What Can My Family and I Do To Encourage a Healthy Weight?

You may be asking what you can do in your own family to prevent overweight and obesity. The two main ways to encourage and maintain a healthy weight are to make smart food choices and to be physically active.

As parents, you make a big difference in what your children think and do. If you eat right and are physically active, there's a good chance your children will be too. Together, families can be more successful in adopting healthy choices and making changes. Creating family habits around smart eating and physical activity can make it easier for everyone to maintain a healthy weight. For example:

  • Planning regular family time that involves physical activity means that everyone is supported and encouraged to be active.
  • Putting a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter and making a family agreement not to have chips or other high-calorie snacks in the house can change everyone's snacking habits.

Strategies for Real Life

If you're interested in jump-starting your family on a healthy lifestyle by making some nutrition and physical activity changes, here are a few strategies to get you started:

  • Recognize that you have more control than you might think. You can turn off the TV and video games. You can park your car farther away from the store. You can give your family more vegetables with dinner.
  • Think about immediate benefits. If reducing future heart disease risk seems a bit abstract, focus on the good things that can happen right now. You won't feel so full if you have a smaller portion of dessert, or have a piece of fruit instead. Going hiking with your teenager might lead to a wonderful talk that neither of you anticipated. A vegetable salad tastes great and looks beautiful. Dancing with your spouse is lots of fun and can give you a great workout.
  • Make small changes over time. It's easier and more appealing to start out with some new approaches to nutrition and physical activity that the whole family is willing to try. For example, shoot some baskets after dinner a few nights a week instead of turning on the TV. Start your weekend by taking a walk with your family or a trip to a local farmer's market. And, instead of chocolate cake with frosting, enjoy sliced strawberries over angel food cake.
  • Try a variety of strategies. No one will notice if you use part-skim mozzarella cheese instead of whole-milk mozzarella in your lasagna, but you'll be reducing the number of calories and fat for everyone who eats it. Combine "invisible" strategies like this with strategies that actively involve other family members: See whether everyone will commit to eating healthy dinners at least four times a week. Get your children involved in the process of shopping for and preparing these healthy dinners. Make a plan with your child to walk to school together or to walk after dinner 2 days a week.

For more information and tips on eating healthier at home, read "We Can! Families Finding the Balance: A Parent Handbook" (available online at http://wecan.nhlbi.nih.gov).

Time-Saving Tips for Busy Families

Like most families, your life is probably busy with work, school, activities, and other commitments, and you may feel like you don't have enough time to put healthy food on the table. However, cooking healthy meals for your family can be simple and delicious with easy recipes and a little advance planning. Here are some tips to make healthy cooking at home easier.

Menu Planning and Shopping

  • Make a plan and stick to it. Choose one day each week to plan meals for the week. Then create a grocery list based on your meal plan. A little planning ahead can help save you lots of time and money. Try using these tools on the We Can! Web site (http://wecan.nhlbi.nih.gov):
    • We Can! Weekly Meal Planner
    • We Can! Grocery Shopping List Template
  • Make planning a family affair. Ask your family to help you write the weekly meal plan and grocery list—post these materials on the refrigerator and ask family members to help fill them out as they come up with ideas.
  • Plan for leftovers and "batch" cooking when making your grocery list. For example, if you know you won't have leftover Hawaiian Huli Huli Chicken, then plan to make extra chicken and sauce for an easy meal of "Fried" Rice and Chicken. Or, roast several red peppers at once to batch cook for the Super Quick Chunky Tomato Sauce, Tangy Salsa, and Roasted Red Pepper and Toasted Orzo.
  • Stock your kitchen with staple healthy ingredients such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, sundried tomatoes, frozen shrimp, chicken breast, canned low-sodium beans, no-salt-added diced tomatoes, frozen vegetables with no added sauce, etc. For more healthy ingredient ideas, see the Deliciously Healthy Dinners Ingredient List.
  • Shop smart.  Stick to your grocery list to avoid buying items you don't need. Time your grocery trip for when the store is less crowded and you're not rushed or hungry. Get the recipe ingredients and other foods on your list in just one trip.

Preparation

  • Read over each recipe before starting so you know what's involved. Lay out all of the ingredients and tools you'll need (measuring cups, spoons, knives, cutting board, pots and pans, etc.) to get organized before cooking.
  • Chop all ingredients before you start cooking.
  • Carefully plan when to start preparing side dishes so everything is ready at once.
  • Ask your children to help set the table and even help prepare dishes. (In recipes in this cookbook, the Chefs-in-Training symbol identifies tips on how to get children involved in food preparation.)

Cooking

  • Use quick recipes with few ingredients (such as the Keep the Beat Recipes).
  • Cook once, eat twice. (See Menu Planning and Shopping and Storing sections for more information. Also, the Leftover Friendly symbol identifies ingredients that you might have as leftovers from previous meals.)

Storing

  • Store leftover meals in the refrigerator for lunch the next day, or freeze for a later time.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftover cooked ingredients (veggies, chicken, rice, etc.) so they're ready to quickly toss into recipes another time.
  • For information on storing food safely, refer to:
    • The Federal Food Safety Web site at www.foodsafety.gov.
    • The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service's Meat and Poultry Hotline: 1–888–674–6854.

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®We Can! Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition, We Can!, and the We Can! logos are registered trademarks of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).