The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 22, 2014

Speaking of Health: How to keep your family fit

Alyssa Baker
Mayo Clinic Health System wellness facilitator

---- — The health and success of your children likely rank near the top of your priority list. So it’s a pretty safe bet that parents will follow advice that claims to enhance their child’s well-being. And the need for improved health in children is apparent: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 13 percent of U.S. preschoolers are obese.

When it comes to healthy eating and active lifestyles, there are some simple changes parents and children can make to become healthier as a family unit.

Options for healthier eating

• Eat meals together. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, kids that eat regular meals with their family tend to get better grades, experience more motivation toward school and are less likely to use drugs and alcohol.

• Find alternatives for sugary cereals. Try oatmeal instead. You can top it with applesauce, berries, chopped fruit or cinnamon – skip the sugar altogether.

• Rid your family of white bread. Opt for whole-grain breads. Whole grains contribute to an overall healthy diet.

• Toss the soda. Quit drinking soda and other heavily sweetened beverages. Drink more water instead.

• Be aware of fats. Make sure you’re cognizant of unhealthy (saturated fats) and healthy (unsaturated) fats. Cut the unhealthy fats out of your family’s diet completely, and consume healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in moderation. Omega-3 fatty acids – found in fatty fish, flaxseed and walnuts – are good for heart health. Try serving an Omega-3-rich fish entrée twice per week.

• Make mealtime pleasant. Dinner shouldn’t be a time to lecture your kids. Use it as a chance to get to know one another better and bond as a family.

• Don’t use food as a reward or penalty. Food serves the purpose of nourishment and should not be used an incentive or punishment.

• Shop with your kids. Include your children in the grocery shopping process and provide them with healthy options to choose from.

Ideas to encourage active lifestyles

• Be a role model. Make healthy eating and physical activity a regular part of your family’s life.

• Supply the demand. Create a home where healthy choices are available and supported.

• Find ways to engage your children. Here are a some ideas for healthy family activities:

	— Play tag, swim, toss a ball, jump rope, hula-hoop or dance to music.

	— Walk the dog or head to the park.

	— Cook healthy meals together.

	— Go on a walking scavenger hunt throughout the neighborhood.

	— Grow a family garden.

	— Help with yard work. Pull weeds, pick up rocks or sweep the garage.

	— Involve the whole family in household chores.

	— Spend time together with a family park day, swim day or bike day.

	— Celebrate special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, etc. – with something active, such as a hike, or volleyball or soccer game.

	— Have a plan ready for poor weather or scheduling conflicts.

Bringing your family together can be one of the most physically and emotionally rewarding decisions you can make. You’ll be doing your loved ones a favor by improving the health and happiness of your family unit. Test out these tips yourself and experience the benefits.

Alyssa Baker is a Mayo Clinic Health System wellness facilitator.

For more information, visit

Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.