Creating a healthy lifestyle for your family

Many parents ask me for advice on how to keep their children healthy. For most parents and kids, hearing “diet and exercise” is not only intimidating but also overwhelming. They don’t know how and where to start. To help demystify those words of advice that they often hear, I suggest simple lifestyle changes. Parents should play a proactive role in setting up a positive environment in which their children can succeed. Small, consistent changes in eating habits and lifestyle are very powerful. They have long-lasting effects on a child’s future habits.

Here are 10 simple steps parents can take to set their family on the road to a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Stock the house with healthy snacks. When a child wants a cookie, it’s easier to say no if it is not available. Stock up on fresh fruits, dried fruits and nuts. Cut and package fruit and nuts in advance so they are ready for your kids to grab when they are hungry.
  2. Plan meals. Use the weekend to plan meals for the week ahead. Involve your family in the planning. This avoids fast-food outings during a busy week. Make enough for leftovers to take to school or to the office.
  3. Eat mindfully. Eat as a family at the dinner table at least five times a week without the distractions of the TV, computer or cell phone. Enjoy your meals as a family. Kids eat slower and stop when they are full when they eat without distractions. Avoid eating on the run, in the car, on the couch or over the sink.
  4. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Plan on serving your kids a colorful salad or vegetable dish at each meal. Kids respond to exciting, colorful food!
  5. Eat high-fiber carbohydrates. Choose whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, yams or sweet potatoes.
  6. Eat breakfast. Encouraging kids to eat a healthy breakfast keeps them from overeating later in the day or eating an unhealthy lunch at school. They also pay better attention in class.
  7. Drink water. Avoid sugary drinks such as sodas, juices and energy drinks. Even diet drinks can increase cravings for other sugary food products. In addition, kids perceive thirst as hunger. Hunger subsides when they are well hydrated.
  8. Control portions. Measure your kids’ portions instead of letting them serve themselves. Encourage them to eat slowly by having a family conversation at the dinner table. Wait 20 minutes before giving another portion; it takes awhile for the stomach to tell the brain that it is full. Most of the time, kids don’t even need that second portion if they just wait.
  9. Move. It’s important for kids to be active. They can be part of an after-school sports group. Or the family can take short hikes, walks in the neighborhood or bike rides. Make it fun for the kids to take the stairs instead of the elevator. If the family does watch TV, try to do something active with it like a hula-hoop competition during commercial breaks.
  10. Be a positive influence. It’s important for kids to know that mom and dad are committed to living a healthy lifestyle. Practice and live the previous steps daily.

It’s easier for kids to live a healthier lifestyle inside and outside the home if they are given the tools and resources that start within the home.