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5 Habits of Healthy Families: From Family Dinners to the Backyard

family kitchen 5 Habits of Healthy Families: From Family Dinners to the Backyard

By now, most everyone has heard the statistics: nearly 17 percent of children between the ages of two and 19 are obese, with even more falling into the category of overweight. Our children are heavier than ever before, and their unhealthy habits are setting them up for a lifetime of poor health and disease.

Healthy Habit #1: Eat Dinner Together When the whole family is running in different directions, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of “eat when you can.” Between work, school and other obligations, sitting down for a family meal each day might seem like an impossible feat.

However, multiple studies have shown that eating meals together as a family makes a measurable difference when it comes to encouraging healthy eating habits in kids — and also improves academic performance and emotional health. A study in Pediatrics journal indicated that kids who ate dinner with their families three times a week had healthier overall eating patterns and better relationships with their parents than those who ate at the family table less often. And this is one case where more of a good thing is a good thing — the more often families ate dinner together, the greater the benefits.

Healthy Habit #2: Cook Together One way to make it easier to get dinner on the table every night is to make cooking dinner a family affair. Even the little ones can get in on the act, helping mix ingredients or spin lettuce for a salad. Giving everyone a role to play in getting dinner ready not only takes the burden off of mom and dad, it also teaches kids fundamental skills in cooking, menu planning and food preparation. When you teach your kids how to use simple food preparation equipment, like blenders and mixers, you’re providing life lessons that will help them maintain healthy eating habits throughout their lives.

Healthy Habit #3: Grow Your Own There’s nothing quite like garden-fresh produce, and families that grow their own fruits and vegetables tend to report better overall health than those who don’t. The health benefits of growing a garden extend well beyond better tasting meals, though. A 2010 study commissioned by the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society indicated that gardening improves children’s overall well-being and development. Not only do children learn scientific and mathematical principles as they work in the garden, the study also indicated that children who are involved in the production of their own food eat a wider variety of produce, and more of it.

Healthy Habit #4: Exercise Together According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, kids who stay active are less likely to become overweight or obese throughout their lives. Since we know that exercise is important for adults too, the healthiest families make working out a family affair. Taking a short walk after dinner or playing a spirited game of basketball in the driveway can get everyone’s heart rate up, helping you stay healthy and build positive family connections.

Healthy Habit #5: Get Educated While kids can learn a lot by helping their parents in the kitchen, cooking classes geared toward the whole family can also set you on the path to healthy eating. Organizations around the country, like the Junior League and various grocery stores, have developed a wide array of events and workshops to teach children about healthy foods and show them ways to prepare tasty, healthy snacks and meals. However, education’s connection to a healthy lifestyle goes well beyond the kitchen.

A study in the March 2013 issue of Public Health Nutrition revealed that children with parents who have a higher level of education, meaning at least some college, tend to have healthier diets overall than those with parents who only have a high school education or less. As a result, children from families of lower socio-economic status have a greater chance of becoming overweight or obese. Healthy families make education a priority — meaning that even the adults take time to learn new things, and set a positive example for their children.

Making the health of your family a priority, both in terms of the food you eat and the activities you engage in, has long-lasting benefits. Taking time to eat together, learn together and play together will ensure that your family is building a strong bond while also building stronger bodies and minds.

About the Author: Nutritionist Nancy Walker has been working with families for nearly two decades to help them develop healthier eating habits. Together with her local hospital and several civic groups, she launched an annual healthy eating festival and monthly workshop series designed to educate families on the best habits for a healthy life.

Consideration was received for the editing and publishing of this post.

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