First and foremost, parents are the ultimate role models for being fit and eating healthy. So, limit your own TV and screen time, increase physical activity and eat the right foods.
Remove TVs and computers from your children’s bedroom. They may object at first, yet over time they will unconsciously sense the benefits of less screen time and feel more connected to the world around them.
Consider practicing the concept of being mindful. Mindfulness is being aware in the present and helps break unconscious habits such as snacking and using screens incessantly (constantly checking email or Facebook). For example, you and your children can ask yourselves, “Do I really want this food?” instead of thoughtlessly eating because that is what you typically do.
Make physical activity a family priority. Try starting with 10 minutes daily, working towards 30 minutes of activity each day. For example, dance to loud music that your children love or walk to the store to run errands. Consider organizing a group game or sport at a local gym. Take your children and their friends ice skating, sledding or swimming at the YMCA. Attempt to enroll them in activities in your community, but if they are resistant, it’s best not to force them. Instead, focus on finding activities that engage the whole family, or at least one parent and the children.
Given the proper clothing, spending time outdoors in the winter can be fun. Outdoor family activities include taking walks on the beach, going for nature hikes or exploring at the local Audubon sanctuary. Studies indicate that time spent outside increases mental health dramatically.
Avoid sugary drinks and instead introduce a water-drinking challenge to see who can drink the most water each day. Focus on what you should be eating, not what you should avoid eating. Do not eliminate sweets completely, but use healthy fruit and yogurt recipes to satisfy sweet cravings. Focus on eating fruits, vegetables, healthy grains and proteins, and engage your children in finding interesting new recipes to try.
Studies indicate that sleep is tied to weight maintenance. Make sure that your children are getting 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night, which decreases stress and the tendency to have food cravings.
Avoid weighing in on the scale too frequently, as this adds an evaluative component and emphasizes losing weight, rather than being healthy.
If your children’s school participates in “eating healthy” programs, emphasize that everyone in the school community is working towards the goal of being healthy.
Finally, expect some initial resistance. However, within a week of implementing consistent activity, good nutrition and behavior changes (limited screens, mindfulness), you and your children will experience benefits. The winter may seem like a hard time to introduce a healthy living program, however, winter adds the risk of being inactive, eating poorly and gaining weight. Despite resistance, your children will follow you -- the leader, motivator and participant -- in this new program for overall family health, physical and mental.
For parents- As role models, parents have the greatest influence over children’s healthy habits. If engaging your children directly appears too overwhelming given all your other daily stresses, then start with a healthy lifestyle program for just you. Over time, your healthy lifestyle will have a significant impact on your children and they will want to join you.
A new reference for parents is Fit Kids for Life: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy Children, written by Brandon McIntosh with Chrisoula Kiriazis M.D. (Paperback available through Amazon.com).