5 Key Habits for a Healthy Family Lifestyle
by Nicole Kestenbaum
Read Time: 7 Minutes
I grew up in a big family and I had the best childhood. I was raised in the heart of Central America, and we were constantly running outside, celebrating birthdays with my big Hispanic family, and eating all the delicious food my abuelas and tias would prepare. Birthdays were especially fun because it meant you would get money as a gift, and I loved to run to the toy store and spend it all at once. It was such a rush! It was incredible always being surrounded by cousins, chaos, and women who loved to go shopping, cook, and raise their beautiful families.
As exciting as it was, when I look back, I also realize that we did have some family habits that weren't the healthiest. After I grew up and became a parent, I began to see that there were some things I wanted to do differently.
Even though I had an amazing childhood, I realized many things became harder for me as an adult because of some of our family habits. That is why I am choosing to raise my son differently in certain ways. The beautiful thing is that when you become a parent you can start over and create a new family routine! For example, for my family members to live a longer life, we had to start practicing healthy habits at home.
It was hard as adults to change bad family habits like not prioritizing exercise and healthy eating, but we wanted things to be different for our son. We wanted him to have the benefit of learning these things early, so we jumped right in! Then, we were surprised how quickly we became overwhelmed with everything we wanted to teach him. Healthy habits, like good manners, good hygiene, financial responsibility, and much more are priorities for us. We take it one day at a time but try to stay consistent with the following things at home.
Healthy Family Habit 1: Exercise!
I remember always celebrating big milestones or achievements with food. You name it, we ate it: ice cream, milkshakes, pizza, etc. While that can be fun in moderation, now we try celebrating big moments by practicing an activity.
Celebrate with an Activity
Choose an activity your son or daughter loves when celebrating milestones. We like visiting the playground or park, going to a dance or gymnastics class at the YMCA, going to the community pool (one of my son's favorites), or visiting the local lake to feed the ducks. My son looks forward to those outings because we do them together as a family. This also gets us away from the TV or sitting on the couch for too long. Being active has helped us make a conscious effort to lead a healthy family lifestyle.
Parents - Lead by Example and Get Moving!
As parents, we also realize we have to lead by example. To raise a son with a healthy lifestyle, both my husband and I need to lead an active life too. It's the best thing for our son, and for us! Leading an active lifestyle is one of the best ways for us to stay healthy and help prevent future health problems. And, we know that if our son grows up with healthy family habits, it will be easier for him to adapt them into his lifestyle too.
As important as physical activity is, we also know it's not always easy. Sure, there are moments when you won't feel like doing a workout, but even a walk around the neighborhood is better than staying on the couch. Your kids will see these choices and learn from them. I can't stress enough how important it is to help your children love the act of moving their body to release stress, feel energized, and stay happy and strong. We recently started family bike rides, and that's just one more way to stay active together while having fun.
Did you know that regular exercise can improve your quality of life and prevent cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes? It's cheaper to be active and take a walk than to end up in the hospital.
Healthy Family Habit 2: Eating Healthy for a Longer Life
We enjoy cooking at home because we know exactly what goes into our food. We avoid processed foods like cookies, chips, or sodas because they have too much sugar and ingredients that don't fuel our body and mind. It's amazing what healthy eating can do for you. Ever since we started eating healthier, we sleep better, we're less tired, and we have more energy to spend time together as a family. Why is it so important for us to eat a balanced diet of veggies, protein, and fats? We know that teaching our son healthy habits will help him make better food choices during his lifetime and help prevent chronic diseases and obesity. Plus, eating healthy gives us more energy and brain power.
Avoiding fast food and processed foods is crucial in our house since these contain high amounts of sodium and preservatives. Our son prefers having a tortilla with beans rather than fried chicken nuggets. That's a win in our book! Like any other kid, our son loves fries, but we only eat them every once in a while.
Involving our son in making our Saturday morning breakfast is a weekend family routine we enjoy, and it is a time we can teach him about whole foods. We talk about all the ingredients, and he learns about what they do for our bodies.
Always offer water as the first option for hydration. Sure, juice boxes are convenient and have fun flavors, but they also have too much added sugar, which can lead to weight gain and grogginess. I never drank water when I was younger, and I had to learn how to do that as an adult. It was hard - I was so used to my diet sodas! Make water fun by adding a slice of lime, lemon, or frozen fruit for a subtle, refreshing taste.
Healthy Family Habit 3: Teaching Responsibility with Money
Growing up I thought we were well off, but as I got older I learned that my parents didn't save money for things like my college education - and I had no savings either. I realized I hadn't been taught about managing money and finances. Later, I got a job because I wanted to change that pattern and start saving for my future. My husband and I both have held jobs since the age of 18. We realized, because our parents went through financial hardships, that we wanted to be better prepared for our future. Here's how we're teaching responsibility about money to our son, including the importance of saving it, budgeting, and how you spend it.
Teach Them by Playing
You can start teaching financial management at an early age. Here's one way we use play to help our son understand how money works.
- We bought plastic fruits and veggies at the toy store and kept empty food boxes (like spaghetti or macaroni and cheese) for him to line up in a pretend grocery store. We get out Monopoly money and reusable totes and start shopping.
- We walk him through the process of picking out his items and paying for them to practice math skills.
- We show him not to choose more items than what he has money for. This helps teach him to shop within a budget.
As your kids get older you can teach them about money management through chores. I'm all for creating a list of weekly tasks and having kids complete the items on the list in exchange for a couple of dollars. This chore list teaches them that working will help them make a few bucks. It also allows them to save money and spend it on a bigger purchase later.
Healthy Family Habit 4: Our Hygiene Routine
We are sticklers about our personal hygiene routines, and my son already has one at four years old! The fun part of our routine is that we all do this together in the morning and at night. In the morning, we wake up, take turns in the shower, brush our teeth together, and head to breakfast. It's part of a healthy family lifestyle to have great dental hygiene, shower before getting dressed, and look polished before we leave for work and school.
One of our biggest wins as a family is that my son is not scared of the dentist like we were as kids. Teaching my son to love brushing his teeth and going to the dentist was easy because I started him with his own toothbrush at six months old. As he grew older, I had him mimic my teeth brushing, and it's a healthy family habit we practice every day that will keep his smile cavity-free.
Have your kids look forward to their daily routine by letting them pick their own toothbrush or shampoo with their favorite characters on them.
Healthy Family Habit 5: Sharing Duties in the Kitchen
I'm incredibly proud of how much we share responsibilities in the kitchen and around the home. This starts with me and my husband. My husband cooks meals, takes the trash out, and unloads the dishwasher, and I do the same. I want my son to grow up seeing that we have shared family responsibilities because that will make him a better son and eventually husband. One of the things I loved about my husband when I met him was that he cooked me a meal on our first date. It was a very welcome role reversal from what I was used to. So, how can you start this at home?
- Let your kids help you with meal preparation. Allow them to mix the pancake batter or crack an egg. Involve them in what they are going to eat. Kids love this!
- Show them how to prepare their favorite meal. Depending on their age it could be a sandwich or scrambled egg, but it teaches them independence and sparks their curiosity in the kitchen.
- Clean up after every meal together and show them that it's important to place the dishes in the sink and throw away the trash at the end of a meal.
Why It Matters
To me, the most exciting part about being a parent is teaching and molding my kids' behavior in ways that help them grow to be healthy and strong. I can't wait to see my son grow up to be an independent, responsible, and healthy adult. That's what we all want for our kids, right? I hope some of these tips will help you develop healthy family habits in your house too. And remember, you got this! It's in the small moments that healthy family lifestyles are created.