Four Simple Health Tips for Busy Families

With Spring in full swing, the sun stays out longer, we have access to more outdoor activities and our schedules get even busier. You may find yourself getting home later and with less time to spend in the kitchen, serving or preparing healthy foods.

This time of year seems to fill up our calendars — but it also can leave the whole family feeling rundown, susceptible to illness and sick days. Why do kids get wiped out and rundown in the first place? Viruses and bacteria surround us, but not everyone is sick all of the time — common culprits in our daily lives can wear us down.

No matter how busy your schedules may seem, finding ways to achieve balance in home, school, play and work schedules helps prevent illness and promotes good health. With a few tweaks in your daily routine, everyone in the family can take a stance against poor health. Tackle them gradually until it becomes habit, and your health and your kids’ health will thank you.

As a working mom myself, I know this can be challenging, but with some planning and prep work you can help keep your kids energetic, healthy and productive all year long.

1. Avoid sleep deprivation

Is your family getting their Zzz’s? According to the CDC, one in three Americans do not get enough sleep. And this has a bigger impact than you might think.

“Sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.”

As you can see below, children need even more sleep than adults. They’re still growing and sleep is a crucial part of development.

Age

Minimum Hours of Sleep Needed

Adults Eight Hours
Six to 13-Year Olds* Nine to 11 Hours
Preschoolers 11 to 13 Hours
Toddlers 11 to 14 Hours

*Most children after the age of five do not need a nap if they get enough sleep at night.

Getting enough sleep doesn’t just impact school success; it helps keep your immune system working at its best and plays an important role in obesity prevention. Making sure all electronics are shut off 30 minutes before bedtime can help with getting better restorative sleep. Children 6 years of age and under sleep better when they have a nightly bedtime routine. It doesn’t have to be long, but a simple nightly ritual like reading a bedtime story and sticking to a sleep schedule can really help. It’s like brushing your teeth and many other healthy routines—doing it everyday creates the best long-lasting results.

2. Get plenty of sunlight and exercise

With sunlight shining later into the day, there is no reason to stay indoors on the couch. Kids often spend too much time in front of the TV or electronics and not enough time playing outdoors. In fact, getting kids outside may help prevent myopia (nearsightedness), which has become more common due to increased time spent close up on electronics.

And you should join them. Make it a family event and go for a bike ride before dinner or power walk while your kids ride their bikes. Even a small family soccer game can be fun.

If your kids like competitions, get them pedometers so they can track their steps and aim for 10,000 steps a day, to see who can get the most steps. Have a hula-hoop contest, get out the chalk for hopscotch, play catch –anything to get moving outdoors.

We’ve heard vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin and getting adequate amounts is important for bone health. But vitamin D may also help reduce cancer cell growth and is important in controlling infection. Getting a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise, at least five days a week is important for maintaining good health as an adult. And kids need even more – the CDC recommends 60 minutes every day for children and adolescents.

3. Stay hydrated & stay away from sugar

Is your family drinking enough water? You’ve seen that child who reminds you of a wilted flower –slouched over, with a headache, grumpy and looking wiped-out. Rehydrating usually perks that child right up.

The key is not to wait until you’re thirsty to drink water in order to prevent dehydration. Make sure it’s a family habit to have a reusable water bottle in the car. Don’t forget to wash it either, since old bacteria build-up can make your kid sick. Children in the 2nd grade and higher can learn to wash and care for their water bottle and be responsible, with kind reminders, to bring it with them when heading out the door.

It’s also important to stay away from sweetened beverages such as fruit juice, punch, lemonade, sports drinks and sodas, the most common beverage for kids packed with sugar. Males ages 12– to 19–years old consumed 442 calories per day from added sugar (17.5 % kcals for the day), and females consumed 314 added-sugar-calories. That’s way past the World Health Organization’s recommendation to consume no more than 10% of calories from added sugar per day.

When sweetened beverages take the place of water you start to see these calories displace essential nutrients that help prevent sickness and promote health. Plus sweetened beverages are linked to obesity. Instead of reaching for the sugary beverage make fruit infused water with your kids. This makes water more flavorful without the sugar and helps them reach their eight cups of water a day! Fruity herbal tea is also a refreshing choice. Don’t forget fruits and vegetables has high water content too — another reason to boost their intake!

4. Make good food choices

The biggest strategy for maintaining good health is balanced nutrition. Today, the idea of balance and moderation has been redefined often as everyday indulgences. Even Easter candy is reminiscent of excessive Halloween treats. We’ve lost moderation somewhere and need to get it back.

All these sweets and refined flour have a big impact on kids’ immune systems now and later. Kids grow fast and their cells turn over rapidly, making them especially vulnerable to the effects of foods, physical activity and weight.

A healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy and lean protein sources helps ensure those cells turn over normally–improving their overall health and decreasing the chance of future cancer, heart disease or diabetes.

Plus, kids eat out more often today and menu choices are typically higher in sodium, refined flours and saturated fat. When you can’t cook at home, research restaurants on-line ahead of time for healthy choices, even fast-food has healthy options.

Make it a game! Try the new free app for iphone and ipad called FoodLeap that teaches kids about healthy whole foods. Then try ordering menu items that include these foods. Talk about your favorite healthy foods and how you enjoy eating them out and at home.

When cooking at home get the kids involved. Let them pick out their very own veggie scrub brush or cool kitchen tool. Give them age-appropriate tasks, like rinsing and measuring out the rice. Find shortcuts to home prepared meals, like buying pre-chopped veggies to add to chicken stir-fry, or buying already prepared turkey meatballs then adding a prewashed bag salad and frozen corn.

With a little bit of planning ahead, you can prepare a large batch or brown rice, quinoa or roasted sweet potatoes in the beginning of the week to serve as an easy side for any meal. Finding easy ways to cut time in the kitchen can help you feed your family right without spending hours in the kitchen.

Good nutrition, plenty of sleep and regular exercise are the pillars of good health! Make balance a new family value by getting enough sleep, sunlight, exercise and making good food choices! You’ll decrease sick days, have more energy and feel even better now and in the future!

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