. It requires a lot of patience, trust, and education without judgment for the person who is trying to make a change. Positive reinforcement, leading by example, and careful nudges go a long way!
Anjali Shah is a food writer, board-certified health coach, and owner of The Picky Eater, a healthy food and lifestyle blog. Her work has been featured on Oprah.com, Women’s Health, Cooking Light, Reader’s Digest, CNN, Food Network, Glamour, Ladies’ Home Journal, Whole Foods, SHAPE, and at Kaiser Permanente. Anjali grew up a “whole-wheat” girl, but married a “white-bread” kind of guy. Hoping to prove that nutritious food could in fact be delicious and desirable, she taught herself how to cook and successfully transformed her husband’s eating habits from a diet of frozen pizzas and Taco Bell to her healthy, yet flavorful recipes made with simple, wholesome ingredients. Through her blog, The Picky Eater, Anjali shares her passion for tasty, healthy cooking.
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