As the new year unfolds, we swear to new, healthier habits for ourselves and our families. Then, life jumps into overdrive: we find ourselves doling out cookies to our kids rather than cutting fresh veggies, all while racing to after-school basketball practice or swimming lessons.
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It’s not too late to regroup.
Pediatrician Lynn Milliner, MD, offers 5 tips for getting your family back on track with healthier habits.
1. Start with small, specific health goals
Think in baby steps. Smaller changes are easier to make, and add up over time. Also, the more specific the changes are, the better.
Don’t: Eliminate all processed sugar from your diet in one step.
Do: Switch to whole grain breads and cereals at meal times.
Do: Chop up a few whole fresh fruits like apples, bananas, pears and grapes, for quick grab-and-go snacks each week.
2. Eat as a family
Family mealtimes offer multiple benefits, including healthier eating and stronger relationships.
Studies link family dinners with:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Healthier body weight
- Better family communication
- Improved school performance
- More confidence
- Fewer behavioral problems
3. Plan healthier meals together
It’s easier to stick to healthy lifestyle changes when everyone has a part in setting the direction. Allow kids to offer ideas and guide them in selecting healthier alternatives to favorite foods.
To be sandwich-smart, try:
To be snack-smart, try:
- Low-fat tortilla wraps
- Lower-fat deli meats, such as turkey
- Baked chips
- Air-popped popcorn
- Soy crisps
- Homemade trail mix
- Veggies and dip
- Fresh fruit
4. Know your food labels
Foods can be deceiving. They may look healthy but can harbor hidden fats and sugars. Understanding food labels helps you select healthier options – and you won’t be fooled by clever packaging. Look for food items with lower amounts of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium.
5. Limit sugar
The average American eats at least double what health experts recommend. Although sugar occurs naturally in many foods like fruits, dairy and grains, most of us are eating refined sugar in processed foods.
If you find two or more of the following items on a food label, especially near the beginning of the list, the product probably contains a lot of sugar:
- Corn syrup
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Raw sugar
- Fruit juice concentrates
- Anything ending in “-ose”
6. Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep is linked with obesity, depression, memory loss and chronic disease. To get enough sleep, consider melatonin, a hormone our bodies produce that regulates sleep and waking in response to daylight and darkness. As it gets darker, your body releases more melatonin and you begin to feel drowsy.
When you use electronic devices in the evening or keep bright lights on in your house, it can confuse your body and reduce the amount of melatonin your body releases, preventing you from naturally falling asleep. Similarly, too much sugar or caffeine during the day may stimulate the nervous system and limit your body’s release of melatonin.
The fix: Allow yourself and your kids some time to wind down and prepare for a good night sleep. Limit sugary snacks and caffeinated drinks, dim the lights, and cut back on TV and computer use at least one hour before going to bed.