Make 2012 the year you make positive changes for yourself, and for your entire family. Sound overwhelming? It’s not. Not sure where to start? We can help!

Two of the most positive changes you can make are to be more physically active and to eat healthier foods. Keep it simple – it’s not necessary to make drastic changes overnight. Incorporate a few new ideas each week and build from there. The key is to make changes together as a family. Have each member contribute– even young children can help!

Incorporate one family activity each week that involves physical fitness – a hike, a bike ride or park the car a little further than normal when running errands. Choose one day each week to walk to and from school, rather than driving. Even 30 minutes of activity each day can make a difference.

Bring back the family dinner! Turn off the TV and phones and sit down together as a family. Sitting down at the table together is still one of the best ways for families to grow and stay connected. Don’t feel guilty if at first this only happens once or twice a week. Start with what works today and build from there. Research has shown that just eating together as a family can improve a child’s nutritional health.In families who shared at least three meals a week, children were 24 percent more likely to be eating healthy foods than those in families who ate few or no meals together. The children were also 12 percent less likely to be overweight and 20 percent less likely to choose unhealthy foods.

Make it a habit. Prepare a weekly menu of meals and do your shopping at one time to eliminate those last-minute grocery runs or ordering take out rather than cooking. Be sure to keep fruits and vegetables on hand. Stock up on convenient and nutritious breakfast and snack items. Replace the morning bagel cart run with a cup of yogurt and a banana and you’ll save money and calories. Be sure to keep healthy foods in sight and on hand. A bowl of fruit kept just inside the fridge so it’s the first thing your hungry child sees will be a welcome sight.

Tackle unhealthy habits one at a time. If you’re a fast food regular at lunch – choose one day a week to pack a nutritious meal. Treat yourself to a walk and eat outside, or invite a co-worker to join you. Try not to make eating at your desk a daily event. If you must work through lunch, take a short break before or after to get some fresh air and stretch your legs. Even a 15-minute brisk walk around the building or block will clear your head and energize you for the afternoon.

Model healthy eating. Children who see their parents or caregivers buying, cooking and eating healthy foods are more likely to eat healthy foods themselves. Avoid using food as a reward for good behavior.  Instead, keep a bowl of almonds, snack-bag sized baby carrots, cubed melon or portioned cheese snacks on hand at all times to curb unhealthy snacking.

Let your children police you. Talk to your kids about smart-eating goals, and empower them to call you out if you grab junk food. Keep the staples of a healthy meal in the pantry. Most groceries carry convenience items that may cost a bit more, but will help keep you on track on even the busiest of days. Roast chicken, ready-to-use vegetables, quick-cooking rice and even some frozen meals can be nutritious options for the family dinner.

Finally, have fun together. Your resolutions are more likely to stick if you enjoy the activities together as a family.. Engage the whole family in planning. Keep a suggestion box for each family member to contribute ideas for activities, games, foods or outings they enjoy. Make a point of choosing from the box each week to plan activities and meals. Kids of all ages will enjoy being part of your family’s new healthy resolutions. Lastly, reward yourself for good behavior! Choose an activity you’ll all enjoy – perhaps an overnight camping trip or a movie night out after you’ve successfully achieved some healthy goals.

By Johanna Kammerer, M.PH., R.D., John Muir Health Pediatric Dietitian.

John Muir Health’s Partners in Active and Healthy Lifestyles (PAHLs) Program is a unique series designed to help your family discover ways to incorporate balanced nutrition and exercise into your lifestyle and build the confidence to keep your family healthy. PAHLs is a 4-week family program that covers nutrition, exercise, and the psychological aspects in creating a healthy lifestyle that will ultimately improve long-term success. This program is intended for children and their families who are motivated to make lifestyle changes that will result in overall wellness. To learn more about these classes and events at John Muir Health, call 925-941-7900 or go online at www.johnmuirhealth.com/classes.

John Muir Health Behavioral Health Center provides a full range of inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services for patients of all ages. For more information, call 925-674-4100.