Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
1. Cut back on sugar.
Seriously, it’s the fastest, easiest way for a busy family to improve overall health. If you can’t completely eliminate it, cut way back. Drink less juice: one small glass has about 25 grams of sugar (as much as a soda). Instead, serve chilled hibiscus, apple, or blueberry tea with breakfast. And beware of hidden sugars in products such as peanut butter, nondairy milk, ketchup, and others; look for unsweetened versions. If you do buy packaged snacks, look at the sugar content, and stick to those with 10 grams or less per serving. And serve a small portion of a low-sugar dessert (berries with whipped cream, pears and dark chocolate, reduced-sugar ice cream) with meals. It neutralizes the idea that dessert is a reward, and makes the sweet stuff less of a Holy Grail.
2. Cook slowly.
Slow cookers are the fastest way to make a home-cooked meal. While your coffee’s brewing in the morning, fill your Crock-Pot with meat, beans, or chicken; add broth, sauce, or water, and a handful of spices; turn it on low. When you come home, stir in frozen vegetables, and you’ll have a ready-to-eat meal by the time you set the table. Family-friendly suggestions: pulled chicken, barbecue brisket, turkey chili, pot roast, short ribs, tacos, black bean soup, and white beans with kale. Make more than you need, and freeze leftovers.
- Eggplant & Chickpea Stew
- Chunky Turkey & Black Bean Chili
- Crock-Pot Indian Chicken & Turnips
- Slow Moroccan Chicken and Vegetables
- Buffalo Chili Recipe
- Slow Cooked Cherry Beef with Winter Squash
- Bison Pot Roast
3. Turn TV time into fitness hour.
Get your little potatoes off the couch, and let them watch the tube only if they’re moving too. Do crunches, squats, or jumping jacks during commercials. Stretch or jog in place while channel surfing. Keep hand weights in a basket by the sofa, and bust out some curls or overhead presses during your favorite show. Do tricep dips or incline pushups, using the couch as a prop. Make it a contest: whoever does the most burpees gets control of the remote.
When slow cooking won’t work, embrace your microwave. Skip the high-fat, high-sodium prepackaged meals, and look for instant or frozen foods with less than 450 mg of sodium, 300–500 calories, 10–20 grams of protein, and less than 4 grams of saturated fat. Or make your own ultra-fast, zappable meals: Microwave chopped vegetables with scrambled eggs and cheese for an instant omelet. Combine blueberries, mashed banana, oats, ground flax, and an egg, and microwave for breakfast. Microwave preseasoned chicken fajitas and peppers until done, and serve with tortillas for instant dinner. Combine frozen vegetable mix with canned chickpeas, coconut milk, and curry paste, and microwave until hot for vegetarian curry.
5. Make breakfast easy.
It’s the most skipped meal, and that has health consequences, especially for young ones: kids who skip breakfast have diminished academic performance, a greater risk of being overweight, and a lower fitness level. Stock up on quick morning meals-to-go: make smoothies the night before and freeze in Ziploc bags. Keep a bowl of boiled eggs, small containers of fruit, and individual packets of almond butter ready for grab-and-go morning meals. Give kids and teens a well-designed multivitamin and mineral to fill in any nutritional gaps.
See our Easy Blended Baked Oatmeal recipe (it can be made the night before).
6. Water your flowers.
Be sure that your family drinks enough water; dehydration can lead to headaches, muscle cramps, even changes in mood. Encourage hydration by keeping water around; buy everyone his or her own reusable water bottle and post reminder notes on the front door to take water bottles before leaving the house. Other easy ways to ensure that you and your family are getting enough water:
- Stock up on cans or bottles of sugar-free, fruit-flavored fizzy water to encourage sipping.
- Fill a pitcher with water and slices of orange or sprigs of mint for flavoring.
- Invest in a countertop water dispenser; kids love the novelty of refilling their own glasses.
- Fill ice cube trays with diluted fruit juice and berries, and freeze to add novelty to iced water.
7. Prioritize sleep.
It’s easy to skimp on the Zzz’s when life is full. But lack of sleep can impact brain development, immune function, mood, and even weight: kids who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk of being obese as adults. To encourage a restful night, shut down electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and start dimming lights and noise levels throughout the house. For younger kids, create a nighttime ritual: brush teeth, read a story, sing a song. If kids struggle with sleep, try gentle herbs such as passionflower, chamomile, or catnip. Look for them as single or combination formulas in capsules or alcohol-free tinctures. Or choose a homeopathic sleep remedy designed for kids; they’re safe enough even for little ones.
8 Important Vitamins for Kids & Teens
1 – Multivitamin/mineral
Children under the age of 13 should take a formula designed for kids. Teens can take half the dose of most adult formulas. Multis don’t usually contain enough vitamin D or bone-supporting minerals, and menstruating girls need extra iron, around 15 mg per day.
Editor’s pick: Nature’s Way Alive! Children’s Chewable Multi-Vitamin.
2 – Vitamin D
It’s critical for building strong bones and supporting immune health, and may help prevent depression during winter months. Many kids are deficient, especially since the bulk of their days during the school year are spent inside, so supplements are important. Recommended dosages range from 500–2,000 IU per day.
Editor’s pick: ChildLife Essentials Vitamin D3 Drops Natural Berry Flavor.
This mineral is critical for growth and immune function, as well as sexual development at puberty. If your child doesn’t eat meat or seafood, he or she may need supplements. Recommended doses range from 4–11 mg per day.
Editor’s pick: Nature’s Plus Animal Parade Kid Zinc.
4 – Bone health nutrients
Kids 1–3 need 700 mg of calcium per day; kids 4–8 need 1,000 mg, and those 9 and up need 1,300 mg. Look for a supplement that includes these amounts, along with magnesium, vitamin K, and vitamin D.
Editor’s pick: Solgar U-Cubes Children’s Calcium with D3 Gummies.
5 – Omega-3s
Omega-3s may improve ADHD symptoms in kids under 12. They’re also essential for reducing diabetes risk, improving asthma, and protecting against depression. Recommended doses range from 300–1,000 mg per day.
Editor’s pick: Nordic Naturals Nordic Omega-3 Fishies.
6 – Elderberry
Busy families don’t have time to be sick! Keep kids healthy with safe, effective immune-boosting supplements. Our top pick for treating colds and flu is elderberry (Sambucus nigra)—keep this on hand year-round. This herb has impressive antiviral properties and has been shown to lessen symptoms and shorten the duration of the flu in human clinical trials. It has a pleasant taste in syrup form and is free of side effects.
Editor’s pick: Nature’s Answer Sambucus Kid’s Formula.
7 – Probiotics
Healthy bacteria are key for gut health and immunity, and they can also help with food sensitivities and allergies. For little kids, look for formulas designed for younger ages (even infants can benefit from probiotic supplements); tweens and teens can take adult probiotics. Look for products with a broad spectrum of strains.
Editor’s pick: Jarrow Formulas Jarro-Dophilus Infant Probiotics.
8 – Vitamin c
This important vitamin plays a key role in immune health for kids, strengthening the immune system and enhancing the body’s absorption of calcium and iron. Vitamin C is also critical for healthy teeth, gums, bones, skin, and blood vessels.
Editor’s pick: American Health Ester-C Kidstiks Multivitamin & Mineral Supplement (available in Groovy Grape and Tropical Punch Flavors