Family Health: New Year, New Goals

Jillian Span Hofbauer
Columbus Parent
Cristol Rippe and Jonathan Doerflein regularly talk about the importance of healthy eating and exercise with their children, Barrett and Evie.

The new year is the perfect time to make positive changes for your health and well-being, but resolutions aren't just for parents. Thinking about ways to involve your entire family in a healthier lifestyle can bring you closer together and set the stage for children to embrace a lifetime of positive habits.

To help you kick-start 2018, we talked with local experts about smart meal-planning tactics and activities that get the whole family up and moving. The best part: None of them are particularly hard, or costly.

Managing Meals

“A lot of families are busy and have crazy, chaotic lives,” said Jessica Buschmann, a clinical dietitian with the sports medicine team at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

But even in a time crunch, the drive-thru doesn't have to be the only option at dinnertime. There are a number of ways families can plan ahead to ensure nutritious meals are always available, Buschmann said. Think about preparing and freezing meals on the weekends, or utilizing the convenience of slow cookers or multiuse pressure cookers on busy nights. When sit-down meals are tough, pack healthy car picnics for on-the-go nourishment.

Any way parents can make meal planning and preparation a family activity helps children get interested in healthy living, Buschmann added. “The more that you get your kids involved, the greater your chances are of getting them to participate and eat foods that they may have perceived as scary or not good,” she said.

Try searching for healthy recipes online as a family, or thinking about creative meals that involve participation from everyone. A variety of websites and apps that offer grocery list generators, weekly deal updates and coupons make it possible to save time and money in the process. No matter how you plan and prepare meals, kids are more likely to take an interest when they feel invested and see how important it is to their parents.

Encouraging Exercise

The same is true when it comes to being active, said Jeff Sydes, lead performance specialist on the Nationwide Children's Hospital sports medicine team. “Your kids may not always listen to what you say, but they will see what you do and model that behavior.”

Finding activities that are fun for the whole family is key. “If it's a chore, it's probably not a sustainable activity,” Sydes said.

A trip to the pool, a neighborhood bike ride or a hike at the park are all great activities for the whole family to enjoy, he said, regardless of age range. Family gym memberships offer indoor amenities that are especially beneficial during the winter months, and many parks boast basketball and tennis courts, ball fields and playgrounds. While friendly competition can be fun, Sydes said the real goal is fostering a love for physical well-being. “What you're looking to do is establish lifelong practices,” he said.

Putting It All Together

For Cristol Rippe and Jonathan Doerflein of Clintonville, helping their children understand the importance of healthy living is something they work toward every day. “We regularly talk about how important it is to keep our bodies healthy, and try to emphasize both good food and exercise,” Rippe said.

While a love for exercise comes naturally to Doerflein, who cycles and lifts weights, Rippe who practices yoga, said it took her a while to find an activity she enjoys. “My personal struggles with maintaining an exercise routine has led me to focus on helping my kids understand why exercise is important and encouraging them to try anything and everything to hopefully help them find physical activities that they truly enjoy,” she said.

As a family, they like to get outside for backyard soccer, family bike rides and hikes, and 8-year-old Barrett and 5-year-old Evie are encouraged to participate in some sort of physical activity throughout the year.

“My husband and I are also big believers in real food,” Rippe said. Enlisting the kids for meal prep is the perfect opportunity to talk about the importance of clean eating, variation and moderation. Though not every meal is a hit with the kids, Rippe said having healthy alternatives on hand for the misses is helpful.

In 2018, Rippe and Barrett plan to train for a 5K, and the whole family hopes to hike more. “There are so many amazing national parks that we want to visit. We have just been waiting for our kids to get strong enough—and motivated enough—to go,” she said.

Healthy living ultimately comes down to parents making the effort, said Dr. Lara Blumberg, a family medicine physician at Central Ohio Primary Care in Canal Winchester. “For families who [eat healthy and get active together], it becomes more of a lifestyle instead of something that kids have to adopt when they're older. If kids see parents doing it, they model that through their lifetime.”