Picture this: families everywhere sitting down to three healthy meals each day while consistently making family fitness a priority. Now picture this: reality.
Few things have greater positive impact on a family's physical health than establishing sustainable healthy eating and fitness habits. But in real life, preparing meals from fresh, nutritious ingredients often is more time-consuming (and frequently less kid-pleasing) than zipping into a drive-thru. Meanwhile, coaxing everyone away from distractions long enough to get active as a family can be a chore. If these challenges sound familiar, you're not alone!
To help, we've examined some of the most common "healthy lifestyle hurdles" families encounter and discovered solutions that actually fit into everyday family life. Achieving a healthier lifestyle may be easier than you think — and absolutely worth the effort.
No. 1: We all enjoy different activities. Being active together is tough.
Real-life solution: "On track" fitness
I've discovered the best-kept secret for parents with active children: the local high school track. When the track in our town isn't in use by the school, it's open to the public. Often, my family has the track to ourselves. In the wide-open spaces, we are free to run, race and ride as much and as far as our legs will take us. My oldest boys, ages 8 and 11, love playing football in the field and racing around the track on scooters. I enjoy going for a jog while my 4-year-old rides beside me on his bike. All my kids have fun racing against each other — and against me!
Not all tracks are open to the public, so remember to ask your local high school first. The possibilities for staying active at the track are endless: kite flying, tag and relay races are just a few more ways we enjoy the unoccupied space.
No. 2: Mission impossible: getting my kids to eat vegetables.
Real-life solution: Answer the question — "What's in it for me? "
With the temptation of sugary and overly salty foods around every corner, one way I encourage my kids to eat healthier is by explaining how nutritious foods benefit their bodies. For example, when serving carrots, I say, "Eating carrots helps you to see better." My little boys, in particular, are motivated to eat up when they hear, "Eat your oatmeal so you have energy to run even faster." When my kids don't want to finish their milk, it helps to remind them, "Milk builds strong bones and teeth." Kids love knowing they are eating foods that help them become faster, stronger or better at the activities they enjoy.
Before I know it, the kids have gulped down their milk, gobbled up those carrots they didn't want to eat and licked their bowls clean of oatmeal.
No. 3: With so many distractions — hello, technology du jour — keeping my tweens active is tricky!
Real-life solution: Healthy competition
Download: Family activity challenge
With the distractions of social media and technology, it's challenging to get my kids off their phones and gaming systems and into physical activity. So when my oldest son suggested a family fitness competition, I quickly embraced the idea.
We launched a Family Activity Challenge for our family of six, using a spreadsheet to track everyone's physical activity. We mark off one box for every five minutes of cardiovascular exercise such as running, walking, biking — anything that gets the heart rate up. For less strenuous activities such as shooting baskets or playing catch, we mark off one box for every 10 minutes of play. Whoever marks off the most boxes in three months is the winner. We award first-, second- and third-place prizes — all fitness related — such as $25 to spend at a local sporting goods store, a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee or new basketball socks.
Our friendly competition provides opportunities for my husband and me to introduce our kids to many different kinds of exercise, show them how staying active keeps them healthier and empower them to take ownership of their fitness. Our kids now invite us to play basketball or go for a bike ride instead of waiting for us to prod them to get outside and move.
No. 4: When our energy tanks are running low, our unfortunate default is to reach for sweets or caffeine to give us a quick boost.
Real-life solution: Power-ups
An afternoon energy lull was plaguing my home until I introduced "power-ups" — a concept modeled after the video games my kids sometimes play. When I see my kids dragging, I say, "Looks like you need to power up." They then go to our posted list of power-up suggestions and select one or two healthy energy boosters. Power-ups come in three categories:
1. Power workouts
Sitting still for too long can make us feel sluggish, so taking a few minutes to run or jump gets our blood flowing again. The list of power workouts includes:
- Do 10 jumping jacks.
- Run around the outside of the house twice.
- Do 10 sit-ups.
- Lift the flour container 10 times.
2. Power snacks
For energy slumps between meals, eating a healthy snack can boost my kids' energy back to working levels.
Download: Grocery Store Stoplight Game
The power snack list includes:
- Ten blueberries
- Carrot sticks
- A small bowl of yogurt
- A handful of almonds
3. Power naps
Sometimes my kids are tired because they are . . . tired. Power naps are downtime suggestions for kids who don't welcome traditional naps:
- Lie down for 10 minutes, close your eyes and listen to soft music.
- Read for 15 minutes.
- Make a nest on the floor and listen to an episode of Adventures in Odyssey.
My kids love the idea of doing something that will increase their "power" or their ability to "win" the event of the day, whether that's playing in a soccer game or getting homework done.
No. 5: Getting my kids to eat healthy foods at home is one thing. What they eat away from home is another.
Real-life solution: Make that "to go"
After we warily examined the school lunch menu, our lunch station was born. I cleared an area of our laundry room, bought large plastic containers and loaded them with lunch choices bought in bulk: prepackaged snacks in one bin and fresh fruit in another. When it's time to pack lunches, my girls choose one item from each bin, one or more vegetables from the refrigerator (prepackaged snap peas, carrots, peppers, broccoli), one dip (tahini, hummus, homemade dressing), one protein (cheese, yogurt, nuts, homemade bars) and one starch (whole wheat sandwich, whole grain pretzels, flatbread). Each type of food is listed on a chart that the kids can check as they pack their meals. The girls love their lunches because they choose them.