The Most Family-Friendly Diet Is Also One Of The Healthiest — By A Longshot
A power-ranking of the best diets for families finds that the best diets overall are also the most family-friendly.
Choosing the "right" diet can feel like picking a side in a never-ending food fight. Paleo vs. keto, intermittent fasting vs. vegan — it's enough to give you a nutritional migraine, and an easy way to start thinking negatively about food and yourself. But here's the dirty little secret of healthy eating, and one that could change your life: The best diet for your family probably isn't a diet at all. In fact, it’s more of a lifestyle than anything else.
U.S. News and World Report recently released their list of “best diets,” an exhaustive list of diets covering everything from how good they are for preventing diabetes to preserving bone health to how family-friendly they are.
It’s true that some diets are healthier than others. A diet heavy on leafy greens, fish, nuts, and fats is, for example, healthier than one filled with ultra-processed foods, and absolutely healthier than one based on depriving kids of the joys of being kids — sweets, cookies, and desserts included. And following a diet too strictly can backfire for anyone, especially families.
“Moderation, not deprivation — that's how I work with kids,” Michael Enenbach, M.D., a psychiatrist and medical director of the Child Mind Institute, previously told Fatherly. “I worked on the inpatient unit at UCLA for 12 years, and I'd have parents who were like, ‘He can't have any dyes.’ And then the child would get really upset because they couldn't have a cookie next to their peer. Deprivation is going to turn into disordered eating; moderation probably won't. One of the joys of childhood is getting ice cream or having a cookie or a lollipop. And that's totally fine.”
Still, you need to start somewhere to set up your family’s lifestyle around food. And science has some compelling insights into what makes a healthy, family-friendly diet tick. Luckily, it turns out the best diets for overall health and well-being also tend to be the most kid-friendly. Win-win!
The Mediterranean Diet is the family-friendliest — and the healthiest overall
Let's take the ever-popular Mediterranean diet, which ranked number one for both overall health and family-friendly diets. This diet isn’t just a fancy way to say "olive oil and hummus.” The eating pattern, rooted in the traditional meals of Greece, Italy, and Spain, is a nutritional powerhouse. It features fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats, with a sprinkle of lean protein and herbs for good measure. Plus, it’s one of the most affordable diets out there. And it’s the family-friendliest by a long shot, the publication reports — scoring 100 on its scale. (The next most family-friendly diet, the Flexitarian diet, scores just 64.)
Studies have shown the Mediterranean diet can help improve fertility, decrease the risk of some cancers, lower blood pressure, increase longevity, reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, boost brainpower, and lower the risk of mental health concerns like depression.
But the real beauty of the Mediterranean diet lies in its approachability. It's flexible, flavorful, and doesn't require a kitchen stocked with obscure ingredients or a culinary degree to master. Think family meals bursting with color, texture, and fresh flavors, weekend trips to the farmer's market, picking out vibrant veggies together, and homemade pizza nights where everyone gets to customize their own slice.
The DASH Diet
The DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, ranked number two for overall health and was the third most family-friendly diet on the list. This heart-healthy diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, making it a fantastic choice for families looking to keep their tickers ticking happily. The DASH diet is the only diet to perfectly follow the American Heart Association's healthy eating guidelines and has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease.
The MIND Diet
The third healthiest overall diet, the MIND diet, is a cognitive powerhouse that combines elements of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, focusing on brain-boosting foods like leafy greens, berries, and nuts. The MIND diet has been shown to boost cognitive development in kids and help ward off cognitive decline in adults. Perfect for keeping your family's minds sharp for years to come!
The Flexitarian Diet
The flexitarian or semi-vegetarian diet ranked as the second most family-friendly diet out there. This flexible approach lets families embrace the health benefits of a plant-forward diet while enjoying occasional meat or seafood.
One study found that a flexitarian diet can decrease blood pressure, reduce the risk of diabetes, improve outcomes for those with irritable bowel disorders, and may decrease risks of certain cancers. It's like choosing the best of both worlds for your taste buds and well-being, making it a win-win for happy tummies and healthy hearts!
Each of these diets has its own unique strengths, but they all share a common thread: They're more about adding good stuff to your plate than taking things away. No calorie counting, no swearing off of desserts, no hangry meltdowns in the cereal aisle. Just a focus on fresh, wholesome ingredients, delicious preparation, and the joy of sharing a meal with the people you love.