Fall always brings healthy living to the front of mind, and that couldn’t be truer than it is this year. Parents and kids alike are adjusting to new work, school, and home routines. All of this can make things like planning healthy meals for kids or striving for a balanced diet even more difficult. We asked our in-house team of nutrition scientists to give us a few ideas to help the entire family stay healthy with nutritious foods and more—as we all adjust to this new normal.
1. SNEAK SOME NUTRITIOUS FOODS INTO BREAKFAST
We’ve all heard that breakfast is the “most important meal of the day,” but that’s especially true for children. A solid breakfast for kids and teens does more than simply support their overall health and wellbeing—it can actually improve school performance and behavior too.1 Skipping breakfast, on the other hand, can cause a child’s brain and body to suffer throughout the day.1
Here are some easy, quick breakfast ides that offer key nutrients and can be enjoyed by the whole family: 2
- Instant oatmeal with milk instead of water, tossed with nuts or dried fruits (or even applesauce with a dash of cinnamon)
- Yogurt with cereal or granola, and berries
- Simple morning smoothies with milk, frozen strawberries, and bananas
- Toaster waffles topped with nut butter and apple slices
- Egg sandwiches wrapped in pitas, with hard-boiled eggs and topped with low-fat shredded cheese
- Toasted whole-grain bagels with hummus, sliced cucumbers, and tomatoes
- Savory deli turkey with cheese and lettuce wrapped in a tortilla
- Reheated rice or quinoa and top with yogurt, dried fruits, nuts, and a dash of cinnamon for a savory option
2. BRING A BALANCED DIET TO LUNCH TOO
When kids skip lunch, they’re more likely to lack energy, struggle to concentrate, and indulge in those not-so-healthy afterschool snacks.1 We get it! It can be hard to compete with colorful snack packages and their cute little shapes. Even us adults find ourselves turning to a quick kid’s snack in our afternoon hours of need.
So, here are some quick recipe ideas to help your homemade lunches get the love they deserve, all while helping support your family’s nutritional needs (including your own!).
- Dice up some crisp veggies for a vegetable kabob using cucumbers, zucchini, or cherry tomatoes—and dip it all in your favorite hummus blend.3
- Chop up some juicy fruit kabobs using cantaloupe, watermelon, orange, strawberry, or even kiwi—and dip them in plain yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon.3
- Add a little spice to the day by dipping some crisp sugar snap peas into your own homemade sriracha mayo.
- Wrap your next sandwich in a colorful veggie-based wrap for an eye-catching solution that’ll draw away from the snack packs.3
- Stock up a small side salad with protein- and nutrient-rich goodies such as cheeses, nuts, and beans.3
3. LOOK FOR THESE NUTRIENTS WHEN PLANNING HEALTHY MEALS FOR KIDS & PARENTS
The nutritional world can feel overwhelming at times. It’s hard to keep track of which foods contain what nutrients in which quantities, so it can help to start with looking at the most common nutrient gaps. While this general data may not reflect your family exactly, they can be a helpful place to start when you’re looking to add more nutritious foods into your family’s balanced diet.
Keep an eye on your family’s calcium intake
Calcium is that almighty bone health support nutrient for all ages, but especially during the developmental years and for women ages 50 and over. Yet, nearly 48% of children and 45% of adults in the United States don’t consume enough calcium.4
Here are some foods with calcium to try out in your next snack or meal:5
- Cheddar cheese
- White beans
- Pinto beans
Make room for more magnesium
Magnesium is involved in over 300 biological reactions and plays a range of important roles for all ages. Yet, 53% of adults and over 32% of children in the United States don’t consume enough of it.4
If you’re looking to make room for more magnesium in your family’s meals, here are some tasty foods to start with:6
- Brown rice
- Oat bran cereal
See about increasing your family’s vitamin C intake
Vitamin C is famous for supporting a healthy immune system. Despite its popularity, however, 48% of adults and nearly 23% of children in the United States aren’t consuming enough of it.4
Luckily Vitamin C can be found in plenty of delicious kid- and parent-friendly foods, including:7
- Orange juice
- Sweet red pepper
Encourage the family to eat more Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that works with Vitamin C to battle free radicals. Yet here too, families across the United States are lacking, with 79% of adults and over 67% of children not consuming enough Vitamin E.4
Vitamin E is mostly found in nuts and vegetable oils. So, if you’re looking to add more Vitamin E to the next family meal, here are some good places to start:8
- Canola oil
- Olive oil
- Tomato sauce, canned
- Cranberry juice
4. THROW A DANCE PARTY TO KEEP THOSE GROWING HEALTHY CHILDREN MOVING
Nutritious food is a great place to start, but no list about healthy life hacks would be complete without mentioning physical activity. Parents especially understand the value of letting their kids get all that energy out. Some organizations recommend kids getting a full 60 minutes each day of physical activity, but this may not be possible every day.9 For the days when it may be harder than others get the kids moving—opt for something as simple as a dance party. Crank up your favorite tunes and do it Mrs. Doubtfire style. Anything fun that gets that heartbeat going is a win!
5. MAKE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY A FAMILY ORDEAL
Kids aren’t the only ones who need to let a little energy out. Experiment with some shared activities the whole family can enjoy. Take the dog out for a longer walk than usual, discover your inner chalk artist (stretching out over on cement for hours has to count for something, right?). Get a basketball hoop for the backyard, or find a local park to skip around in. Every family will be different, find what works for yours, and change it up to keep things interesting.
6. BRING THAT DANCE PARTY OUTSIDE FOR A LITTLE VITAMIN D
Despite being another one of the best-known nutrients, vitamin D has the largest nutrient gap for all ages in the United States. A shocking 98% of children and 95% of adults don’t consume enough of it.4 Vitamin D is a critical nutrient that supports bone, mood, and immune health in people of all ages—but it isn’t found in many foods. Some fortified juices, milks, and breads contain it; but the best source of vitamin D is from the sun. That said, even the simplest safety measures like sunblock or clothing can inhibit the body’s ability to make vitamin D and contribute to this nutrient gap.
Sprinkling in a little outdoor time during your family’s physical activities can cross off three healthy life hacks at once, all while making you feel good about supporting your family’s health and your own.
7. ENCOURAGE HEALTHY SLEEPING HABITS FOR ALL
Your kids aren’t the only ones who need their beauty rest. Sleep helps reset many crucial functions in the body—including the immune system—one of the most important ways to keep the family healthy and focused throughout the year.
Getting enough sleep helps kids concentrate, stay focused, and even improves their academic performance.10 And, you probably don’t need a blog to tell you this, but according to data from 9 different states in 2015, most kids do not get enough sleep on school nights.10 Kids ages 6–12 years need 9–12 hours of sleep.10 Children ages 13–18 need 8–10 hours of sleep.10
Even adults need 7–9 hours of sleep each night, but one-third of American adults are falling short.11 If you’re looking to help your whole family sleep better, here are a few tips:
- Stay active. Keep the kids active during the day. This will not only help with their overall health but tire them out more so they’re ready for bed later that night. The good news is, this tip crosses off three of our healthy life hacks as well.12
- Avoid large meals before bedtime. Big meals before bed may cause heartburn, as well as create a general restlessness that disrupts sleep.12
- Have a bedtime routine. It can be as simple as taking a warm bath, brushing teeth, or telling bedtime stories. Whatever gets you in the mood to snooze.12
- Set bedtimes all week long. Setting bedtimes for the whole family on both weeknights and weekends encourages everyone to make a habit out of getting enough sleep. After all, adults need to sleep too.12
- Set a technology curfew. Adolescents are less likely to get enough sleep if they’re exposed to more light at night, whether it’s from the room itself or nearby electronics.10 Some parents find it helpful to set a time after which no screens are allowed and remove any electronics from the bedroom.
Make the bedroom comfy. Keep the bedroom cool and quiet, making it comfortable and easy to slip into bed.12 For families that live in areas with a lot of outdoor light pollution like cities, it can help to hang some blackout curtains in the bedrooms.12 These not only keep out the light but can help keep the room slightly cooler too.
8. SLEEP SUPPLEMENTS FOR ADULTS MAY HELP
Spending all day juggling work and workouts and school and meals makes it seem like falling asleep at night would be no big deal. But many parents find it hard to finally fall asleep at night, let alone stay that way.
Melatonin supplements offer a drug-free way to fall asleep and stay asleep. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that helps regulate sleep / wake cycles. Sleep supplements like melatonin can be an easy and convenient way to help ensure you get the restful sleep you need. Also, not getting enough key nutrients like vitamins A, C, D, and E may be associated with not meeting the recommended hours of precious sleep.13
9. ALWAYS REMEMBER TO TREAT YOURSELF
The fact that you care enough about keeping your family healthy to read an entire article about it says a lot about you. Staying healthy can feel overwhelming at times, but the more you know, the easier it’ll be to remember which foods include which nutrients, and how to find creative ways of getting the whole family to enjoy more nutritious foods. If today was a bust, remember tomorrow is a new chance to start fresh. Celebrate every small carrot bite and reward yourself along the way with some of your favorite treats in moderation. After all, pobody’s nerfect.
This information is for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Tips To Eat Right At School.” 2018. Eat Right. Accessed on: October 1, 2020. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/eat-right-at-school/tips-to-eat-right-at-school
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Power Up With Breakfast.” 2019. Eat Right. Accessed on: October 1, 2020. https://www.eatright.org/food/planning-and-prep/snack-and-meal-ideas/power-up-with-breakfast
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Making the Grade at Lunchtime.” 2019. Eat Right. Accessed on: October 1, 2020. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/eat-right-at-school/making-the-grade-at-lunchtime
- Pikosky, M et al. Do Americans Get Enough Nutrients from Food? Assessing Nutrient Adequacy with NHANES 2013–2016 (P18-040-19). Current Developments in Nutrition. 2019; 3(1): https://academic.oup.com/cdn/article/3/Supplement_1/nzz039.P18-040-19/5517323
- Oregon State University. “Calcium.” 2017. Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: October 1, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/calcium
- Oregon State University. “Magnesium.” 2019. Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: October 1, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/magnesium
- Oregon State University. “Vitamin C.” 2018. Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: October 1, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C
- Oregon State University. “Vitamin E.” 2015. Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: October 1, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-E
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Resources for Parents and Kids.” 2020. Eat Right. Accessed on: October 1, 2020. https://www.eatright.org/kidseatrightmonth/celebrate/get-involved/resources-for-parents-and-kids
- US Department of Health & Human Services. “Sleep and Health.” 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed on: October 1, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/sleep.htm
- Liu Y, et al. Prevalence of Healthy Sleep Duration among Adults — United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016; 65(6): 137–141. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6506a1.htm
- US Department of Health & Human Services. “Do Your Children Get Enough Sleep?” 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed on: October 1, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/children-sleep.htm
- Ikonte CJ, et al. Micronutrient Inadequacy in Short Sleep: Analysis of the NHANES 2005-2016. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2335. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31581561/