This blog is all about how to be a superhero mom without having super powers. I share a lot of life hacks and parenting tips (see bottom of post for links to those articles) to help you do more in less time so you can actually spend time enjoying the happy, healthy family you are raising. Today, I’m sharing hacks for a healthier family. I’ve used all of these hacks in my own family, many of which I found on the American Heart Association’s Life Is Why website Heart.org and Pinterest boards.
Proper nutrition is fundamental to health. That’s why I write so much about healthy eating. A lot of complaints I hear from other moms about trying to prepare healthy meals is that it’s hard to find nutritious meals that kids actually like. There are some simple strategies you can use to feed your family healthier meals without causing a riot.
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1. Make gradual changes
As with all habits, if you want a behavior to stick, you have to develop it gradually. Crash diets fail because eventually we become overwhelmed by the deprivation and subsequent temptation. We sometimes apply this same strategy to getting our families to eat healthy when we throw out all the junk food and re-stock with only healthy alternatives. Everyone complains for the next two weeks and eventually you’re worn down and start foregoing the chicken and vegetable dinner for fried chicken and biscuits. Make healthy eating habits stick by gradually replacing unhealthy choices with healthier alternatives. Only tackle one new habit at a time (e.g. reduce refined grains and incorporate more whole grains, buy products that don’t contain high-fructose corn syrup, swap out the margarine for butter).
2. Involve the kids
Kids are inherently self-absorbed. Their young, developing personalities require a lot of focus on self as they work to develop self-esteem. When you involve your kids in preparing meals, you accomplish several things. You pass on valuable life skills to your children, make them feel valued, get to spend quality time with them, and increase the chances dramatically that they will not only eat, but also enjoy, whatever you are preparing together.
3. Find recipes that are kid-friendly AND healthy
I got my kids to start eating leaner meats when I switched to ground turkey in our tacos (one of their favorite meals). If your kids love pizza, try this Classic Margherita Pizza with a whole wheat crust. Do you have a hard time getting your kids to eat fish? Increase your odds by serving it with something sweet. They might be won over by this Blackened Fish with Strawberry Kiwi Salsa.
4. Only offer healthy choices
Unless your kids have their own money and transportation, they are limited to eating what you provide for them. If your kids are eating too much candy, it’s because it’s available to them. Being mindful of my first tip, slowly eliminate the bad choices so that the only foods left are good choices (or at least, better choices). Instead of candy bars, stock granola bars. Instead of fruit snacks, keep plenty of fruit on hand (dried fruit is a good transition to real fruit). Instead of potato chips, offer your kids corn tortilla chips and salsa or unsalted nuts.
Be More Active
Another major component of health is physical activity. Most Americans do not get the recommended amount of physical activity each day and this is true for both adults and children. Being active doesn’t have to be hard. With a few simple tricks, you can get the whole family moving without ever saying the word “exercise.”
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1. Play games
This is my favorite way to be active with the kids. We love to play badminton and soccer as a family. We also play 4-square, H-O-R-S-E, tag, jump on the trampoline together, and set up family obstacle courses. Playing with your kids is a great way to let them know you enjoy being with them, it lets them see you in a different light, and it helps establish a habit of being active.
2. Make activity a ritual or tradition
In the summer, we always head out to the backyard after we’ve cleaned up from dinner to play a game of badminton. In my old neighborhood, one of the families who lived near us always headed out for a family walk after dinner. One of my close friends does a family bike ride every Saturday morning. I combined a couple of tips I found on the American Heart Association website to not only help my family be more active, but also to work in some home improvement at the same time. The site recommended planting a garden or doing chores together as two different strategies. I lumped them together and made tending to our landscaping a daily chore for the whole family. Each afternoon, after all the kids are home from school, we head out to weed and tend to the plants and flowers in our garden.
3. Start a contest
If you happen to have a competitive family like mine, you can use it to your advantage in your efforts to promote physical activity. Purchase pedometers for everyone to see who can get the most steps each day. Race to get the mail. See who can jump rope the longest.
4. Put on music
Another American Heart Association tip is to increase the intensity level of chore time by setting time limits and they recommend using music as the timer. This is so much fun and it really does work! Plus, chore time is more fun. Blast a favorite song and give each person a task to complete before the song ends. The kids will be working like crazy to do as much as they can in the few minutes that the song lasts.
Stress can erode good health. It keeps us from getting proper rest, causes the production of harmful hormones, and can make everyday life less enjoyable. So, if you want to have a healthier family, finding ways to reduce stress can have a profound effect.
1. Get organized
Lack of organization is a major contributor to stress. When you’re disorganized, you’re less productive and more likely to forget things resulting in rushing around at the last minute or feeling guilty over things that didn’t get done. At a minimum, you should have a family command center where all important dates and appointments are written down. I’m a big fan of color coding things so we can easily identify who is responsible for what. Each of my kids has their own color so their calendar items are written in that color marker, they have colored folders to place important paperwork in, and colored bins to contain their sporting gear, shoes, umbrellas, etc.
2. Focus on why
When I start to get overwhelmed my husband has this annoying habit of asking me “why” I care about whatever is overwhelming me. Though the question irritates me, it also helps me refocus since sometimes (okay, oftentimes) I work myself into a tizzy over unimportant things. For example, if I start to stress out over making a treat for my daughter’s party at school, I remember that the reason I want to contribute is to show my daughter I care about her and also to help out the teacher who I appreciate for all that she does each day. When I am stressing about what to make, it’s because I am worried about making a good impression on the other moms, which ISN’T one of the two “whys” I’ve identified for making the treat. When I focus on my real “why,” the criteria for the task is much more relaxed and I can let some of the stress fall away.
I’m a talkative person by nature so this comes easy to me, but I know that isn’t true for everyone. However, it is one of the most effective ways to combat stress. When we keep things inside and process them internally, we often make things much worse in our minds. The best way to get perspective and to vent emotions is to talk over our thoughts with someone else. My BFF and I start many of our conversations with the phrase, “I just need to vent for 5 minutes and I need you to make me laugh.” Find a good friend, a priest, a therapist, or better yet, make time each day to talk to your spouse, to discuss all of the little things that are eating away at your peace of mind. Also, encourage your kids to talk to you about their thoughts and emotions. Instead of asking them “How was your day?” say “Tell me one good thing and one bad thing about your day.” Instead of asking about who their friends are at school, ask about who they admire at school and why, or “If your friends at school had to describe you in one word, what word would they choose?”
4. Positive Self-Talk
Although talking comes easy to me, being positive does not. I’m a pessimist by nature so I was skeptical when I read the suggestion on the Heart.org site to engage in positive self-talk to reduce stress. I can’t express how glad I am that I gave it a try despite my doubts. It is amazing how much this can change your outlook on life. By simply changing the words you use to describe how you’re feeling, you can completely change not only your attitude but your behavior as well. Instead of thinking to myself, “I’m so overwhelmed. I’m never going to get everything done.” I think instead, “I’ve got this. Even if I don’t get it all done, I’ll make progress.” And even though it’s self-talk, don’t do it all in your head. Your kids model themselves after you so set an example for them to follow. Practice positive self-talk in front of them so they learn to have a more positive outlook too.
More Mom Hacks
Find even more mom hacks for a healthier family on the AHA Mom Hacks Pinterest board. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find there:
Also, check out my other posts on mom hacks: