As a parent, the thought of keeping a healthy and active lifestyle may seem like a daunting task. Balancing work and school along with home life can leave many parents feeling too exhausted or crunched for time.
But remember, parents are the first role models for their children. The decisions you make today for your family’s health can help impact healthy habits your child develops as they grow older. Make it a family affair and commit to making changes to your daily diet and activity levels while maximizing quality time spent with the family.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children receive a combination of at least 60 minutes of moderate – and vigorous – intensity physical activity daily. These activities must include aerobic activity as well as age-appropriate muscle- and bone-strengthening activities. Younger children usually perform physical activity in short bursts, whereas older children and adolescents usually participate in more organized activities such as structured sports and games. Adolescents can also incorporate lifting weights under adult supervision.
Aerobic activities for children benefit metabolic health and help support healthy cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Try these aerobic activities to keep your family active:
- Take a family walk/hike/bike ride around the neighborhood each evening (Take the dog along too!)
- Play fitness/dance video games (i.e. Wii)
- Try running games such as chase or tag
- Have a family dance competition
- Make housework a family affair with activities like raking, vacuuming, mowing, gardening
Muscle- strengthening activities create work for muscle and help build up muscles for both children and adults. Help make your family stronger by incorporating these activities in your weekly routine:
- Enjoy a day at the park by swinging on monkey bars and climbing on the jungle gym
- Make it a team effort by playing a game of tug-of-war
- Sit-up and pushup challenges (modified for younger children) are a great way to strengthen core muscles
- Incorporate resistance bands for older children and adolescents
Bone-strengthening activities such as high impact activities help strengthen bones. Bone-strengthening activities are particularly important for older children and adolescents during growth spurts (i.e. before and during puberty) where bone mass increases at higher rates. The following activities can help foster healthy bone development:
- Jumping and hopping activities such as jump rope, trampoline, and hop-scotch
- Aerobic and resistance activities like running, climbing, and sports also encourage healthy bones
To ensure your family receives the essential nutrients needed for proper growth and development during meals, make sure to provide lean protein options, a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy options. Try to limit food options with added sugar and high saturated and trans fat. Children require the same type of nutrients as parents; however, they require them in different quantities. In addition, nutrition recommendations for children depend on age, gender and activity level of each child. Before making any dietary changes, be sure to talk to your child’s doctor about their nutritional needs, as well as any potential food allergies or sensitivities. For more information on Dietary Guidelines for the entire family, please visit http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Below are suggestions on how you can improve nutrition among the entire family in your home:
- Acknowledge kids when they express they are full
Realize that it is not necessary for children to finish everything on their plate. Allow your children to foster healthy eating habits earlier on by not eating beyond what they can bear. This could lead to developing overeating tendencies as they get older.
- Eat meals together
Eating dinner as a family allows you to reconnect with family members at the end of a busy day. Some studies have shown children who participate in regular family dinners have higher self-esteem and higher grade point averages, and lower rates of high risk and unhealthy social behaviors.
- Substitute sodas and juice for water
The American Heart Association recommends kids ages 2-18 consume less than 25 grams of added sugar a day. Sodas and some fruit juices often contain more than this amount in one serving. Try to substitute a majority of your child’s drinks with water or a healthy smoothie.
- Meal prep for the family
Meal prepping is a great way to avoid fast food stops on busy days. Have the entire family involved in creating a menu, selecting days to prepare meals, shopping for ingredients, preparing the meals, and storing the meals. Crockpot meals are great options for families.
- Include the entire family while cooking
Gathering the whole family together in the kitchen offers several benefits like fostering family bonds through teamwork, making lasting memories, allowing your family to appreciate the process of preparing meals. Children can even develop new math skills while measuring and new cooking techniques.
- Reward children with desserts sparingly
A sweet snack is fine to have every now and then, but rewarding your children (or yourself) with dessert every night upon completion of dinner leads to overconsumption of calories. If you must have a sweet snack, try a low calorie option like fruit.
- Limit snacking
Many excess calories we consume come from frequent snacking or snacking on large proportions, especially from unhealthy selections. Try to limit snacking to 2 times a day, keeping the portions between 100-200 calories per snack. Make sure to incorporate a protein option with a healthy carbohydrate or fat.
- Incorporate more home cooked meals
Fast food restaurants offer convenience for families with busy schedules, but mostly at the expense of eating nutritious meals. Incorporating more home cooked meals into the family’s diet will give you more control on portions, calories and ingredients. If you must eat on the go, familiarize yourself with healthy options at restaurants such as lean protein meals or healthy salads.
- Introduce kids to a variety of fruits and vegetables often
Serving an array of fruits and vegetables ensures your child receives child a broad range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients they may not receive from consuming very limited options. Adding various colors to your child’s plate makes their meals more pleasing to the eye! Also, try preparing vegetables in a variety of ways such as cauliflower rice or baked carrot chips.