KAUFMANN: Healthy habits for busy times

For families with school-aged children and teachers, the starting gun has fired and the slow, steady marathon of the school year has begun. Add fall sports and activities, and our schedules have flipped from summertime empty to autumn overload in the short space of a few days. How do we keep ourselves and our family members happy and healthy as we settle into a busier pace of life?

Perhaps now more than ever before, keeping our immune systems strong is a top priority. Eating foods high in essential vitamins and nutrients and low in fat and sugar is one of our best lines of defense against sickness. Unfortunately, when we are running between after-school club and soccer practice, we may be tempted to tank up on fast food.

Instead, we can establish some healthy habits now to carry us through the fall. Here are some of my best tips for good eating during busy seasons, gained over my 16 (and still counting) years of parenting active school-aged children:

Prep a snack bag or cooler for busy days. Make a list of healthy snacks that your family likes and that are safe to eat on-the-go. Some popular items are cheerios, granola bars, apple slices, mandarins, veggie sticks, cheese sticks or cubes, and raisins. Keep some of these handy in a bag or cooler that is easy to put in your car. Also, don’t forget the refillable water bottles, to keep everyone hydrated!

Plan a week of dinners ahead of time. Write down six main dishes that are healthy (think whole foods), relatively quick to make and that your family likes. Add a list of microwavable steam-in-the-bag vegetables that you can pull out of your freezer to accompany each main dish. And the seventh meal? Well, I allow one night of convenience food like frozen fish sticks and boxed macaroni and cheese to make life easier (plus the frozen veggie, of course!).

Put the right dinner on the right night. Now that we have our list of dinners, let’s take a look at the schedule for the week. Which nights are the busiest? Choose the easiest dinners for those nights, and stuff the snack bag extra full on those days so that people are not as hungry when you get home. Consider using a crock pot, an instant pot and/or do some chopping and cooking ahead of time.

Pick a convenient, consistent time to go grocery shopping. With a new schedule, we many need to find a new weekly time to do our shopping. Remember the dinner list, the healthy snack items and any breakfast and lunch staples. As much as possible, choose whole foods over processed foods and stick to your list.

In addition to eating well, resting well is also key to staying well. Students, parents, and even teachers can be fatigued by the increased demands of a new school year. Now is the perfect time to set healthy boundaries for rest and sleep. Enjoy a relaxing activity for a few minutes each day to wind down, make an early bedtime a priority, and set aside a time each weekend for rest and recreation.

Young or old, we can boost our immune systems and get more out of life with healthy eating and sleeping habits. Let’s stick with the ones that will help us thrive, and not just survive, this demanding season.

Chrissie Kaufmann represents the YMCA of Southwest Michigan.

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