Ten Things You Can do to Improve Your Family's Health

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

You can improve the health of your entire family - and they'll be none the wiser. Here's how.

1. Transition healthier foods into your pantry. Don't overhaul the snack drawer commando style, like some crazed, reality show nanny. Don’t make a fuss, just start replenishing out-of-stock items with healthier choices. For instance, the next time you shop, buy low-fat granola bars, rather than the usual chocolate-covered, marshmallow filled granola treats.

2. Change your cooking techniques. Instead of frying that pork chop, grill or broil it. It’ll still taste great! Don’t batter and fry your zucchini, lightly sauté it with tomatoes and garlic in olive oil. Or julienne it and serve it to the kids with a low fat dressing/dip. If they can eat it with their hands, they’re more likely to eat it.

3. Low-Fat vs. No-Fat is no contest. Don’t take on too much at once. When the low-fat option exists – whether it’s cheese, yogurt, snacks etc., choose it over no fat. Don't switch from whole milk to skim, go with 1%. It’ll be less noticeable and traumatic.

4. Serve from all the food groups everyday. Be sure to serve a healthy mix of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, beans, whole grains and dairy daily.

5. Mix it up. Vary your menus. Don’t fall into a rut of five or six meals rotated continuously. Keep meals interesting. Variety is the spice of life.T

6. Twenty minutes of family fitness is fun for everyone, from Mom and Dad to the teens, all the way down to the baby in the backpack carrier. So, round up the whole family for an after-dinner stroll. Head out for a walk around the neighborhood. It’s priceless time together, which will enrich your family life in more ways than one. Looking for more ways to have fun while still getting daily exercise? Play tag. Go for a hike. Get those bikes rolling. How about a game of volleyball? Twenty minutes a day is really an easy commitment, and you all have so much more to talk about.

7. Limit television and computer time. Not to be mean, but because it takes up time people can use for healthier activities. If the family isn't staring at the tube, (and eating junk food while they’re at it) who knows what they might do. Play outside? Dance? Ride a bike? Hey, maybe they'll even talk to you!

8. Take up a hobby. Encourage everyone in your family to sample a new hobby. Bird watching (lots of fresh air), golf (lots of walking), cooking (healthy foods, of course).

9. Go on healthy family field trips. Rather than the weekly trip to the ice cream shop or the movies, plan family outings that center on healthy activities. Go apple or berry picking. Hit the zoo. Walking the mall can be healthy too, as long as you circumvent the food court.

10. Don't use food as a reward or a punishment. Food is a necessity. Using it as a disciplinary tool has the potential to create food-related issues which have long-term impact on your children. Reward good behavior with praise, affection and with special activities. Don’t deprive children of meals if they disobey you. You don’t necessarily have to eat with your child if behavior is upsetting, but you do need to see that they eat. So, send a surly child to eat in the kitchen, while the rest of the family eats a civilized meal in the dining room.

Remember, this is a mission of love. Your motivation? A happier, healthier partner, fit children, and don’t forget, a healthier you.