A Family’s Path to Better Health

Family Hiking Along Path By River In UK Lake District

The pandemic has brought challenges in all areas of life, ultimately changing our schedules with at-home school and work. With social distancing, we have become less active, and teachers are concerned that this will impact learning. According to Statistics Canada, only one-third of children are meeting the daily 60-minute activity requirement. When ensuring their kids are moving, multitasking Canadian parents add one more role to their resume: the gym teacher to maintain their family’s health and wellbeing.

“Latest studies show depression and anxiety among families are at an all-time high, with social isolation and working from home being the major drivers of distress. Working women are especially at risk, having to juggle many more responsibilities,” says Dr. Ajmal Razmy, Psychiatrist at Cleveland Clinic Canada and expert in wellness and preventative mental health. “In addition to seeing their parents distressed, uncertainty is one of the major drivers of extreme anxiety among Canadian children, who are acting out, displaying unusual behaviors and suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.”

While it might be tempting to break out the tablets and other gaming devices for a quick and easy entertainment fix, it is now more important than ever to keep children physically active and engaged. “Because children are spending more time on tablets, we have also seen a higher amount of insomnia or hypersomnia among them, as blue rays emitted by such devices affect their sleep and mood,” adds Dr. Razmy.

Physical activity helps kids fall asleep faster, and the benefits of consistent rest should not be underestimated. According to an article on aboutkidshealth.org, children who get enough sleep are more creative, have more energy, can create and maintain good relations with others among a slew of other positive effects. The ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth states that the physical benefits include:

  • Helping children maintain healthy body weight.
  • Reducing the risk of chronic disease.
  • Developing strength and flexibility.

Turning Physical Activity Into a Game

To meet the 60-minute minimum active time requirement for kids, planning, and scheduling that time is key. Weather permitting, bike rides, walks, and hikes are all activities the whole family can enjoy. Over the summer, kids love splash pads and water balloons games. Soccer and basketball are also fun yet physically demanding. Consider games that can be played as a family — think about mother-son/father-daughter teams! I love turning workout routines into a game. My kids and I write two or three activities we love on paper pieces and take turns picking the workout we will do together out of a box. It can be anything from skipping rope to jumping on one leg back and forth in our driveaway. We sometimes turn a card game into our workout by assigning an activity to each suit in a deck of cards, such as:
  • Hearts: 20 jumping jacks
  • Spades: High knees
  • Clubs: Bear crawls
  • Diamonds: Record or recreate TikTok dance moves
Whether they like it or not, chores and yard work are a great way for kids to get moving. Get creative and make up a fun and colorful chores chart that delegates a few chores per day. Place it somewhere visible. By associating rewards with each chore, such as (limited) screen time, you can further motivate your kids to get up, get moving, and get active.

Helping Yourself with Meal Planning

Meal planning has taken on a whole new meaning this year as many of us are more prone to indulging. Preparing healthy, homemade meals and snacks help to fight off unhealthy cravings. As our activity levels suffer as we all stay home, there’s less wiggle room for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. And you don’t have to be an experienced cook to make delicious good-for-you meals!

Designating a meal preparation day aids in planning out recipes and drafting grocery lists before you hit the store. This method keeps you organized and on budget. It also ensures you always have access to healthy snacks and reduces food waste considerably. Here are a few suggestions for a typical day:

Breakfast

To avoid taste-bud fatigue and tailor your breakfast to your day, make sure you have three options available:

  • A quick meal such as a protein shake or fruit shake
  • Bread with nut butter (that’s free of high-fructose corn syrup), berries, bananas, or kid-friendly vegetables such as cucumbers
  • While cereal for breakfast may sound like a no-brainer, it doesn’t satiate your kids long enough. Many are often filled with high-fructose corn syrup (also called golden syrup), palm oil, and/or excessive amounts of sugar. Homemade pancakes are a much better option for a tasty treat and will be more nutritious than boxed cereal.

Snacks

Fresh fruit and vegetables are best enjoyed with a handful of nuts or a shake. The idea is to come up with a small snack that fills you enough to get you to the next meal. A healthy nutrition plan should be balanced in terms of protein, carbohydrates, and fats to fuel you for the whole day. A green apple and a few almonds are a signature snack that both parents and kids love.

Lunch

Meals should always be accompanied by fruit or vegetables. Some healthy meal components include nitrate-free turkey with cheese, bento boxes, or gluten-free pasta. Allowing for some walking time after a meal will boost your digestive system, even if only for 15 minutes. Be sure to carve out a few minutes for a stroll around the neighborhood.

Dinner

This is where your meal preparation will save you. Slow cooker meals are ideal so that you can enjoy quality time with the kids and plan out the next day without having to worry about making dinner. Even without a slow cooker, a well-thought-out and stocked pantry allows for no-brainer suppers.

Dessert

Baking became a coping mechanism for many parents over the past year, which is an activity children love. However, many of our traditional recipes don’t serve us well as they exceed our daily recommended sugar intake, which is unhealthy and can cause blood sugar spikes, mood swings, and hyperactivity among children. Instead, try selecting recipes that call for healthier ingredients (such as coconut oil instead of butter), like an energy bar or protein ball recipe. Set aside a reasonable portion per person for the day and pack away the leftovers for the next day to avoid temptation. Visit my Instagram page for recipe ideas and my take on kids’ favorites.

All in all, increasing physical activities and making better-for-you options doesn’t have to be complicated. Pack snacks or a picnic and enjoy a meal outside, even if it’s just on your front lawn. The different atmosphere will not only physically benefit the entire family, but it can foster conversations and encourage kids to discuss issues that they may not share in their daily life.

About Suzan Galluzzo

As a certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist for the past ten years, Suzan is the founder of the Best of You online Training Program, which has empowered and transformed over 5,000 people over the past few years. Encompassing more than just fitness, her holistic program is designed to educate and keep members accountable with easy-to-follow, results-oriented workouts and nutrition guides, with most clients losing 25+ pounds on her three-month-program. To see some of her clients’ transformations and get more family-friendly activities and nutritious recipes, head on to her Instagram @SuzanGalluzzo