Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS, FCHS Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
For good health, families need to be physically active and parents need to serve as good role models for their children. Playing, eating, and enjoying life together as a family set the stage for a healthy lifestyle. Below are five small steps to consider:
- Be Active Inside and Outside the Home - Turn off the TV and put down the remote control. Instead, play a game of hide and seek, ping pong, or dance together. Try walking to a local park, riding bikes, or playing ball together. Encourage hopscotch, tag, hula hoops, or jumping rope. Enjoy a local park and try out the swings and other play equipment. Bring a picnic lunch or dinner and build strong family bonds.
- Eat Together as a Family - Eating more family meals at home and preparing foods from scratch can help reduce food costs. Drink more water and reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages such as juice drinks, flavored waters, ice teas, and soda. Instead, drink more tap water, 100% juice, and fat-free or 1% milk. Plan weekly menus and limit protein to 5-6 ounces a day of meat, fish, poultry, and eggs for each adult. Also limit high fat cheeses and fried foods. Use cooking methods such as broiling, grilling, baking, and roasting. Keep portion sizes small and increase your intake of veggies, fruit, and whole grains. Limit desserts and sweets to once a day or less.
- Save Fast Food for “Once in a Blue Moon” - The majority of fast food is high in fat, salt, sugar, and calories. Make careful food choices to keep within your normal caloric needs. Try sharing a supersized portion of fries or onion rings. Order the small burger or children’s meal instead of a larger size for adults and have kids try apple slices or mandarin orange slices instead of the fries. Rethink your drink and order milk, juice, coffee, or plain tea instead of soda or milkshakes. Switch to fat free or reduced fat milk for protein, calcium and other body building nutrients.
- Enjoy Veggies and Fruits at Meals and Snacks - Nutrition educators often observe children happily eating fruits and vegetables in class. Unfortunately, those same foods are not served at home for meals or snacks. Stock up on healthy snacks and meals. Instead of high-fat chips, cookies, and candy for snacks, try vanilla yogurt and fresh fruit, peanut butter on a whole grain cracker, and smoothies made with fresh fruit, yogurt, and juice. Kids love these foods.
- Take TV Out of the Bedroom and Read Together - The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television viewing for children under age 3 and no more than two hours of total “screen time” a day for older kids. Instead, make sure that children engage in more active play and reading. Research indicates that children’s school performance improves with less screen time on computers, TV, and video games. No TV in the bedroom also improves children’s sleep habits.
Remember, for families to be fit and healthy, everyone needs to work together to make healthier choices. Small steps each day will help you and your family lead healthier lives.