Life comes at you fast and, especially when kids are added to the mix, it seems to transition from a peaceful stroll to a frantic chase.
This is a pace that can make it quite difficult to keep up with the daily carpool schedule, let alone making sure everyone is eating the right foods and actually sitting down to enjoy them.
Chocolate-Drizzled Fruit Kabobs
1 lb fresh pineapple, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pint strawberries, halved
2 whole bananas, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 oz dark baking chocolate or 1 bottle chocolate topping that forms hard shell
12 bamboo skewers
1. Wash all fresh fruit under cool running water, rinse and drain well
2. Alternate fruit pieces as you thread them onto each skewer (about eight per skewer)
3. Melt dark chocolate according to package directions or, if using the liquid form, simply drizzle it over each kabob
4. Place kabobs onto a parchment lined baking sheet and place in the freezer for at least three hours
5. Once they are chilled through, serve and enjoy
A healthy lifestyle is something all parents want for their children, yet when it comes down to ensuring it actually happens—eating right, moving more, sitting less, family dinners—that can be a challenge.
So, what’s a busy mom or dad to do? Your best.
We all have obstacles in life. It’s up to us to do our best with whatever cards we’ve been dealt. Start wherever you are and build from there to make small steps toward healthier habits.
As you consider your own family’s lifestyle, where would you like to improve? As a dietitian, of course I believe food should be one of the cornerstones of health and have therefore included several tips on how to improve the nutritious choices found in your family meals. There is more to a healthy life than good food alone, however. This is a lesson that seems to have resonated louder with the addition of each of our three children.
Read on for the five healthy habits health experts believe every family should (and can) include, along with tried and true tips to make each aspect a reality.
1. Break (the) fast
We have all been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but do you know why? Research consistently shows that children who regularly eat breakfast do better in school. In fact, one study published by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing found that morning nutrition combined with the social interaction surrounding the meal may actually help boost our IQs.
To streamline the morning routine, simplify the options. Have two to three choices available on a daily basis, reserving more involved breakfasts for special occasions. Stick with quick and easy combos such as cereal with milk, yogurt with granola, string cheese and apple slices, or even leftovers from the day before.
One of my favorites as a mom? I prepare a large batch of omega-3-rich whole grain pancakes on a slow Sunday morning, then freeze them, layering in parchment paper and sealed with a plastic bag. This way I can quickly pull a package of pancakes out of the freezer and pop them in the toaster for a quick, yet hearty meal my kiddos will enjoy.
When the choices are limited, you will not be left scrambling to meet the demands of your customers’—ahem, kiddos’—last-minute requests.
You can save even more time by creating a breakfast basket. Stock a wicker basket or Tupperware container full of nutritious grab-and-go foods, and store it in your pantry or refrigerator depending on what you choose to include. Tasty choices include fresh fruit, whole-grain bread, nut butter packets, baggies of whole-grain cereal or trail mix, hard-boiled eggs, individual cartons of milk, string cheese, tube yogurts, and even individual oatmeal cups.
The bottom line? Breakfast does not have to be a source of stress, rather it should be a routine that brings peace to your morning because the work is essentially already done. Breakfast should get you to pause—just for a moment—to catch your breath as you jump into your day.
2. Aim for five
Fruits and vegetables, that is.
Despite the endless data supporting the health benefits of fruits and veggies, more than two-thirds of adults eat less than two servings of fruit and nearly three-quarters eat veggies less than three times each day. When it comes to kids the numbers are even worse, with less than 10 percent of high-schoolers achieving the recommended minimum goal of five-a-day.
According to Sharon Palmer, RD, author of The Plant-Powered Diet, “people assume fruits and vegetables are very expensive food choices, but recent research indicates that they are less expensive based on nutritional value per serving than other food choices, such as animal protein and processed foods.”
By choosing your produce based on the season, “you can fit fruits and veggies into your diet” at a fraction of the cost, especially if you sign up for a local farm share or visit your farm market later in the day as farmers are sometimes willing to knock their prices even lower.
“Don’t forget,” reminds Palmer, “that preserved produce, such as canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, is precious—it is usually picked at its seasonal best, ripe and luscious, and preserved within hours of harvesting.” Today’s technology allows farmers to preserve more of the nutrients in our produce than ever before, making all forms beneficial to our health.
To reach your five servings, make half of your plate fruits and veggies, incorporating this practice at both meals and snacks. With this plan, by the time you reach suppertime, you will have already hit or exceeded your goal.
3. Drink more water
Juice, even 100 percent fruit juice, sounds healthy enough, yet it lacks in fiber and many key phytonutrients.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises limiting all forms of sugar sweetened beverages to ¾ cup per day for kids 1 to 6 years old and less than 1 ½ cups for those ages 7 to 18. However, as Kate Byers, RD, mom, and managing editor of SmartEatingforKids.com, puts it, “Juice is not off limits, but it isn’t the default.”
Boosting water intake can be a challenge for some families, especially if sugary drinks are the norm.
Kati Mora, MS, RD, and founder of Aroundtheplate.org, is very familiar with this topic. “If water is a little blah for you and your kids, consider adding some fresh or frozen fruit to the mix. It will add a subtle hint of flavor along with a burst of color you and your kids are sure to love.” Adding a special twisty straw, one reserved for ‘special’ water cups only, may also help add some excitement to this classic beverage.
And if you still need an extra boost of motivation in your home, Mora invites you to “let your kids help decide which fruits to add or have them create silly names for each concoction you mix together. It’s a fun and easy way to make hydration more fun.”
For the special occasions when juice does enter your home, opt for pre-portioned juice boxes or dilute the bulk juice bottles with water—flat or sparkling—to cut back on the sugar while still maintaining a pop of flavor.
4. Team up at the table
Mealtime is more than a healthy ritual.
The conversations that surround the meal help bolster vocabulary and are the passageway for family history. Family dinners have been linked with fewer emotional and behavioral problems in children and adolescents, increased fruit and veggie intake, and a better overall life satisfaction.
What’s even better is that research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health indicates these benefits are actually compounded the more meals you are able to share. The cherry on top? Family meals are also linked with a reduced risk of obesity and eating disorders in children.
So, can you picture it? The entire family lovingly gathered around the dinner table, Norman Rockwell-style. Maybe not if you are among the many American families hitting the drive-thru window for dinner or eating alone in front of the television.
Dinnertime often feels like a mad scramble to get food on the table, making parents everywhere dread the evening routine. If that is you, start simple. Designate one night a week as family dinner night and serve whatever you can manage—even if it is something as basic as PB&J—it still counts. The point is that you are joining together as a family.
In order to make mealtime fun, Sandy Nissenberg, MS, RD, of KidsLiketoEat.com and author of The Healthy Start Kids Cookbook, suggests “blocking out at least 15 minutes to focus solely on good food and family. In other words, time spent at the family table should be free of fighting, texts, e-mail, TV, lectures, and food police.”
Even planning the meal can become a source of joy if you consider the fact that you now have an excuse to skim through mouth-watering recipes on Pinterest for inspiration. If you would rather delegate the to-do of meal planning, invite each family member to plan one meal each week or sign-up for a meal planning service such as TheScramble.com to receive a weekly dinner menu and shopping list.
Whatever you choose, remember that each and every family meal is making a positive impact on the health of your family.
5. Have fun
We all know we need to move more. Adults need at least a daily 30 minutes and kids need at least 60, yet with so many things fighting for your time, even that can feel impossible.
How can we make physical activity a reality? By choosing activities that bring smiles and laughter along with the multitude of health benefits linked with exercise including weight loss and reduced risk of chronic disease.
Go for a hike at a local park, take a bike ride to the library, or challenge your family to a competitive game of WiiFit. Whatever activity you choose, remember that as you get your heart pumping, you are setting a healthy example for your children, young minds constantly looking to you to role model what a healthy lifestyle looks like.
Kim Delafuente, an exercise physiologist for Spectrum Health and co-author of FitKids360, is adamant in the fact that it doesn’t take being an athlete to get moving, “all you need is a sense of adventure and willingness to try.” She encourages families to “start with smaller increments of 10 minutes throughout the day—it all adds up and is the first step to moving more. Who doesn’t feel better after a walk around the block or a quick game of a basketball?
Physical activity is not only good for the body but also reduces stress and improves mood. Another bonus is kids who are physically active often do better in school. So grab the family and get moving—what are you waiting for?