When we send our kids to school, we send expectations:
- The school will provide my child with the knowledge they need to be successful
- The school will provide healthy/balanced lunches
- The school will provide activities in which my child will exercise
After all, experts in their field create curriculum to serve these needs. But when summer hits, “the school” is taken out of the equation and replaced with “I”… and that can be overwhelming.
So how do we make the right choices for our family? Well, it goes back to the old adage: You give a man a fish and he eats for a day. You teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Take the pressure off of yourself. Start by turning the “I” into a “we” with EMPOWERMENT.
Now, we are not suggesting that you go out and teach your child to fish (although if that is how you would like to achieve your health goals, have at it), but when you empower your family to make the right choices, you grow healthier together.
Try these 5 simple ways to put your family on the road to health empowerment (and continue their education at the same time)
1. Put the Label On The Table
Cereal, snacks and other foods often hide in the cupboards (or if you are really ambitious, they are displayed in lovely containers throughout the kitchen). If “out of sight, out of mind” is true, then “in sight in mind” must also be true. When you pull out those snacks, pull out those nutrition labels and share them with your family. Start by reading the ingredients, and following this simple mantra:
If you can’t read it… don’t eat it.
All natural ingredients are key. If you see something like Monosodium Glutamate Phenylalanine, it’s probably got chemicals in it. You do not want to put chemicals in your amazing bodies! Look for ingredients that you can pronounce, like “oat flour” and look for items with fewer ingredients (such as fresh fruit, which doesn’t even come with an ingredients label). Fresh is always best, but when you’re picking packaged food like cereal or crackers, you want to make sure you’re putting the healthiest stuff in your body. Compare labels to see which has more fiber, vitamins, and less sugar. You learn together and you practice reading in the summer. Win/Win
EXTREME version: Once your family knows how to read the label, take it to the store! Compare labels at the grocery store to shop your healthiest and find what fruits and vegetables are in season!
2. Measuring Cups for Everyone!
Once you have introduced the nutrition label to your family and they know WHAT they are eating, look for HOW MUCH of that item is in each serving. It’s really easy to sit down with a box or a bag and feed handfuls of servings to yourself. Start out empowered! Read the top of the label for “Serving Size”, then grab some measuring cups and measure to that size (for example, Serving Size = 1 cup). Keep the measuring cups at hands reach (even stored in the box or bag) for easy measuring.
EXTREME VERSION Make it even more fun by picking up a set of measuring cups for each member of the family (we found these at the Dollar Store). Decorate the cups with permanent markers to personalize them, and store the measuring cups in a place that is easy to reach (in a low drawer or on a key-ring in the closet). For things like cookies or crackers count out each piece to make a serving, then put the box or bag away. Voila! Math and health are practiced together!
Remember, snacks are the #1 food choice that children make for themselves. Empower your family to make the healthy choice!
3. Exercise Outside AND Inside
Sports are wonderful exercise, but they are not the ONLY way to stay healthy. Rainy days, allergies, and hot weather can put a damper on outside activities, so have some indoor exercises ready to go! If your family leans more towards the couch potato side, come up with some simple things to get them moving. Dance breaks are great ways for families to stay active together. Balance contests during commercial breaks get you on your feet. Hula hoops and jump ropes (if you have the indoor space) can be great exercise tools both individually or as group activities. Exercise is cumulative, so even a little bit at a time can add up. A dance break here and a family walk there can get your heart pumping!
EXTREME Version: As a family, make a list of outdoor and indoor exercises. Write the individual activities on cards splitting the activities into two containers, one labeled “outside” and one labeled “inside”. Choose at least one activity from each container per day. Increase the amount of time you spend on each activity throughout the summer.
4. Water, Water, Water!
Water is our most basic of needs, but how do we know if we get enough? Ah, the wonders of science. No need for test tubes, or measuring devices, this observational experiment is simple. Simply checking the color of your pee throughout the day will alert you to the need for more water. If your pee is clear, you are drinking enough water. The more sugar you add to your diet, the yellower it gets. Your family can have all sorts of fun with this, but the challenge really is, how can I get my family to drink enough water to have clear pee. For some, the knowledge is enough to create a personal challenge, but for those more stubborn drinkers, try to add water in their daily activities. For instance, assign a water bottle to their screen time. They can sip away while mesmerized during their favorite show. Try only bringing water to outings and only ordering water at restaurants. Make water bottles and cups accessible by placing them in low cabinets or drawers so that kids can be empowered to get water themselves.
Also, sometimes hungry really means thirsty. Try drinking some water before grabbing a snack.
EXTREME VERSION Challenge your family to find times throughout the week when they can replace a sugary drink with water. As they get used to that, try finding times throughout the day in which sugary drinks can be replaced by water. Who can have the clearest pee?
5. Be the Example
From the time they are tiny babies, we learn how often kids imitate us (from “peekaboo” to choice language at not-so-choice times). Empower yourself to be the example of health that you want for your family. Following “5, 2, 1, Almost None” each day can get you on your way.
5 or more fruits and vegetables. According to the USDA. ½ of your plate should be fruits and vegetables. Click here for a “Choose my plate” diagram
2 hours or less of screen time With the birth of more and more gadgets, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tear yourself away from your screens. Set timers for yourself and have your family set timers for themselves as well, that set a limit on screen time, and be ready with non-screen activities such as crafts, books, board games, and outdoor/indoor activities.
1 hour of physical activity This goes back to #3. It adds up, so even if it is 10 minutes here and there throughout the day, getting yourself to at least one hour of physical activity a day can make a big difference.
Almost none of items such as soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks that are not 100% fruit juice Replacing these drinks with water is ideal, but if you need a little sweetness, try adding fresh fruits and vegetables to the water (there are even water bottles that are made just to for infusing fruit and vegetables). If you are going to drink juice, read the label to make sure that it is 100% juice (and pay attention to the serving size).
These are just the first steps in empowering yourself and your family to live healthy lives. Keep the kids in on the conversation and share with each other ways in which you are being healthy in your daily lives to build on these simple concepts a little each day!
Empowering lives through the art of puppetry, MicheLee Puppets puts healthy living into practice with EXTREME Health Challenge a wacky game show currently touring throughout Florida. Want your kids to take the challenge? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a performance at your venue today!
For more details and next steps on healthy living visit:
FDA Read the Label Youth outreach campaign
United States Department of Agriculture