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10 Steps Toward A Healthier Family In 2013

family at the dinner tableNew Year’s resolutions can seem overwhelming, can’t they? The all-encompassing goals, such “eat healthier” or “work out more,” often fail because they aren’t specific enough. Setting smaller, targeted goals for you and your family—such as sitting down for a family meal three times a week—is much easier to achieve and track. If one work week you aren’t able to sit down as a family for a healthy dinner, you’ll know to plan a Sunday meal and start over with your resolution next week.

The purpose for New Year’s resolutions isn’t to set the bar so high that you fail and have one more thing to feel guilty about. Instead, try to think about realistic goals you can achieve.

And since this is tailored to your whole family, you might want to give your spouse and kids a chance to look at the options and chime in. It’s much easier to achieve family game night if your kids actually want to participate! Maybe they’d rather have family movie night instead?

To get you started, a top 10 list with the assistance of Sarwat Mahmud, MD. Any of these resolutions will help jumpstart your family towards a healthier lifestyle!

1. Bring Back Family Dinner!

Maybe it isn’t feasible for your family every night—especially if you have children with Little League practice or if you have night school or work obligations—but strive to cook and eat together three to five nights a week. Not only does it help to ensure your family eats more nutritiously, it also provides a time for the family to chat and bond. According to research from Columbia and Harvard universities, teenagers who have family dinners five nights a week are less likely to try drugs or have poor grades. One bit of advice: Make it a rule that all devices such as cell phones or iPads are not allowed at the table.

2. Eat More Fish

Numerous studies confirm that Omega- 3 fatty acids in fish help prevent heart disease. To make this goal specific, try to eat one fish dish a week instead of pasta or hamburgers or pizza. (Do not eat canned tuna more than once a week, due to methyl mercury; try to eat wild-caught fish whenever possible.)

3. Pack a Vegetable or Fruit Snack Three Times a Week

Pack apples, oranges, carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, strawberries, etc. as snacks for school and work—so everyone can put more whole fruit and vegetables in their daily routine.

4. Reduce Fast Food Meals

This takes planning so you aren’t ordering pizza at 7 p.m. or driving through McDonald’s after picking up everyone from games or practices. It’s hard, but try to stock your freezer at home with fast, healthy alternatives for nights like this. Alternately, if you do order pizza, it’s not the end of the world. Just make a rule that everyone must have salad too and order thin crust when possible.

5. Drink More Water

Buy a large water bottle and try to drink the entire bottle each day. For the kids, always put a water bottle in their backpacks. Another way to ensure more water consumption is to start a rule that only water or milk is served at dinner. And stop buying soda.

6. Eat More Berries

Numerous studies show that berries are high in antioxidants with powerful cancer-fighting properties. So make them a ritual in the morning. Blueberries on whole wheat waffles, strawberries with yogurt, raspberries on cereal... you get the idea. And if your kiddos are berry-adverse, sneak them into smoothies.

7. Join a YMCA Where The Family Can Work Out Together Once or Twice a Week

Even if mom does yoga and the kids play basketball, you can all hook up afterwards. If the Y has a cafe, even better; you can eat together.

8. Host Family Game Night Once a Month

Yes, even teens can have fun playing charades or Wii bowling together.

9. Get More Sleep

Studies show that adults and children are less likely to gain weight and they have more focus when fueled with a full night of sleep. A recent study by McGill University found that depriving children ages 7 to 11 of just one hour of sleep a night resulted in more hyperactivity, emotional outbursts and less focus at school.

10. Lessen the Juggle Load

Limit the number of obligations and activities the children and you take on during the week so you can enjoy more time together. Learning to say “no” prioritizes your family and lowers your stress.


Dr. Sarwat Mahmud practices with the Torrance Memorial Physician Network, 2900 Lomita Blvd., Torrance, CA., 310-257-7260.

Categories: Health Links

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