If your New Year’s resolutions to eat better and exercise more are already going by the wayside, here’s an idea: Enlist your family to help.
It will help you stay on track if everybody’s on the same routine. And chances are, they could use a little boost, too. About one-third of American children and teenagers are now overweight or obese, according to the American Heart Association. And even if your children do not have a weight problem now, the habits you help them learn in childhood will help them stay fit and healthy as adults.
Rethink meals: An easy fix is to reduce fat where you can: Buy lean meats, more fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-fat milk. Cut back on fatty snacks. But that’s easier said than done, especially with kids in the house. Instead, look for healthier substitutes that everybody likes (“light” microwave popcorn instead of chips; yogurt instead of ice cream.) Try cutting the amount of meat you serve in half, replacing the empty space on the plate with whole grains, vegetables and fruit.
Revamp your cooking: Take the kids to the grocery store and let each one try one new “healthy” food – whole wheat pasta, maybe, or a different kind of apple. Rely on NuVal scores to make choosing healthier foods easier – these scores are listed right on the store shelves, and the closer the score is to 100, the better that food is for you. Make it a family mission to look for healthy recipes to try or ways to reduce fat and calories in family favorites. You can often reduce the amount of fat in a recipe by about ¼ without really noticing it at all. (This, however, does not apply to baking, where recipes are more precise.)
Cook together: It’s often stated that kids are more likely to try new foods that they have helped cook. But it’s also important for them to learn their way around in the kitchen, so they don’t rely on junk food and restaurants when they head off to college. It will also help them see just how much fat and sodium goes in some favorite dishes, and understand proper serving size. Since portion control is a big part of weight management, this is an important tool.
Get off the couch: Studies have shown that children tend to imitate their parents when it comes to exercise. So make it a family activity. Challenge them to an active video game – most kids will love beating their parents at Just Dance or Wii bowling. Dust off those bikes in the garage and go for a leisurely (or quick) spin. Look into family membership rates at the Y or another fitness facility; more gyms are now offering fitness classes even for younger children, to get them in the exercise habit early.
Get outside: Raking leaves, trimming hedges, mowing lawns, stacking firewood – all kinds of outdoors chores burn calories and give you a teachable moment about the value of hard work. (And you’ll save money if you’ve been paying a service to do these chores, too.) Or, even simpler: A simple walk around the block or in the neighborhood park costs nothing, and is a good time to catch up on everyone’s day.