Creating a Healthier Family

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If you or your children are spending lots of time sitting, you are all at risk of becoming a “couch potato”.  Nearly one in three kiwis is overweight – including children.  Weight gain occurs when the energy consumed (food) is more than the energy that is used (exercise).

However, for most parents and kids, hearing the words “diet” and “exercise” are both intimidating and overwhelming.  Just where do you start?

Implementing simple lifestyle changes for the whole family gets the most consistent results. Parents need to be proactive in creating a positive environment so their children can succeed with small changes in eating habits and lifestyle that will have long-lasting effects on future habits – and health!  It’s much easier for kids to live a healthier lifestyle if they are given the tools and resources to start within the home, and if mum and dad are setting an example.

Here are five simple steps parents can take to set their family on the road to creating a healthy lifestyle – you’ll all benefit in the long run!

Create a Family Plan

The first step to becoming a fit family to come together as a family and develop a plan together.  Start this off with a “family meeting”.  Manage that meeting in business-like way – delegating roles according to the age of your children.

 Ideas for the meeting include:

–        Identify the problem/s.  E.g. “we eat too many takeaways and dad’s got high cholesterol

–        Develop a common family goal, e.g. “being healthier so we all live long, healthy and happy lives – including dad not having a heart attack”.

–        Discuss everyone’s favourite foods and activities.

–        Come up with a family plan with goals for the week, month and year incorporating everyone’s ideas (this can evolve over time).  Examples include:

  • Plan the meals for the week ahead. Plan to include cooking enough for leftovers for lunches.
  • If one child likes pizzas, plan a whole-wheat pizza night with all their favourite veggie toppings.
  • If another child likes cycling, organise a Saturday adventure for the entire family.
  • Delegate one person each week to bring a new idea for “being healthy” to the next family meeting.

–        In the plan, include some House Rules such as:

  • Sit down to eat and enjoy your meals as a family.
  • Eat together at the dinner table at least five evenings a week and for as many breakfasts and lunches as possible.
  • No distractions of the TV, computer or cell phone.   (Kids eat more slowly and stop when they are full when they eat without distractions).
  • No eating in front of TV, in the car, on the couch or over the sink.

–        Have a new family meeting every week to talk about how the plan went and to decide on the next week.  The weekend is a good time for this, so the shopping can be done for the week ahead.

This structure gives everyone ownership and input to the project.  It is crucial to have one central health message.  If one person in the family is overweight, don’t isolate them – instead, guide the design of the project so that it benefits the entire family – you’ll grow stronger as a family from the shared planning and activities.

Create a Family Health Education Strategy

Start off with learning about the health problems that exist within the family – including the current family behaviours that might have contributed to that as well as possible consequences of not addressing that health issue.  This can be a strong motivator for change.  If (so far) no-one has  a diagnosed condition, look at the diseases you are at risk of developing based on current lifestyle and eating habits.

Set nutrition and exercise goals for a family-friendly competition.  Here’s one idea that works well for younger children:

Create a Food Chart

–        Make magnetic “stickers” with a different colour for each of the food groups.  Get the children to draw pictures or cut them out of magazines and put on the correct colour card for that food group.

–        Glue them onto cut up squares of flat magnets – such as those that adorn your fridge with takeaway pizza company phone numbers and so on.

–        Create a laminated chart for each child that goes on the fridge – the children can put a sticker on their own chart to indicate each servings of each food /group eaten that day.  Aim for 2 servings of fruit and 4-6 servings of vegetables each day, with goals of low-fat, low-sugar and low “treat” selections.

–        You might find that for a bigger family, using water-based felt pens to colour in the laminated charts works just as well.  These can be wiped off with a damp cloth.

–        Let the family member who wins each week pick the next meal or activity.

For older children, assign one person the task of looking for a YouTube clip or TV program or film for the family to watch together that demonstrates a bad outcome for eating or living unhealthily, OR one that validates healthy lifestyles.

Create Young Chefs: Get the Kids in the Kitchen

Even from a very young age, children can help with meal preparation.  As they get older, allow them to assume more responsibility until they are cooking one night a week.  The meal they cook has to be approved at the family meeting and meet the family goals of healthy eating.

Assign one parent with one child to attend an evening cooking class in healthy meal preparation or Japanese cooking – something that works well for children from Intermediate age onwards.

Instead of buying cookies, snack bars, chips and so on, select recipes for home baking that include wholemeal flour, low fat and low sugar (most recipes can have 1/3 less sugar than stated and this does not compromise the taste).

Get the children baking!  Ensure the recipes meet your family goals.  Also allocate portions per person per day to ensure these remain a “treat” food.

Go through the panty together and identify the “good” and “not so good” items in there.  Aim to get rid of unhealthy foods in your house, which means that the snack choices will only be healthy ones.

Ensure you always have a supply of fresh fruit, a few dried fruit (limit these are they are high in sugars), as well as nuts and vegetables for carrot sticks and so on. Rice crackers, rice wafers, corn thins, dips such as hummus are also good for snacks.  Avoid jam, honey etc as much as possible.

Use high-fibre ingredients:  whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice. Leave skins on vegetables.

Make smoothies that incorporate a mixture of fruits and vegetables – the greener the better.

Create Movement!

It’s so important for good health!   These bodies were made for moving, so it must become an integral part of your family life.  It doesn’t have to cost much or anything at all if you’re creative.   Include strategies for more movement in daily life.

Here are some starters:

–        Make it fun for the kids to take the stairs instead of the lift.

–       Don’t drive the children to school – they should be walking or using a bike, scooter (ensure they have a helmet) or public transport.  Do they same yourself – avoid the car as much as possible.

–        Walk to the supermarket.

–        Park around the corner from Grandma’s house and skip to her front door!

If the family does watch TV, try to do something active with it like a hula-hoop competition during ad breaks. Or set a rule: one hour of TV or computer = 10 minutes of “step dancing”.

–        Get Dance DVDs – learn to Rock n’Roll or Hip Hop in your own living room.

–        On wet days on weekends, go to the pools, ice-skating, indoor rock-climbing, visit museums or art galleries

–        Join the children up to an after-school sports or scouts/sea scouts group.

–        Include at least one half-day family outing a week – such as a short hikes, walks in the neighbourhood or bike ride.  Take a picnic lunch.

–        If you have older children, join a hiking club – find one that also has teens a similar age.

–        Bring this list to your family meetings – add one strategy a week.

Create a Positive Atmosphere

It’s important the children to know that both mum and dad are committed to living a healthy lifestyle.  Be honest about your own challenges in terms of making change – this helps reassure the kids that it’s not just them that miss certain things and that you are making sacrifices too.  Be sure to reinforce the benefits of making the changes.

In your family planning always include a “success” treat of some kind – but make sure it’s one that fits in with your overall Healthy Living Plan – this might be something like getting mangoes this week for the smoothie, or plan trip to the zoo, or a round of mini golf, or….. Get Creative!!

What is important is to have fun with your new way of living and practice these steps every day.

Useful websites

See www.BestBlenders.co.nz for smoothie recipe ideas.

Sharon Erdrich

Sharon is a registered naturopath, clinical nutritional consultant and medical herbalist with a special interest in weight management, particularly for the benefit in preventing diabetes and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. She runs House of Heath in Auckland.

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Categorised: Grown Ups
Please note that this article represents the views of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Kiwi Family Media Ltd.

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