My husband and I were recently discussing the fact that we’ve both pushed our health to the back burner for far too long, and we’re really starting to feel the effects.
“But getting to the gym regularly just feels impossible right now,” I sighed, thinking of the effort it would take to figure out what to do with both the 3-year-old and the infant every time I wanted to break a sweat. “And most nights we have all of 20 minutes to try to make a nutritious dinner,” he added.
But we agreed that complaining about the problem wasn’t going to solve it, so instead we made a list.
Not a list of our grand, someday health goals (like run another half marathon or expose our kids to every type of vegetable on the planet), but rather of itty bitty changes that could help all of us feel a whole lot better. Then we committed to tackling each item on the list one by one—assuming that as we did, we’d slowly start to build up our healthy habits, which cumulatively would make a big impact.
It’s a logical plan, yes, and also one that’s backed by research.
A 2012 study from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation found that small changes really can make a big impact on your health.
“Every increment towards a healthier lifestyle makes an improvement,” explained the study’s lead researcher. “You don’t have to be totally perfect starting right this very second.”
Want to make your own list of small (read: totally doable) changes that will make you and your family healthier? Here are 10 ideas to get you started.
10 Tiny Changes That Make a Big Impact on Your Family’s Well-Being
1. Make swaps that are barely noticeable.
Forget trying to make an entire diet overhaul (which rarely sticks, anyway). Instead, focus on little swaps that your palate won’t even perceive: substitute olive oil for butter, plain Greek yogurt for sour cream, fresh fruit for your afternoon chocolate bar, baked sweet potato fries over French fries, etc.
2. Go all-natural where it counts.
While some families are able to eat all-natural all the time, most of us need to pick and choose—due to budget limitations, time constraints or just personal preferences. This makes a difference with certain types of products more than others, so it’s worth narrowing down which items absolutely must be all-natural for your family.
Our list includes the “dirty dozen” fruits and veggies, cow’s milk for our children, and deli meats. In my house we all enjoy a good turkey & cheese sandwich, so we love that the HORMEL® NATURAL CHOICE® brand offers lunch meat options that are 100% natural—all at a price that’s actually affordable for most families.
3. Keep everyone hydrated.
Drinking enough water is one of the simplest and most basic ways to be healthier. So many ailments—ranging from headaches to constipation to muscle soreness and more—can be solved or at least improved by drinking enough water. And yet many of us don’t do it.
Kids are especially at risk: A 2015 study found that over half of all American children experience inadequate hydration. So start carting that water bottle along everywhere you go and make sure your children aren’t getting dehydrated either.
4. Eat out of true physical hunger.
We tend to eat for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with being hungry. We eat because it’s breakfast time. We eat because there’s a holiday party. We eat because we’re really stressed out. We eat because we’re tired but taking a nap isn’t an option.
For some of us, we eat by the clock or for emotional reasons so often that we’ve lost touch with our actual hunger cues. Returning to those cues—and teaching our children how to stay in touch with them as well—is a basic change that can lead to lifelong health.
5. Choose better-for-you convenience foods.
I get it: You’re strapped for both time and energy, so fixing a gourmet lunch every day or cutting up fresh veggies for dinner every night probably isn’t going to happen. Realistically, most of us need to rely on some convenience foods to feed our families.
One tiny change you can make is just to be a bit more picky about which convenience foods you buy and which you skip. Pre-cut fruits and veggies? Go for it. Preservative-laden lunch entrees? Think twice.
Here is where NATURAL CHOICE® products come to the rescue again: their deli meats have no added preservatives! They don’t use artificial ingredients or added preservatives; instead, they use an all-natural process called HPP, where the products are packaged, sealed, and pasteurized by being placed under high-pressure water exertion. That’s a lot of fancy language that basically just means you can rest easy that the super-convenient sandwiches you make for your family’s lunches are packed with flavor—not added preservatives.
6. Take regular sitting breaks.
The fact that we’re a culture of sitters isn’t news. Most of us spend a large portion of our day sitting and our kids are starting to do the same. When sitting is simply unavoidable—say, at your job—try setting an alarm to remind you to get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour. For your kids, try creating a “Get Up and Move!” jar, filled with simple ideas for getting everyone off the couch for a few minutes.
My 3-year-old loves reaching in and picking out a popsicle stick featuring an easy suggestion for physical activity, like play a game of Simon Says, see how high and far you can jump, and do the chicken dance.
7. Eat dinner together.
A simple commitment to gathering together around the dinner table can make a huge impact on the health of kids and grown-ups alike. According to the Family Dinner Project out of Harvard University, sharing a family meal is good for the health of all family members.
Regular family meals lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and teens. And let’s not forget the host of emotional and social benefits that come from eating dinner together, like better communication, enhanced vocabulary in children, and stronger feelings of resilience and self-confidence.
8. Zero in on ingredients.
Do you have time to pour over nutrition labels while you’re shopping in the grocery store with your children in tow? I know I don’t!
So let’s make it simple: If you’re only going to look at one thing on the back of a food package, make it the ingredient list. If it’s a pretty simple list, filled almost entirely with words you recognize and can pronounce, then that’s the green light to feed it to your family. But if it’s a list a mile long, made up of lots of chemical-sounding words that you’re not even sure are really food, back on the shelf it goes.
This is another major perk of choosing NATURAL CHOICE® lunch meats: All the varieties feature clean, simple ingredients lists (like the one above for NATURAL CHOICE® Honey Deli Ham). Nothing scary or unknown.
9. Get outside.
This one can be tough depending on the weather and the season, but a little fresh-air therapy is good for everyone’s physical and mental state. Bring on the body’s natural production of Vitamin D through exposure to sunlight.
10. Prioritize sleep—for everyone.
Many parents (myself included) are a little obsessive with making sure their kiddos get enough sleep. And rightfully so, considering that being well-rested is essential for children’s growth, cognitive development and good behavior.
But too often we parents forget that all those benefits of sleep apply to us too; being sleep-deprived is associated with a host of physical and emotional troubles in adults. So while walking around like a zombie is often considered a rite of passage for parenthood, don’t let that phase last too long. Get thee to bed on time and everyone benefits.