I get this question a lot! It's also a common concern among my clients as to what they will feed their spouse/children for dinner while they are on a "diet". PS I hate the word diet since it has such a negative implication attached to it. We are ALL on a diet, a diet is simply the food you eat. I don't put my clients on a diet, I give them a guideline of what to eat and the portions to eat them in, and I give them the tools to learn how to make a lifestyle change. I believe the number 1 reason diets fail is because when it's over the person goes right back to the lifestyle/habits that lead to them needing to diet in the first place, whereas a lifestyle change there is no end date. You just do it, right Nike? That's not really here nor there but does offer some background to this common question.
What do my kids eat? The same things I eat, in portions meant for them. We do not buy junky snacks, we do not cater to what they think they want, we cater to their health! Some people feel our children are deprived because they don't get soda or cookies or twinkies or whatever but they aren't and they do get those things IN MODERATION. That is the key word there. We have a pizza night once a month in which we enjoy pizza, cookies, soda. Or we will have our geeky weekend movie marathons in which I'll bake treats that fit the theme of the movies we are watching (Harry Potter is a family favorite, the kids love butter beer!). As for snacks, we always have a huge bowl on the counter full of fruit options, potatoes are always handy as the teenagers love to make roasted potatoes as afterschool snacks, and we keep popcorn kernels for air popping. They can also fix a tortilla wrap with ground turkey/beef and cheese if they are really hungry and need something more filling to tied them over to dinner.
They prefer healthy, whole foods to junky foods. They know which foods will help them grow, keep them healthy, give them energy. Just like they know which foods will make them feel yucky. The kids have oatmeal for breakfast, sometimes with eggs, sometimes with turkey sausage, sometimes just the oatmeal. Lunch they pack themselves and includes a protein, a carb, a fat and sometimes a healthy(ish) snack. A typical lunch for my 7yo is tuna fish in pita pockets, slice of real cheese, mandarin orange, and possibly whole grain goldfish or organic 100% fruit rolls. My 10yo loves making chicken salad, she cops up lettuce, fresh veggies and chicken breast for her salads, sometimes she will take a salad dressing for it and sometimes not, then of course a fruit (banana, apple, or mandarin orange) and sometimes one of the same treat snacks as the 7yo. My 12 yo you can almost always predit his will be a tunafish sandwich, a banana, and if available one of the treat snacks. They rarely pack something different, this is what they enjoy and they don't get bored eating it.
But ohemgee what about dinner? Easy! Remember my basic grocery list? We fix meals off that! It's really amazing how many ways you can cook chicken and so many options for veggies and complex carb to go with it, even spaghetti can be healthified! We make the sauce from scratch using canned tomatoes and tomato paste, sauteed/roasted veggies, and spices, lean ground beef and whole wheat or brown rice noodles, voila!
There is always the concern that well my kid is a picky eat or my kid will only eat xyz. I'm going to be blunt here, your kids will eat what you put in front of them, they will eat what you model eating. It may take some time but they will eat, they are not going to starve themselves, kids are kind of smart that way. Take for instance when i first married my husband he got custody of his son from his previous marriage and his son would pretty much only eat pizza out of the box or hamburger helper and the only thing he would drink was Sunny D. He was 3, and like most 3 year olds, stubborn. Ha, I am stubborn too ;) I won't say it was easy, I won't say I didn't consider throwing my hands up and just letting him eat that stuff but I knew if I held my ground he would start eating more variety. Now he is still picky about some things, I mean who isn't, but by far he is the one of the least picky of all of our children. Our pickiest is definitely the youngest and that stems from sensory issues and food allergies so we do make exceptions for her, still she eats 90% of what everyone else eats.
My husband and I both model healthy eating. We eat clean whole foods most of the time, allowing for treats in moderation. We both hit the gym several times a week. We use helpful language when it comes to talking about food, teaching them rather than forcing them. For younger kids using language cues can be amazingly helpful. Dr Sears classifies foods that help you be strong and healthy as "grow foods" and also puts foods into a stop light category. Green light foods can be eaten all the time, yellow light foods eaten often but not unlimited like green light foods, and red light foods are the ones to eat rarely or never. Some of our clients have found using this type of language and classification the biggest helper in transitioning their children to a healthier, cleaner eating lifestyle and teaching about what foods without putting a good or bad label on them. I personally don't like to classify foods as good or bad either, it's kind of like sticking a big red button on the "bad" foods and saying don't touch. I bet you will touch that red button right? Right we can't help it. So no foods are 100% off limits but there are foods that are better to eat in abundance and foods best left to moderation.
How do you handle food in your home? Do you keep healthy snacks at the ready or do you buy convenience snacks in packages? Do you eat the same dinner as your children or make several different dinners to meet the personal wants of everyone?
PS I forgot to add this handy link to an article called clean eating for kids, it has some tips for the transition.