Nutrition & Fitness: Getting The Whole Family Involved

By Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

Establishing healthy eating habits and a fitness routine can be difficult on your own. People need support and encouragement when making behavioral changes to benefit their health. Getting your entire family involved in this process will help ensure that everyone reaches their healthiest self. Striving to achieve wellness is much easier and more fun when the parents and all of the kids work together.

Here are a few tips to help your family get started:

Plan Weekly Menus Together
Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean sacrificing flavor. Gather your family together and come up with some of your favorite dishes, and then discuss ways to make them healthier. For example, if your family has a standing “Taco Tuesday” routine, perhaps try turkey tacos, adding in some shredded carrots and pinto beans to amp up the nutrition. Swap out regular cheddar cheese for a reduced-fat version (look for packages labeled “made from 2% milk”). If your family loves spaghetti and meatballs, try switching from regular spaghetti noodles to whole-wheat spaghetti noodles to get more filling-fiber, and use turkey meatballs instead of beef meatballs. Toss some extra veggies into your tomato sauce and—voila—you’ve kept a family favorite in the weekly menu but slashed calories and fat while boosting fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Make sure everyone in the family has some input when planning out the menu. Then, brainstorm ways to make small changes to the ingredients to make it healthier. For recipe suggestions, visit www.cookingmatters.org and look under the “Recipes” tab.

Cook Collectively
Research has shown that getting kids in the kitchen encourages them to try new foods—especially vegetables—that may otherwise cause them to turn their noses up. When kids have a hand in preparing the meal, even if it’s as simple as stirring a pot or measuring spices, they are more excited to try the foods they helped make. Plus, having kids help prepare meals, set the table, and clean up afterwards gives them life skills that’ll set them up for a happy, healthy future once they’re grown.

Eat Meals Together
This seems to be a family tradition that has gone by the wayside. However, something as simple as enjoying a homemade dinner together at the table can greatly benefit everyone’s health. Families who eat meals together (with the television turned off) and engage in conversation tend to be healthier. These families that dine together at least once a day tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and also consume more fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and healthy fats.

Get Moving
Rather than thinking of physical activity as a chore, have a family discussion about each person’s favorite activity. Going for evening walks, goofing around at the playground, taking a weekend hike, exploring local parks, hitting a pool or water park, and exer-gaming are just a few activities that seem more like a fun adventure rather than exercise, even though you burn a lot of calories.

Announcing a new and easy way to give back to Operation Food Search – by eating at Subway Restaurants! As part of the NEW “You Share. We Share.” program, every time you share your weekend with Subway Restaurants in the St. Louis area you’ll help support Operation Food Search from now through August 31. Every St. Louis area Subway restaurant is locally owned and operated and all of the owners are excited about their partnership with Operation Food Search and this new opportunity to give back to their community. OperationFoodSearch.org.