My now-16-year-old daughter has always been pretty popular—lots of play-dates as a child, regular sleepovers as a teen. One day a while back, I asked her why it seemed she was always everyone’s “guest” and hadn’t hosted a sleepover since she was a child. Without hesitation, she said, “Because we don’t have any good snacks!” Then the true teenager kicked in, sarcastic voice included. “Oh, let’s stay at Missy’s house and have veggie chips…and nuts! Yeah.” I burst out laughing and said, “You’ll thank me one day!”
Okay, maybe not. But in an age when obesity is a national epidemic, especially among children (nearly one in five are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control), the battle begins at home, and I’m going to keep fighting the good fight as long as my children are here—sarcasm or not!
Many of us are trying to live healthier. We’re working out (even when our knees and other body parts ache) and trying to eat smart. But if you’re in a relationship or have a family, living fit can be a lonely endeavor, especially if, while you’re burning calories your partner, spouse, or kids are always waiting for you on the couch eating ice cream, munching chips, and drinking soda while thinking, “Oh, that’s Mommy’s (or Daddy’s) thing.”
It should be everyone’s thing, at least to some degree. You may not be able to get the kids to head to the gym with you at 6 am (trust me, I know), enter the local 10K—or try veggie chips, for that matter. But I firmly believe your own consistent, healthy living habits set an example for everyone in your home, and just may rub off on them. So don’t be afraid to get them off the couch and away from “bad snacks.”
I started by putting my kids (my son is 18) in sports early on. With the decline in PE programs in schools, it’s now on us parents to instill in our children that physical activity and smart eating habits are (or should be) vital to their health and their future. Swimming and soccer were my early sports choices—in part due to the low-impact nature of swimming, and the fact that, at least as toddlers, if a kid can run, he can play soccer. My son eventually gravitated to traditional sports: wrestling and football. (He was a member of New Rochelle’s state championship team this year!) My daughter still swims competitively. They’ve known for years that Daddy will push them, challenge them to eat right, and expand their training beyond their sport.
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At home, we have a stair-climber, Swiss and medicine balls, light-weight dumbbells, and an ab roller. Oh, they lay dormant most of the time. But we’ve had Daddy Boot Camps. (Imagine the looks those engender.) We—or sometimes, they (hey, I workout every morning!)—run sprints or hit the star-climber, and then do lunges, push-ups, core work, and various other exercises with the equipment. My mantra to them: Build muscular endurance, core strength, and flexibility. They’re annoyed I can still do more push-ups than either of them. And we try to have fun. I stage various brother-sister competitions, or have them team up against me.
During a vacation in Atlanta, I took them to a local gym and we all worked out for almost an hour. It wasn’t the most fun they had all week, but at least for one day they got a good sweat, and, maybe more important, we enjoyed a great shared experience.
When it comes to food, I also believe in balance. When I cook, I use healthy ingredients and always insist on vegetables and reasonable portions (not exactly easy when you have a teenage son). There are no dietary restrictions (my daughter might eat steak every night, if it was cooked), but every week we balance red meat options with fish and chicken; and I even sneak in a tofu dish every so often, though they now both say they can snoop it out.
My one major restriction: no soda in the home, only bottled water (Propel is our preference) and orange juice. That said, if we’re eating out and the kids want to order a soda, I don’t flinch—much.
My goal has always been to instill in them that healthy living is living. I want them to simply stay active and make smart diet choices for the rest of their lives. They don’t have to be vegan, or even eat tofu chili forever, but if my efforts help them to lead healthy, balanced lives, then perhaps even my daughter will admit that not having any “good snacks” was worth it.
Journalist and fitness enthusiast Roy S. Johnson of New Rochelle is founder and CEO of Fit! Live! Win! a consulting firm that develops effective employee wellness strategies for municipalities and small businesses. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.