As the new year begins, people often start thinking about their health — and many will make weight loss resolutions or plans to live a healthier life in general. January is Family Fit Lifestyle Month, and while there is no time like the present to begin setting health and nutritional goals, it needs to be something we think about all year long — not just at the start of a new year.
The majority of new year resolutions set by parents are abandoned by February in favor of an easier lifestyle. Here's how you can set health and nutritional goals as a busy parent in just 3 steps:
1. Start With Reality
The more ambitious and unachievable a goal is, the less likely you are to follow through with it. Whether you are making your own health and nutritional goals or thinking about how you'll help your family be healthier, you need to be realistic. Trying to turn your meat-eating family into Vegans overnight may be unrealistic, particularly if you don't have a lot of time to devote to meal planning.
If you would like to see your family eat less processed foods and more vegetables, start with a more realistic and achievable goal — maybe replacing three meals a week with a vegetarian dish.
2. Goals Must Be Measurable
A common problem with goals people create is that they are too vague. For example, your children may make a New Year's resolution for keeping their bedroom cleaner. This is vague, and it's hard to measure the results. A better resolution might be for the child to put their toys away and put dirty laundry in the hamper every night before they go to bed — this is easily measured and you can tell when the goal is accomplished.
The same rules apply to setting health and nutritional goals. You can't say "this family will eat healthy this year!" as it's too vague to accurately measure your progress. You would want to create more specific goals you can measure, like eating two servings of fresh fruit per day or eliminating soda from your diet.
Be careful with setting weight loss goals for children. If your children are overweight, you will want to take steps to improving their overall health and fitness — but it can be easy to set unrealistic goals for weight loss that will encourage unhealthy behaviors in trying reach that weight. It may be better to help children create and stick to an exercise plan, rather than setting a goal of losing a specific number of pounds.
Set a good example for your children, too, if your own health goals include weight loss. Instead of aiming for losing 100 pounds, set goals that include increasing activity level and decreasing unhealthy snacks.
3. Rewarding Progress
When setting long term health and nutritional goals, the reward is obviously the long term effects of being healthier — but many people will give up long before they reach that kind of long term result! Your children may need more immediate satisfaction of a job well done, such as a rewards chart that you can put stickers on for each day the goal is reached.
If the goal is to eat two servings of fresh fruit each day and eliminate soda, the child can put a sticker on each day that the goal is met. If the week has a sticker on each day, you might want to reward the child on the progress toward the overall goal with a small reward: an extra hour of computer time or a fun day trip.
As a parent, you can reward your own progress as well, if it will help you keep to the long term plan. For each week you work toward the nutritional and health goals you set, allow yourself a small reward — maybe a quiet hour with a book, a trip to the coffee shop without your kids in tow, or anything else that will feel rewarding. Achieving the overall health and nutritional goal is the real reward, but smaller rewards along the way helps keep everyone motivated and dedicated to accomplishing the task.