By Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN
One of the best gifts you can give your children is a set of healthy habits that they can take with them into adulthood. Whether you’d like your family to get more physically active or start having dinner together, these four simple steps will help your family develop healthy habits that stay for a lifetime.
4 Steps to a Healthier Family
- Set Goals Together
Sit down as a family and brainstorm changes you’d like to make. "Kids are more likely to buy into healthy habits if their opinions and suggestions are listened to," says Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, a food and nutrition consultant in Boulder, Colo. Pick one or two goals that everyone agrees is important and turn them into S.M.A.R.T. goals.
- Make S.M.A.R.T. Goals
Make your goal as clear as possible so no confusion exists about what you’re working toward and when you’ve achieved it. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-framed.
For example, a regular goal is: “Everyone eats breakfast in the morning.”
As a S.M.A.R.T. goal, it is: “The whole family will eat a healthy breakfast Monday through Friday either in the kitchen or the car (on rushed days).
- Show, Don't Tell
Most kids between 8 and 17 name their mother as their number one role model and their father as number two, according to a 2011 study by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They watch and emulate your behavior more than you may realize. In the same report, more than 70 percent of kids said, "If their parents ate healthfully at home, it would help them do the same." Changing behaviors now, while they’re young, can set kids up for a healthy adult life, according to Begun.
- Prepare for Challenges
If it were easy to achieve your goals, you would have done it already. So, don’t be afraid of challenges — prepare to overcome them. “Lack of time is the biggest barrier to adopting healthy habits,” says Begun. Fortunately, small schedule tweaks equal big results. She suggests substituting some TV time for cooking together as a family, or going to bed and waking up 15 minutes earlier so that you have time for breakfast. Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, co-author of Fearless Feeding, suggests using a slow cooker, or planning and shopping for weekly meals in advance.
Take it slow and cut yourself some slack, because change won’t happen overnight, adds Jacobsen. Try different strategies to find what works for your family, and forget about perfection — if what you’re doing isn’t fun and rewarding, it’s not going to last.
Achieving your healthy goals can have far-reaching benefits. Cooking teaches kids math skills, waking up early for breakfast encourages time management, and simply spending time as a family allows you to find out what’s going on in your kids’ lives, adds Begun.
Reviewed November 2013
Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN, is a diet and nutrition expert and freelance writer. Her advice has been featured in Health, EatingWell, New York Metro Parents and Food & Nutrition Magazine.