Contributor: Sara Lappe, MD
The holidays have been over for a couple weeks, and as another year begins, we’re still thinking about resolutions. While most people immediately vow to go on a diet, it’s not the best New Year’s decision.
A diet implies a finite period of time and once the diet is over, many go back to their old, unhealthy ways. This year, skip the word diet and instead use these six tips to help your family develop healthy habits that will stick – for life.
1. Try new foods – particularly new fruits or vegetables. Did you know? Only 4 percent of Americans eat the recommended amount of vegetables. Take a trip to the grocery store with your children, and buy a vegetable you’ve never eaten. Then, find a healthy recipe that includes that vegetable, and turn dinner into a fun, family-friendly activity by allowing your kids to help cook the meal.
2. Give foods a second chance. Tastes change and evolve throughout one’s lifetime, so don’t be afraid to re-try old foods you think you don’t like. And remember that foods can be prepared in a handful of different ways, so if you don’t like something baked, try it sautéed, puréed or even raw. Another way to get the most flavor out of fruits and vegetables is to purchase produce that’s in-season. Why? Because flavors in most foods do not improve with time or distance. Not to mention, a summer tomato is much different than a January tomato. While grocery shopping, look for produce that’s cheaper or locally grown – these are more likely to be in season, but if you’re unsure, talk to your grocer.
3. Eat less sugar. It’s time to do a little reading – food label reading, that is. Start by going through your cabinets, pantry and fridge to identify how much added sugar is in each food and drink product. Chances are, you’ll be shocked at how much sugar your family is consuming. Studies have repeatedly shown that sugar has a significant impact on our metabolic health, as well as our mental health, which in turn impacts our mood. Sugar is an acquired taste, and although you may need to re-train your taste buds to enjoy less sweet foods, it will help improve your health immensely. The easiest way to start eliminating sugar is by cutting back on sweetened drinks. Once you’ve mastered that, cut back on foods that contain added sugars. If you can’t eliminate them completely, find alternatives that contain less sugar, but be sure to skip any artificial sweeteners. Continue to have dessert, just enjoy it in moderation.
4. Cut back on screen time. Work to remove all electronic screens – including tablets, phones and televisions – from each bedroom in your home. This will not only help your family go to bed earlier, but it will also help them sleep better. Keep the TV in the family room, and make movie or TV-show watching a family affair. The dining table, however, should be an electronic-free zone. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, ditch the electronics and focus on making conversation with one another. Save that precious mealtime to check in with each member of your family.
5. Spend more time outside. Embrace the weather, and enjoy the seasons with your children. If it’s raining, throw on rain boots, put up an umbrella and splash in the puddles. If there’s snow on the ground, bundle up for a sledding session, build a snow fort or gather everyone to help shovel the driveway. If the day is sunny, bask in its rays, and if the sun has already set by the time you arrive home, grab a few flashlights and head out for a nighttime walk.
6. Schedule in family time. Whether it’s five minutes a day or longer, put away the distractions and really take time to focus on one another. Spend time talking, listening, laughing, reading or playing games.
As you can tell from these six tips, a big component of getting your children to be healthier is by being healthy yourself. Children emulate their parents, so if you spend all your free time glued to a screen and choose potato chips over vegetables, your children will likely do the same. This year, focus on becoming the healthiest version of yourself, and your children will follow suit.
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This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic.