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Monday
Apr072014

20 Ideas to Turn Healthy Living into Family Fun

When we know how good a healthy life feels, we undoubtedly want to share the benefits with those we love. Getting the whole family on board with better practices means we not only have an easier time meeting our individual goals but enjoy knowing we’re passing on the love of a healthy lifestyle to our children. With the return of warm weather, it's the perfect time to re-envision your family routines and imagine new opportunities for sharing healthy eating and active living together. Want a few ideas to get you started? Below you’ll find 20 ways to make healthy living fun for the whole crew!

Grow a family garden.

Research shows that kids eat more fruits and vegetables when they're homegrown. Planting and caring for your own food cultivates what researchers call a "positive food environment" at home that influences children's preferences as well as eating routines. Don't feel like you have to set up a total subsistence operation, however. Choose a few plants to grow each season or even begin with a simple indoor herb garden. Allow the kids to help care for the plants - and to harvest the fruits of their labor!

Enjoy manual chores – as a family.

Maybe you can establish an official “yard day” once a month when every member of the family somehow contributes to the mowing, pruning, weeding or planting tasks. Alternatively, put on your swim suits and wash the cars – and the dogs! – on a warm afternoon.

Join a CSA - and enjoy exploring the surprise contents (and related recipes).

Younger kids especially will be intrigued by the unexpected contents you’ll unpack every week. It’s a great opportunity to teach kids about new varieties of vegetables and to experiment in the kitchen with healthy cooking. Bonus: many CSAs offer family days when you can visit the farms or even help participate with special harvest activities.

Visit the farmer's markets together.

Whether or not a CSA is an option for you, check out area farmers' markets to introduce your children to the immense variety of produce and other food selections not always seen in conventional grocery stores. Encourage their curiosity by giving them an amount of money they can use to purchase a few items that look good to them. Extend the activity by finding recipes together for some quality cooking time.

Teach the kids how to cook from scratch. 

So often we rush through meal prep (and eating) on our way to the more pressing parts of life. What message does this frenzy send to our kids? Set aside some weeknight or weekend time to leisurely cook together. I’ve never known a child who didn’t like to cook or bake, and you’ll be passing on important skills that will serve their health throughout their lifetimes.

Do a charity 5K together. 

No matter what age your kids are, you can all do a 5K together. Even if you walk or cart the little ones along in a stroller or wagon, it's an early example to them of living well - and doing good in their communities. 

Celebrate a vegetable of the week. 

With summer coming up, now is the perfect time to explore new foods and recipes. Choose an unfamiliar vegetable every week with the challenge to see how many dishes you can prepare that include it. Ask the kids to dig up the recipes and to even choose the spotlight veggie itself. Elementary school kids might enjoy taking it a step further in a vegetable scrapbook they can create throughout the full growing season. Help them choose – and review! – some yummy recipes for each featured veggie. Encourage them to color pictures of the vegetables and print off photos of their favorite meal creations. (Don’t forget to research the nutritional highlights!) Give them stickers to keep track of their favorites and choose a few they can grow themselves next season or in a summer bumper crop.

Plan active vacations. 

Kids love seeing new places and trying new adventures. Why not take full advantage of their enthusiasm by kicking your vacations up a notch? Rent bikes to explore a new city. Try scuba diving. Hike in a national forest. Attempt some rafting, ziplining, horseback riding or skiing. For the younger ones, incorporate geocaching and swimming.

Bike somewhere at least once each weekend.

While there’s no doubt we live in a car-oriented society, challenge that trend by biking (or walking) for at least one errand/trip each week. If your location doesn’t allow for safe biking or walking routes, try riding to a part of town that does and do some walking/biking exploration.

Make up healthy menus.

Use some fancy computer templates to create healthy snack and weekly meal menus that kids can refer to when they’re reaching for something after school or helping plan the week’s meal choices. Presentation and participation go a long way!

Institute "kids cook" night.

While you’re at it, set a night each week when older children are in charge of dinner. Let them choose a healthy, well balanced meal to prepare (maybe with the help of those menu options). Make it a special occasion by using the formal dishes or buying fresh flowers for the table on those nights.

Hold a monthly "Iron Chef" night.

If you have older kids or a larger family, take the “kids cook” night one step further by adding an element of competition. Maybe it's mom against big sister one week with the rest of the brood sampling and making the final judgement on taste and presentation. 

Organize family/neighborhood games.

Whether it’s a pick-up game of basketball in the driveway, Ultimate Frisbee in the front yard or some relays in an open green space, gathering family and friends together adds another layer of fun and motivation.

Visit a different area park/preserve each week.

Experts are just beginning to uncover how important time in nature is to our mental and physical wellbeing, but they emphasize that it’s especially imperative for kids. While fitting in a “green hour” every day is important, use longer stretches of free time (e.g. weekends, holiday breaks) to try your hand at wilderness sports or trips to more remote places like state parks or larger nature preserves in your area.

Hit the pool.

What child doesn’t love the pool? Instead of watching from the typical parental sidelines, however, get in and play by challenging them to some relays, water polo or synchronized swimming.

Have some Wii Sport on hand for rainy days.

While a video game isn’t a substitute for the real sport, it might come in handy when the alternative is passive T.V. or moping around the house.

Try out kayaking or canoeing at an area lake.

Make the most of the fair weather months by introducing your kids to boating – manual style. For them, it’s a seminal childhood experience. For you, it beats an hour on the rowing machine!

Take sporting lessons together.

How about family horseback riding, tennis or golf lessons? You’ll be getting outdoors and enjoying some competitive family fun.

Walk or bike to a neighboring park for a weekday picnic dinner.

There's a tendency to believe that we have to cram in everything social and active on the weekend. Not so! Pack a healthy picnic for dinner one night a week, and head out to your favorite neighborhood park or preserve for some quality family time. Be sure to bring along a Frisbee or some badminton equipment for an impromptu after-dinner game.

Make club time a family affair.

While you do your workout, why not let the kids work in some active time of their own? Check out your club's child care facilities and kid-friendly activities. Their happy faces might just encourage you to enjoy a longer workout!

Thanks for reading today, everyone. What ideas have helped you make healthy living fun for your family? How do you stay active or enjoy healthy food together? Share your favorite experiences and tips with our readers.

Written by Jennifer Wannen, Content Manager

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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