5 (relatively) easy New Year’s resolutions for healthier, happier kids (and families)

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Follow me on Twitter @drClaire

It’s that time of year again, the time when we make resolutions. We set goals, make plans and imagine ways that we can do better in the year to come.

We usually have good ideas — the problem tends to be in making those ideas actually happen. We get busy, the resolutions are too ambitious, we really don’t want to give up sweetsfor whatever reason, resolutions often fade away by February.

It’s too bad, because while there may be some families out there with perfect lifestyle habits, I’m guessing they are few and far between. We all have room for improvement. The key may be setting goals that are achievable — and practical.

Here are five suggestions that most families can manage — and that can make all the difference when it comes to setting everyone on a healthier path:

1. Eat one more family meal a week. Family meals have all sorts of benefits, from decreasing the risk of obesity to improving vocabulary to keeping teens out of trouble. Plus, they are a nice way to check in with each other. Work, homework, and activity schedules can make it hard to get everybody in the same place at the same time, but it’s worth the effort. Keep the food simple: something like pasta and salad (or some heated up frozen vegetables) is fine. The point is to be together.

2. Have everyone eat one more serving of fruits or vegetables a day. The recommendation is five servings a day, and my experience as a pediatrician is that very few people actually do that. Try packing an apple for a snack, slicing a banana in the morning cereal, and always serve a vegetable with dinner (and insist on at least three bites from picky children)Be creative and work with your children. One serving isn’t that much. You can do it.

3. Find one more way a week to be active. The recommendation is that all children be active for an hour a day — and again, my experience as a pediatrician is that not many children are meeting it. Being active could be staying after school to play at the park for a half hour, going to family swim at the YMCA on Sundays, taking a walk, or dancing while you make supper. You can do it once a week together, or break it up into little bits every day, or vary it by person. Again, be creative. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator could work, too, or walking to school in the morning.

4. Create a device-free zone or time. Dinnertime is a great example, and bedrooms after bedtime is another. This can be hard, not just for the kids who give pushback, but also for parents who are just as addicted to devices. But our devices, as fun and necessary as they may be, are increasingly inserting themselves between us, and getting in the way of sleep.

5. Make sure everyone has time to goof off. I mean it. Both parents and children are way too scheduled, and that’s not good for us. Not only does it lead to stress, it can actually get in the way of learning and creativity. So be sure that every single member of the family has some unscheduled time to just, well, play. If you can play together, even better.

Don’t be too ambitious. Set goals you can manage, talk as a family, and figure it out together. Even small steps can be steps in the right direction.