1. Cut back on sugar.Seriously, it’s the fastest, easiest healthy habit for families to implement. If you can’t completely eliminate it, cut way back. Drink less juice: one small glass has about 25 grams of sugar (as much as a soda). Instead, serve chilled hibiscus, apple, or blueberry tea with breakfast. And beware of hidden sugars in products such as peanut butter, nondairy milk, ketchup, and others; look for unsweetened versions. If you do buy packaged snacks, look at the sugar content, and stick to those with 10 grams or less per serving. And serve a small portion of a low-sugar dessert (berries with whipped cream, pears and dark chocolate, reduced-sugar ice cream) with meals. It neutralizes the idea that dessert is a reward, and makes the sweet stuff less of a Holy Grail.
2. Cook slowly.Slow cookers are the fastest way to make a home-cooked meal. While your coffee’s brewing in the morning, fill your Crock-Pot with meat, beans, or chicken; add broth, sauce, or water, and a handful of spices; turn it on low. When you come home, stir in frozen vegetables, and you’ll have a ready-to-eat meal by the time you set the table. Family-friendly suggestions: pulled chicken, barbecue brisket, turkey chili, pot roast, short ribs, tacos, black bean soup, and white beans with kale. Make more than you need, and freeze leftovers.
3. Turn TV time into fitness hour.Get your little potatoes off the couch, and let them watch the tube only if they’re moving too. Do crunches, squats, or jumping jacks during commercials. Stretch or jog in place while channel surfing. Keep hand weights in a basket by the sofa, and bust out some curls or overhead presses during your favorite show. Do tricep dips or incline pushups, using the couch as a prop. Make this healthy habit for children a contest: whoever does the most burpees gets control of the remote.
4. Microwave.When slow cooking won’t work, embrace your microwave. Skip the high-fat, high-sodium prepackaged meals, and look for instant or frozen foods with less than 450 mg of sodium, 300–500 calories, 10–20 grams of protein, and less than 4 grams of saturated fat. Or make your own ultra-fast, zappable meals: Microwave chopped vegetables with scrambled eggs and cheese for an instant omelet. Combine blueberries, mashed banana, oats, ground flax, and an egg, and microwave for breakfast. Microwave pre-seasoned chicken fajitas and peppers until done, and serve with tortillas for instant dinner. Combine frozen vegetable mix with canned chickpeas, coconut milk, and curry paste, and microwave until hot for vegetarian curry.
5. Make breakfast easy.It’s the most skipped meal, and that has health consequences, especially for young ones: kids who skip breakfast have diminished academic performance, a greater risk of being overweight, and a lower fitness level. Stock up on quick morning meals-to-go: make smoothies the night before and freeze in Ziploc bags. Keep a bowl of boiled eggs, small containers of fruit, and individual packets of almond butter ready for grab-and-go morning meals. Give kids and teens a well-designed multivitamin and mineral to fill in any nutritional gaps.
6. Water your flowers.Be sure that your family drinks enough water; dehydration can lead to headaches, muscle cramps, even changes in mood. Encourage hydration by keeping water around; buy everyone his or her own reusable water bottle and post reminder notes on the front door to take water bottles before leaving the house. Other easy ways to ensure that you and your family are getting enough water:
- Stock up on cans or bottles of sugar-free, fruit-flavored fizzy water to encourage sipping.
- Fill a pitcher with water and slices of orange or sprigs of mint for flavoring.
- Invest in a countertop water dispenser; kids love the novelty of refilling their own glasses.
- Fill ice cube trays with diluted fruit juice and berries, and freeze to add novelty to iced water.