Ideas to help your family get healthier in the new year
We're a few days into 2019. Maybe you set big goals this year for you and your family to get healthier. Maybe you want more sleep, more exercise or better nutrition.
The key, says Dr. Sahar Burns of Texas Children's Pediatrics Pediatric Partners of Austin, is to take small steps. "It's not perfection," Burns says. "It's small changes every day."
It has to be realistic and doable so it will stick. "Small changes make for big changes in life," she says.
If eating healthier is your goal, try having your child be the one out of 10 children who eats enough vegetables. Instead of worrying about the number of servings a day and the old Food Pyramid, think about the new Food Plate, which you can find at choosemyplate.gov. Think one to two servings of fruits and vegetables per meal, or half the plate having fruits and vegetables, a quarter of the plate having a lean protein and the remaining quarter being a healthy grain.
If you child doesn't seem to be the fruits and vegetables type, Burns suggests these tips:
• Model eating fruits and vegetables yourself.
• Make fruits and vegetables visibly available at every meal and even between meals.
• Take children to the store with you to shop for fruits and vegetables.
• Engage children in helping you wash the fruits and vegetables and, for older children, helping you cut them with kid-friendly knives.
• Have children help you prepare the whole meal so that meal prep becomes part of the dinner experience and kids don't feel like Mom and Dad are forcing them to eat their broccoli.
If you thought you would increase kids' fruit and vegetable intake by adding juice, don't. "Juice is pretty much not recommended in any way, shape or form," Burns says.
You want them getting the fiber and nutrients of whole fruits and vegetables while avoiding the sugar content of juice.
Milk or nut milk can help young kids get the healthy fats they need as well as protein, vitamins and calcium (if it's been added to the nut milk).
Water is also a great drink. For picky drinkers, try infusing the water for a few hours with fruit, mint or cucumbers. "Most kids will like water when they're thirsty," Burns says, but you might have to change it up a bit to get them to drink a little more.
If exercise and fitness have been on your list of things to do as a family, keep in mind that the recommendation for 60 minutes a day of activity from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't have to be done all at once. It can be done in short bursts or while doing things you already have to do, like walking the dog, walking to school or riding a bike to school.
A great way for kids to get that activity is to enroll in an organized sport or regular activity like gymnastics or swim team.
Also, if you can do activities as a family, it might be easier to keep it up while creating a bonding activity. (Plus, it's good for Mom and Dad, too.)
Parents might think kids are getting plenty of activity at school, but the truth is that many school kids don't have PE every day, and even if they did, there might be a lot of waiting around for their turn depending on the activity. Recess is the same way.
Sleep might also be on your list (because are we ever really getting enough?). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers these guidelines on how much sleep we need:
• Infants 4 months to 12 months old: 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
• Children 1 to 2 years old: 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
• Children 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
• Children 6 to 12 years old: 9 to 12 hours
• Teens 13 to 18 years old: 8 to 10 hours
• Adults: 7 hours or more
"Sleep is so important," Burns says. "Kids that get enough sleep do better in school, have better immunity. That's true for adults as well."
Burns recommends these things:
• Move bedtime up a few minutes at a time rather than trying to adjust to a new bedtime all at once.
• Establish a bedtime routine that is very clear.
• Detach from screens an hour before bedtime to feel ready for sleep.
• Keep all screens out of the bedrooms.
There's no way that every family could do all of this every day. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day, and some days are more complicated than others.
If your list of things you want to change is long, Burns suggests, "Pick something you're going to work on, and don't try to change everything at once."
She does have ideas for where to start. The No. 1 thing she'd like parents to work on is sitting down for a family dinner. Even if it's not the most nutritious dinner and comes out of a box, the time spent together, connecting, with screens put away, is key. Kids are "more well-adjusted and happier and have a better relationship with the family if you can prioritize that," she says.