Healthy Habits for the Whole Family

By Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN
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One of the best gifts you can give your children is a set of healthful habits that they can take with them into adulthood. Whether you’d like your whole family to get more physically active or start enjoying dinner together, these simple ideas will help your family develop healthful habits that stay for a lifetime.

Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals Together

Sit down as a family and brainstorm changes you’d like to make. Kids are more likely to adopt healthful habits if their opinions and suggestions are considered. Choose one or two goals that everyone agrees are important and turn them into S.M.A.R.T. goals. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. 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 breakfast including at least three of the five food groups Monday through Friday either in the kitchen or the car (on rushed days).” Make each goal as clear as possible so no confusion exists about what you’re working toward and when you’ve achieved it.

Show, Don't Tell

Most kids consider their parents their top role models, even above sports celebrities. They watch and emulate parental behavior more than parents may realize. Rather than making negative comments about food, exercise or your body, show your child what it looks like to engage in regular healthful lifestyle behaviors. By eating nutritious foods and offering them to their children, parents and caregivers can give kids opportunities to learn to like a variety of nutritious foods.

Make Healthful Living A Family Affair

Make sure kids know they are part of the team and that health and fitness are a family affair. Get active and fit in physical activity when possible throughout the day, whether it’s taking a family walk after dinner, taking the kids to the park or hitting the gym. Remember, children and teens should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and adults should get at least two and a half hours per week.

Also, consider encouraging children to take up an after-school sport, or trying out different types of sports until they find some they enjoy.

Meal planning doesn't necessarily need to be a grown-up job; encouraging your children to help plan meals, from developing the menu to shopping, preparing and serving the meal all are great ways to get everyone involved.

Small Changes Add Up

Remember, small steps add up over time and can turn into greater strides toward a healthier lifestyle. Serve regular, balanced meals and snacks with a variety of nutrient-rich foods. Here are some small changes to try today:

  • Start with one meal at a time and fuel the family for the day with a nutritious breakfast.
  • Focus on health, not weight. Avoid talking about weight or putting yourself down in front of kids. You don't want them to think a healthful lifestyle only is about how much they weigh.
  • Enjoy family dinner together each night or as often as possible.
  • At each meal, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half of the grains you eat whole grains.
  • Seek help from a qualified health professional. A registered dietitian nutritionist is your best source of reliable and up-to-date food and nutrition information.

Prepare for Challenges

Don't be afraid of challenges — prepare to overcome them. Lack of time often is cited as the biggest barrier to adopting healthful habits. Fortunately, small schedule tweaks can equal big results. Try substituting some TV time for cooking together as a family, or going to bed and waking up 15 minutes earlier so you have time for breakfast. Also, consider using a slow cooker, or planning and shopping for weekly meals in advance. Take it slow and be gentle, because change won't happen overnight. Try different strategies to find what works for your family, and forget about perfection — if what you're doing is not fun and rewarding, it's not going to last.

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