There’s no question about it – discussions about weight and nutrition tend to evoke strong reactions from people. Despite this, we should not avoid this very important dialogue. There are so many factors that go into how and what we eat that it’s important that we never judge each other, or ourselves, as long as we strive to make the healthiest decisions we can.

We all want the very best for our children but life can get busy and we may find ourselves opting for meals that are convenient rather and nutritious. This can be especially challenging if our own habits need improvement. It won’t always be easy but here are some suggestions to help your family eat and live better.

Understand the Facts

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 12.5 million, or 17%, of children aged 2-19 are obese. To clarify, being overweight means that someone is carrying excess body weight (which can be from fat, muscle, bone and/or water) for their height. Being obese means having an excess of body fat. Weight gain occurs when more calories are consumed than the number that are being burned. Of course, that is an oversimplified explanation since any number of variables can also lead to excess weight (genetics, medication, injuries, etc…).

Obesity puts children at risk for cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The CDC found that among a sample of obese 5-17-year-olds, a staggering 70% had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. As if that isn’t scary enough, these kids are also at a high risk of developing diabetes, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems and lower self-esteem.

If these children go on to be obese adults, they also have increased odds of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis and several types of cancer (breast, cervix, ovary, prostate, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gallbladder and thyroid).

Clearly, this is a very serious issue.

Lunches

One of the biggest nutritional hurdles facing families are daily lunches. We often will grab the quickest, cheapest, easiest things we can find – but they also tend to be unhealthy. Ideally, you will begin eating well overall but you can start by tackling this midday meal. Consider shopping on the weekend to buy everything for the week ahead. Also wash and store all of the fruits and vegetables for the week so you are ready for Monday. Make time each night to pack the lunches (or pack enough for a few days, if possible) and your mornings will run smoother.

Choose Healthy Foods

Whenever good sales are offered at grocery stores, it tends to be the least healthy options which, of course, can make it hard to eat well. One of the benefits of eating nutrient-rich foods, however, is that you will feel full for longer than if you ate a bunch of junk food. Check your area for co-ops or farmers markets where you can purchase fresh produce at reasonable prices. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also an affordable yet healthy option. If your family isn’t used to eating certain foods start slowly and be patient with yourselves. It’s better to take time and do things gradually than to feel so overwhelmed by sudden changes that you give up.

Get Physical

It seems like there’s a new, fun, family-friendly race being advertised daily. Some are to support specific causes while others are simply for fun. You don’t have to wait for a special event to get moving, though. Take a walk together after dinner, go for bike rides or try something new. You can even music and dance around the kitchen while you prepare dinner. Add a little activity to your daily routine.

Address Emotional Issues

Many of us are emotional eaters. This affects our bodies and also models bad behavior for our children. Facing emotional pain can be one of the toughest challenges you face, but it is entirely worth it.

It’s an uncomfortable topic but improving our health through better food choices and exercise is worth the initial discomfort.  We cannot expect ourselves to change every habit over night and we all will indulge from time to time but if you commit to making a conscious effort every day, your family can only benefit.