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As a busy mother of two, I understand the struggle of balancing work and home life. With a household schedule that includes getting children to sports, music lessons, play dates, and homework, it seems almost impossible to get a healthy meal on the table. What if I said that creating healthy habits around food, exercise, and body image wasn’t impossible? In fact, it is something that every family can attain—whether you are a family with babies, school-aged children or teens there are simple ways that you can create healthy habits together. Let’s challenge ourselves to make this a priority for our families!

  1. All members of the family should be involved in creating healthy habits.
  2. All caregivers and children in the household should be included in creating healthy habits. It is important to not focus on an individual family member’s weight loss or exercise goals. Instead, your focus should be on making healthy choices for everyone. Do not single out any individual family member or exclude any family member from participating.

  3. Be a good example.
  4. From their infancy on, our children are looking to us to figure out the world around them. They learn about healthy eating habits, healthy exercise habits and healthy body image. Children are born loving their bodies with no notion about what size body is better than another. Speak kindly about your body, even if it is difficult for you.

  5. Create a healthy relationship with food—do not “diet.”
  6. Using the word diet implies a temporary change in eating behavior, and often times one that is not healthy. Avoid using the term diet in front of children and in reference to eating behaviors. Instead, talk about making healthy food choices that are good for our bodies. Help everyone pay attention to the feeling of fullness. Avoid conversations that connect eating with weight loss.

  7. Make a weekly dinner menu—and stick with it!
  8. Make a weekly dinner menu together as a family. Have your children help decide what they want to have for dinner. Guide them to make choices that include lean protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Write down your menu and post it in the kitchen as a reminder to everyone about what is for dinner. Very young children can help by making a picture menu. Make a grocery list from your menu and shop for all ingredients at the beginning of the week. If children are involved in making choices about what they eat and they help to prepare meals, they will be more willing to eat what is prepared.

  9. Eat meals together as a family as often as possible.
  10. Try to make meal time a pleasant time to be together as a family. Avoid distractions such as TV or electronics when at the table. Avoid stressful conversations at the table. Take the time to talk about each other’s day. We have a tradition at our house that we take turns telling about our “peach” of the day (something that happened that was good) and our “pit” of the day (something that happened that was not so good). We all look forward to being able to share about our day!

  11. Do not use food as a reward or a punishment.
  12. Using food as either a reward or a punishment sends the wrong message to children about the purpose of food. For example, using sweets as a reward for eating vegetables sends a message to the child that sweets are more valuable than vegetables, when in fact the opposite is true. It is important to teach children about the vitamins and minerals that they get from foods and how these help their body to be healthy. Similarly, children should be taught that sweets are a “once in a while treat” that tastes good, but do not have health benefits.

  13. Eat healthy snacks.
  14. Having healthy snack options available for your family is important. Read labels and avoid foods high in sugar and trans fats. The best snack options are fruits and vegetables. Snacks should be part of your child’s scheduled eating times throughout the day. In our house, while dinner is being prepared we always have a plate of cut vegetables available that the children and adults can snack on. This is the only option for snacking at that time. The kids usually eat their portion of vegetables for the meal during this snack time and anything extra they have at dinner is a bonus!

  15. Encourage healthy eating outside the house.
  16. As parents, we have control over the foods that we buy, prepare and offer our children at home. But how do we help them make healthy choices when they are not with us? Being aware of what options your child will be faced with is important. Make yourself aware of the school lunch menu if your child is buying breakfast or lunch at school. Plan with your child ahead of time what choices they would like to make and use that opportunity to learn about their preferences and coach them about healthy choices. The healthy habits that you and your family have at home will become healthy habits that your child will continue when they are given independence.

  17. Choose one or two healthy habits at a time.
  18. Decide as a family to work on one or two healthy habits at a time so that it is not overwhelming. Give yourselves time to integrate the new habit into your family life. Research suggests it takes 21 days of doing something consistently before it becomes a habit. Be patient with yourself and your family.

  19. Create an active lifestyle for you and your family.
  20. Avoid talking about exercise in relation to weight loss or to make up for something that was eaten. Rather, create an environment where being active is a regular part of your daily lives and family time. Make it fun—go for family walks, bike rides and swims; go to the playground, play hide-and-seek or tag!

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