Did you know that September 27th is Family Health and Fitness Day? As far as I’m concerned, that means two things. One, I’m definitely making my crew these brownie batter protein overnight oats for breakfast. And second: It’s the perfect time to think creatively about how to get the whole family (or anyone we live with, for that matter) more excited about healthy living.
Whether you want to make exercise a more regular part of your lives or healthy eating more of the norm in your household, these tips will help you and the fam clean up old habits and make your healthy routines stick.
1. Find fun ways to move that don’t feel like workouts
A surprising number of outdoor games sneak in calorie-torching action, says Amber DiPietro, C.P.T., trainer and certified holistic health and wellness coach.
“Enjoy a game of tag and increase your speed, agility, and quickness along with cardiovascular health, or race with cone drills to the finish line,” says DiPietro. If you’re working to get little ones moving, incorporate a game of hopscotch or leapfrog.
If a little friendly leapfrog competition isn’t your jam, simply plan regular time to move together. “Set a goal to walk together as a family one evening this week,” recommends Carol Frazey, M.S., author of the e-book The Fit School Plan: 1 Year to a Nutritionally and Physically Fit Life. “Walking as a family is a great way to build both good health and better relationships.
It’s easy enough: Google “hiking trails near me,” and take a weekend or after-school trek.
However you can get moving, you’ll reap the benefits. “Exercise helps reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and it increases heart health, elevates your mood, and boosts energy,” DiPietro explains. Plus, starting kids on weekly family fitness rituals when they’re young can inspire a life-long devotion to regular exercise (even once they graduate from ye olde chalk-drawn hopscotch board).
2. Create a food Menu for the month
To make healthy eating fun and consistent, carve out some time together every month to make a master list of foods to try.
Take care to include a mix of everyone’s favorite healthy foods and also nutritious foods they haven’t tried before (for instance, jackfruit, kimchi, or papayas). Encourage everyone to do their research and get creative.
“This leaves some excitement to look forward to as you check it off your list as the weeks go by,” says weight-loss specialist Amber Trejo, M.S., C.P.T. “It may even introduce some new favorite foods into the household that no one has ever thought to try before.”
3. Make dinner together
These days, more than ever, it can be tempting to order takeout or delivery. Cooking your own meals is one of the most effective ways to eat healthier and reduce sodium intake (not to mention save money, too).
“Preparing meals together helps everyone in your house learn how to cook and, most importantly, helps everyone understand (and control) the ingredients they’re putting into their bodies,” says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, M.D., a medical advisor at HealthCareers.
If you’re new to the practice of cooking en masse, Djordjevic recommends delegating cooking tasks to your kid(s) that are fun and easy to accomplish so they feel a sense of pride every time they enter the kitchen. Or, to gamify family cooking, give each family member a designated night to pick a new healthy recipe for everyone to make together. This will help make everyone feel like they have a proactive role in the household’s evolution towards eating better.
If you have kids, delegate youngster-friendly tasks like peeling oranges or measuring ingredients, Djordjevic suggests. This gives them a sense of accomplishment when everyone sits down for the meal.
4. Set aside regular group breathing time
Everything going on in 2020 has sent the stress levels of kiddos to senior citizens skyrocketing. One free, research-backed, simple way to slash stress, though? Focus on your breath.
“As a group activity with the whole family, spend five to 10 minutes a day doing mindful breathing or meditation exercises,” suggests Bansari Acharya, R.D.N., a dietitian focused on mindful eating. Doing so can not only relieve stress but foster a deep sense of connection amongst the crew.
“Making this exercise as part of the daily routine can greatly enhance mental health for the whole family, especially in times like these,” says Acharya. “Meditation and deep breathing have been proven to be extremely effective in reducing stress, depression, and anxiety when done regularly.”
For Acharya, the time before you start eating but are seated at the table is the perfect opportunity to cue up a meditation track. “Taking a moment to be in the present moment before meals helps you really savor the food that you are eating,” she says. “When you slow down during meals by being mindful of all your senses, your brain has time to catch up to your stomach, which can lead to healthier intuitive eating practices.”
5. Keep a friendly fitness competition rolling
Fitness trackers make it easy for you and your loved ones to get competitive. “Set a family goal to reach 70,000 steps each per week (doctors recommend getting 10,000 steps each day),” says Frazey.
“Using a Fitbit, Apple Watch, Health App, or Garmin, track each person’s steps and display the results on a chart for some healthy competition,” Fraze suggests. “Then, award a prize for the family member who hits the most steps for the week!” Tack your chart somewhere visible (like the fridge) to remind everyone of their progress every time they walk by.
Another fun idea: “Check out a walking or running track in your area and challenge family members to see how many laps they can do in 20 minutes,” says Frazey.
6. Make dessert together
Saved the best for last? Of course we did. Whip up a tasty, nutritious sweet treat together as a family, proving that healthy and delicious can go hand in hand. “Taking this on as a team shows your children that all things require work and that even dessert can be healthy,” says DiPietro. Once the dish has been completed, sit down together and go around the table critiquing the result like judges in a TV competition.
DiPietro’s go-to healthy treats include banana “nice cream” and chia seed pudding. To make banana “nice cream,” pop frozen banana pieces in a food processor and blend. Add maple syrup, cinnamon, or any other toppings you like before serving. To make chia seed pudding, stir two tablespoons of chia seeds and half a cup of almond milk into a container. Let the mixture settle for two minutes, stir again, and stash in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Then, add mix-ins like fresh fruit, unsweetened chocolate chips, maple syrup, or nuts.
Want more inspiration? Try one of these high-protein dessert recipes.
Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook community, Eating Healthy, today!