Family health

Simple changes to improve your family's health

Say you could make a simple switch here, a little tweak there for your family's health and well-being. We asked three experts for lifestyle changes we can all manage.

Michelle Brownrigg
CEO, Active Healthy Kids Canada, Toronto

Make your family’s life a little inconvenient Bits of incidental activity scattered throughout the day do make a difference. Walk with the kids to the store for milk or a newspaper, instead of driving. Not every neighbourhood is great for a stroll, but many are — so get into the habit of walking.

Up your kid’s opportunities to be active with friends Instead of a movie, plan a sport for his birthday party. Help an older kid get places — like the bowling alley, the baseball diamond or squash court — where he can enjoy a game with his buddies.

Make activity routine — whether it’s work or play On a school night when you might flick on the TV, take the kids to the park and kick a soccer ball around instead.

Got a video game addict? Consider a physical game, such as Dance Dance Revolution. It gets kids moving enough to raise their heart rate. And it appeals to both boys and girls.

Every little bit helps From five minutes of tag to a round of hopscotch, exercise has benefits that go beyond the body: There are huge mental health gains too. Being active helps kids focus when they’re learning, gives them a physical release that helps to reduce stress, and nurtures social skills when they’re with their friends.

Not worth it Don’t feel pressured to take out a second mortgage to invest in the latest Wii system (although there’s nothing wrong with virtual sports if that’s what it takes to get your kids moving). You and the family can be together outdoors and active in the fresh air — and spend no money at all! Think hiking, walking or biking — a good counterbalance to whatever indoor activities your kids like.

Madeleine Greey
Today’s Parent nutrition columnist

Count to four! Overwhelmed by all the nutrition stats? Just count your kids’ fruits and veggies. Canada’s Food Guide recommends that children aged two to three years eat four servings of fruit and veggies each day; four- to eight-year-olds should eat five servings; nine- to 13-year-olds need six. What does a serving look like? For a toddler, a few chunks of mango, half a banana, three apple wedges or two big strawberries. For a preschooler, 1/2 cup (125 mL) of sliced fruit or a small apple.

Fix it fast — yourself Instead of buying frozen dinners or takeout burgers, keep your pantry stocked. With whole wheat pitas from the freezer, tomato sauce from your cupboard and a few veggies, you and the kids could make your own healthy pizzas in the same amount of time (or less) that it would take to deal with a frozen pizza — and you control the nutrition.

Eat dinner together (not in front of the TV!) Studies show that kids who eat dinner with their family regularly have a healthier diet and better grades, and are less likely to get into serious trouble. For many families, that meal is the only time when everyone can talk together.

Bring the kids into the kitchen You don’t have to spend hours making a whole recipe together, but involve them in some small way, such as pouring juice, drying lettuce or setting the table. Kids who get involved in the kitchen are more likely to try new foods — especially if they’ve helped prepare the meal or had some input into what’s being served. And kids who learn some kitchen skills are prepared to cook for themselves when they leave home.

Not worth it If you’re buying organic chocolate chip cookies or organic potato chips because you think they’re a significantly healthier choice — don’t bother. All those grams of fat and sugar aren’t so much better!

Barbara Harris
Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia and co-author of The Guide to Less Toxic Products

Eliminate pesticides Studies link pesticide exposure to cancers, especially childhood cancers. And it goes beyond the lawn and garden. Any time there are bugs to dispatch — when your pet gets fleas or if there’s lice in your child’s class — there are safer alternatives. Check out lesstoxicguide.ca and look under Pest Control for links to reliable information.

Tone down scents Instead of using products like air fresheners, learn to love the clean, fresh smell of…nothing! Air fresheners are a major source of indoor air pollution, and the scents in all kinds of products contain hundreds of worrisome ingredients. To make your home smell wonderful, bake some cookies with your kids or simmer a little cinnamon in a pot of apple cider.

Pitch plastics for glass Glass is inert — no chemicals migrate into your food (stainless steel and ceramics are good too). Avoid microwaving in plastic, even “microwave-safe” plastic. Instead, store leftovers in glass containers or dinnerware. Or buy inexpensive wide-mouthed glass canning jars.

Ditch bottled water Instead, use a good-quality water filter made with ceramic and stainless steel. There’s an initial outlay for an under-the-counter or plumbed-in filter, but the cost over time will be less than bottled water. If you use a plastic jug-style model, store the water in a glass container after you filter it.

Not worth it Lose antibacterial soaps and cleaners. In the long run, these may do more harm than good. Why? Some experts say that because we’re using so many of these products, they’re building up in the environment and may be contributing to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The alternative? Good old soap and water.