I’m sure you want your family to be healthy and happy. The world we live in, this busy society, where we feel the need to pack everything we possibly can into a day, where we often feel stressed out and that there’s never enough time… well, it makes it difficult, doesn’t it?
I’m often asked by parents, “Where do I start? What can we do to help our family become healthier?”
Here are the three most important steps to a healthier, happier family:
Step One: Take Back the Family Dinner
Do you spend more time watching cooking on the Food Network than actually preparing your own meals? Unfortunately, most North American families now do, yet we still complain of not having enough time to cook.
The family dinner has been hijacked by the food industry. When did every food item start requiring a label? What foods to eat, how to prepare them, and an understanding of why we should share them in our families used to be embedded in our cultural traditions. These are things our grandparents didn’t have to think twice about.
Common sense and scientific research tell us that if we want healthy bodies we must put raw materials in them: real, whole, fresh, unprocessed, and chemical-, hormone-, and antibiotic-free food. There is no purpose for foreign molecules like trans-fat and high fructose corn syrup or any other chemical you can’t even pronounce to be present in the food you serve your family.
The most important tool you have to change your health and the health of your family is your fork. Imagine if we all did this… imagine if for one week or even just one whole day all families chose to eat all breakfasts and dinners together, eating only real, whole, fresh food. Imagine the change in the world that one little step could bring about…
Well, you can start in your own home. Get rid of any foods in your kitchen that contain hydrogenated or trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup or any kind of sugar as one of the first three ingredients on the label. Visit the local farmer’s market. Stock your fridge and shelves with whole, fresh, local foods whenever possible.
If you’re short on time, consider doing a big cook-up on the weekend and freezing meals or try using a slow cooker.
Food is precious. Why not treat it that way? North Americans spend less than 10% of their income on food, while most Europeans spend 20%. What nourishes us more: good food or more stuff?
Savour the ritual of the family dinner, no matter how modest the meal. Create a special place to sit down together, setting the table with care and respect. Consider a set dinner time, no phones or texting, no television. A time devoted to nourishment and just being together.
Eating wholesome meals is about even more than modeling sound nutrition for your children; it’s about fostering family unity, connectedness, ritual and identity as a group. Studies show families who eat together, stay together. For example, adolescents are less prone to risky behaviour, disordered eating, drug and alcohol abuse and tend to be better socially adjusted when they have a table filled with family to sit at and share meals with.
Reflect on the power food has on your body and mind, as well as your child’s. What do you want food to do for you and your family? Give you energy? Help you be productive? Help you look and feel your best? Consider taking some time together with your child to write down your family’s nutrition and health goals. Be sure there is no judgement and allow your child to dream as big as s/he wishes.
Step Two: Turn the Gadgets Off, Play Outside
Research shows that children who use electronic devices at bedtime are 1.5 times more likely to be overweight. And for children who have three or more electronic devices in their bedroom (such as TV, computer, video games), the risk jumps to 2.5.
Getting even just one extra hour of sleep a night is linked to a 28% lower risk of being overweight and a 30% lower risk of being obese in children.
Analysis shows that ill health effects, such as obesity, decreased attention span, diabetes, limited brain growth and hormone disturbances, aren’t caused by television watching itself, but rather the vast amount of time children are spending in front of the television and computer screens. This sedentary activity produces an almost narcotic effect on the brain, numbing areas that would be stimulated by other activities like reading or playing outside.
The solution is simple: get the TV, computer, video games and cell phones out of your child’s bedroom and limit their screen time during the day. Recommendations based on studies suggest that children age 3 to 7 should watch no more than 1.5 hours a day, older children no more than 2 hours a day.
A healthier alternative? Playing outside. Playing outside actively shapes brain development in children, helping them develop a keener decision-making process, in addition to helping foster a sense of independence.
Research also shows that focus and attention in children improves after taking a walk outdoors. Plus, it can literally be grounding. The earth has a negative charge and going barefoot grounds our bodies to that charge. Negative ions have been shown to calm, reduce inflammation, and synchronize hormonal cycles. Nature cure doctors would often prescribe walking barefoot in the grass as a cure for insomnia (try it!).
Step Three: Really Be Together
How often are we truly present with our loved ones? I mean truly present. Free of distractions like the television or cell phone, not caught up in our own thoughts or worries. It can be as simple as talking about your day, working on a school project together, reading a bedtime story, walking outside together, playing a board game together or listening to music.
Take a time-out from the chaos and busyness to just be. Just being together strengthens connection and often brings its own special experience of joy.
Make a point of carving out time, if need be. It’s so easy to let one task lead to another, doing taking much more precedence than simply being. Honour your time together.
The key to change is to find inspiration, not just motivation. Most people wait until a crisis occurs to make changes. A sickness in the family, for example. But why put off what you can do today for tomorrow? Especially when it comes to the health of your family. Find inspiration together, and as individuals supportive of one another… and watch that energy not only sustain your family’s short-term health goals, but also transform them into life-long lifestyles.
Here’s to your family’s health and happiness.
Could your family be healthier? What’s more important? Take action now to optimize the health of your family and call the Wellness Blueprint Health Centre at (306) 781-2222 to schedule a free Family Health Assessment.
Chahal H1, Fung C, Kuhle S, Veugelers PJ. Availability and night-time use of electronic entertainment and communication devices are associated with short sleep duration and obesity among Canadian children. Pediatr Obes. 2013 Feb;8(1):42-51.