We live in a busy world where multi-tasking is the norm. This is especially true for today’s parents, who must juggle work, childcare, extracurricular activities, exercise, errands, housework and playtime. It’s really no wonder that parents feel stretched for time, especially in a society that views intensive parenting as the norm.

If you’re feeling stressed or inadequate, you’re not alone! Parents these days are working more hours while living up to higher expectations in their family lives. There are no limits to how much time we can spend with our kids, but whether we have 20 hours a week or 7, it’s important to make the time we spend with our children count, especially while they are young. Every family has different values that guide their lives; but if there’s one priority that unites us all as parents, it’s that we want our children to be as healthy as possible.

The journey to a healthy lifestyle begins with habits. But the thing to remember about habits, both good and bad, is that they can be formed subconsciously as they are adopted as part of a routine. If health is considered an utmost priority in your family, it will guide your day-to-day routines, and your children will naturally adopt healthy habits. Building healthy routines doesn’t necessarily take extra work, but it does require extra attention.

1. Nutrition

1. The foods and beverages we consume are integral to maintaining good health. Kids don’t have to understand the relationship between calories and fat, and they don’t care which vitamin deficiencies cause what diseases. It’s your job to understand the nutritional value of the meals your family consumes. It’s also your job to expose them to as many healthy foods as possible. A healthy, varied diet is the best way to ensure that your child will grow to embrace a healthy lifestyle in adulthood.

2. Make a big deal about breakfast. By incorporating breakfast into your family’s routine, your children will develop the habit of eating the most important meal of the day. Also, if you can make time to gather around the breakfast table, you can encourage your children to embrace the school day ahead. At the very least, your child can take a healthy breakfast to-go on the bus. Avoid breakfast pastries with high sugar content and preservatives.

3. Eliminate soda and junk food from the family menu, even while at restaurants. This is one of the easiest things for busy parents to do. There is no extra time or preparation required. At the grocery store, simply grab all-natural juice instead of soda and choose nuts and fruits over chips and cookies. When dining out, everyone in the family can make the healthy choice to drink water.

4. Busy parents should be prepared to spend a little extra time cooking meals for the family. Anytime a new recipe enters the kitchen, the meal will take a bit longer to prepare. As parents, this is something you must accept in order to offer your family balanced and healthy meals. Because we aren’t all nutritionists, we may need a little guidance from time-to-time. Healthy cookbooks, food blogs and USDA guidelines are great sidekicks in the battle against bad eating habits. Planning meals in advance to create a weekly family menu can eliminate the headaches of last-minute shopping.

2. Staying Active

Staying active is a major part of maintaining physical health. Exercise prevents disease, builds stamina and burns calories. With obesity and diabetes on the rise in the United States, exercise is important for both parents and children. It is estimated that as many as 36% of adults are obese, and 17% of America’s children fall into that category as well. Now, more than ever, it is important for families to make time for fun activities that keep their bodies moving.

1. Find out what type of exercise your children are receiving at school. Some schools are cutting playtime in favor of academics, which could have an effect on your child’s self-control, energy levels and health. Encourage your children to participate in sports from an early age. Extracurricular activities like gymnastics, dance, horseback riding, skateboarding, weight lifting or snowboarding may appeal to children who lack the penchant for organized sports.

2. Designate a time of day for playtime or outside time for you kids. If you’re having trouble finding time to exercise, meld your child’s playtime with an activity you can both enjoy. Families can take walks, ride bikes, go swimming, play tag or enjoy a game of Twister. On a rainy day, you can play interactive video games like those created for Wii Fit. Sure, it may not be a rigorous exercise routine, but you’re staying active, and that’s the point.

3. Rest

The more active we are, the more important it is to rest. During sleep, the body heals itself, and the brain sorts information and solves problems. Busy parents who sacrifice sleep to juggle their responsibilities are actually putting themselves at a higher risk for many major illnesses. While burning the candle at both ends may appear as the only possible solution to meeting many different obligations, parents who sacrifice their health may be indirectly teaching their children to do the same. To live a healthy life, it may be necessary to reduce your projects to those that are the most important. Time management is an important part of allowing your body enough rest to face the next day and all its challenges.

1. One simple solution to sleeping more soundly is to cut down on your family’s screen time.  Limiting media time can also make room for other family activities. On average, children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen. Television is considered relaxing because it allows us to suspend our daily reality for a few hours; however, watching television requires the brain to process information and emotions. Such stimulation can make it difficult to sleep soundly as your brain continues working to comprehend the information it’s absorbed. But television only accounts for 4.5 hours of the 7.5 that children watch. This means that time spent browsing the internet and playing video games also needs to be regulated.

2. Regular exercise has been linked to deeper sleep. Exercising during the day can reduce stress hormones and maintain melatonin levels. The body uses melatonin to help regulate sleep, the immune system and the onset of puberty. Screen time has been linked to suppression of melatonin levels, making it more difficult for both children and adults to fall asleep after long periods of sedentary, screen-based activities.

3. Get into a routine. Children crave structure, and maintaining bedtime rituals like story time can help your child transition out of the busy day. Another way to regulate your child’s sleeping habits is to retire and rise at the same times every evening and morning.

4. Eat a light dinner. Many families view dinner as the biggest meal of the day, but overeating in the evening can make it difficult to fall asleep. A healthier approach is to emphasize breakfast at the beginning of the day, and serve progressively lighter meals throughout the rest of the day.

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