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Get off the couch, and take your kids with you

To help face down the tragic national health crisis of obesity, Jorge and Laura Posada bring together everything they've learned from sports and caring for their own family, giving parents a complete lesson in fitness, nutrition and the power of family unity. An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

Sixteen percent of children age 2 to 19 are obese. To help face down this tragic national health crisis, Jorge and Laura Posada bring together everything they have learned from sports and caring for their own family, giving parents a complete lesson in fitness, nutrition and the power of family unity."Fit Home Team" is their formula for getting parents and kids off the couch, arming families with key tools for optimal health, wellness, and overall balance. An excerpt.

Getting organized: A call to rise
Mission: Optimal group wellness

If you are a mother or a father, we invite you to — no, we insist that you — redefine exactly what that means, starting right now. We invite you to look in the mirror, and in that reflection, see beyond your outdated, preconceived, and preconditioned sense of what it means to be a parent. Instead, we dare you to see a teacher. See a coach. See a chef. See a nutritionist. See a hype man. See a buddy. See an instigator. See a motivator. See a confidante; a mentor; a champion; a challenger. See a partner. See a role model. See a fighter. See a winner. See and feel all of these new dimensions as part of your newly revamped role as a mother or a father. Give yourself the eye of the tiger, and commit to a serious-business, you-mean-it paradigm shift in your household, all fueled by the desire to make your family healthier and happier. As parents, we are at the helm of some very special entities — our precious families — and, as the designated adults in the mix, it is our job not only to take care of our children and provide the basics that we already know about, like food and shelter, but also to feed them tirelessly with wisdom and love. But let's leave all the sweet stuff aside for a second and get down to business.

We believe that in order to start something, you have to be willing to ignite something, which is exactly how we suggest you begin. Sometimes it takes a little passion and creativity to make a point. For example: make it a point to call an all-important family meeting, with a serious look in your eye but a playful smirk on your face, a vibe that signals to your kids that something interesting and fun is about to happen. Take it seriously by showing up with a clipboard and a whistle. Play the part of team leader with real gusto, and zone them in — wake everybody up, shake them from their laze and haze, because from this moment forward, through this call to rise, you declare to the members of your family that happiness will be defined in the context of group wellness and health.

Explain to your children, with a tone and attitude that you know will engage their interest and curiosity, about the fundamental merits of true wellness, and what it could mean to live an exceptionally strong life of excellent health. Make it clear to everyone that this is the dawn of a new era for the family, one based on fortitude and wisdom — as individuals and, what's more important, as a family. Get everyone excited about the prospect of partaking in thrilling activities and games, interesting new foods and recipes, day trips and seasonal excursions.

Tell them that changes are coming, the kind that will make their lives immeasurably better and endlessly more fun. Obviously, kids will have a hard time understanding the importance of longevity and wellness, given their inborn sense of invincibility — so remember to keep it fun, playful, and in the spirit of good times a comin'.

Growing up, we did not live in the technologically developed game-playing society that our children inhabit today, each with their own laptop, PDA, Game Boy, and all other varieties of simulated recreation; we did not have virtual video games, cell phones, pagers, or computers that could download whatever our little hearts desired at the drop of a hat. All we had were our God-given imaginations, which is exactly what we were forced to tap into if we wanted to have a good time. And we had a great time. It was the old-school classics, like tag, hide-and-seek, monkey in the middle, and tug-of-war that, despite being basic and stripped-down, engaged our spirits and kept our little bodies strong. Most significantly, these were the very games that created some of our fondest childhood memories.

Maybe tell your family a bit about the tragedy of the obesity epidemic in the United States, and how unfortunate the whole thing is, considering that being healthy can actually be fun. Explain to them that a healthy body equals a healthy mind, and convince them that it is possible to have both and at the same time entertain quality family time. Make it known to them that moving forward, the family, as a group, will commit to making these key changes toward health and wellness. The changes will mostly affect food and fitness, but above everything they should reflect a profound change of your collective attitude — one that promotes strength, love, health, and joy. Start to make healthy the operative word when making decisions about food or fun, and get everyone excited about the prospect of making a "healthy choice" as often as possible. Perhaps even tell them that the person who wins in the end is the one who made the most healthy choices. Lure them in to this concept and have fun with it. Explain to your family that this meeting marks the start of your very own Fit Home Team Challenge — and get everyone revved up about the pleasure and games that are about to begin. Get your spouse involved. Do anything you have to do, but do whatever it takes to ignite something.

Congratulations. You have gotten everyone excited, the mojos are rising, people are happy, and the momentum is yours. Time to lay down some ground rules. These rules, as you will explain, will serve as the basic code of behavior (and even attitude) that everyone will agree to honor. This has to be emphasized, so do whatever you have to do to make it clear. Insist that everyone (yourselves included) promise to keep all of these rules as often as possible. Write up a contract. Make it official. Make it matter. And most important, make it FUN.

The S (as in success!) List

Safety first. It's a cliché because it's true. Safety does come first, and that is exactly why we're starting here. For every activity, every game, every sport, everything that we discuss in this book, safety should always be the number-one measure that we check against and the first thing we think about before we do anything. Safety includes the obvious, like having the proper gear and equipment for activities such as soccer and in-line skating, and sunscreen at the beach; as well as other, less obvious, practices, such as knowing some first aid. You might suggest that the family take a CPR class to pick up some basics. Instill in your kids the concept that any sense of fun has to begin by respecting safety, and make them promise that they will always aim to be conscious of it. That said, as the adult(s) in charge, you too should familiarize yourself with any relevant safety measures that correspond to games or activities that you will lead the family in.

Rule number two: When the sun is out, we should be too. Say good-bye to lazy afternoons in front of the television or playing video games on a perfectly crisp and gorgeous blue day. The sun should be your reason to be outside, and your family should make it its mission to live in its warmth as often as possible. Granted, sunscreen is always a must, and one quick internet search on the dangers on sunburns should answer any questions you may have about this, but assuming you are diligent in your sunscreen application (for your kids and yourselves!), you should relish in the positivity (and vitamin D) that come directly from the rays of the sun.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, happy, and wise. We believe it, and we try to keep to that schedule as often as possible. Granted, we're not tyrants about it, and there are plenty of weekends when we all stay up late watching movies, laughing, and having a grand old time. However, as a basic premise, we like to teach our kids that sleep, like nutrition and exercise, is one of the best-kept little secrets for optimal health. Proper sleep leads to energized days, allowing the body to rest, recover, and rev itself up for what is to come.

StretchingThis one falls under the golden rule of safety and therefore is a necessity every single time anyone in the family is going to partake in any physical activity, whether as a group or on their own. The beauty of stretching is that anyone can do it, at any age, and it is always healthy and advisable. Getting your children in the habit of stretching when they engage in physical activity not only helps increase range of motion but also warms the muscles up for the work ahead, stimulating better circulation, which in turn leads to better coordination. Postexercise stretching also helps to decrease muscle soreness and ensure that the muscles and tendons work well. The more conditioned the muscles and tendons are, the better they can handle the rigors of sport and exercise, and the less likely that they'll become injured. So why not start them young? (See page 125 in the fitness section for suggestions on good stretches for kids.)

This is another biggie, especially when you are dealing with younger children who are still in the throes of ethical development or siblings who like to have a go at one another when it comes to "their stuff." All very normal, we know. But since we are going to be working with all kinds of sporting equipment and other activity props, it is crucial to state right from the start that sharing is the only way things are going to run smoothly. Make it part of the "groupthink" ideology, and establish right up front that sharing should and will underscore any activity that requires "things." Make it a "what's-mine-is-yours" atmosphere, and ensure that the little ones especially understand the importance of this rule.

Teaching your children about order and tidiness isn't just for your Fit Home Team Challenge — it will be something invaluable that hopefully they will carry on for the rest of their lives. Storing, putting things away, organizing, cleaning up — these are all activities where everyone can chip in, be it in the backyard, the kitchen, their bedrooms, or the den. Make the cleanup all part of the challenge, and make everyone accountable for something each time. This helps to foster a sense of collaboration and unity — not to mention the whole point of keeping a neat, mess-free home, which is to impart a sense of calm and security, and to avoid wasting time looking for things.

We believe that being a good sport is one of the secrets to being a good person, and this code of ethics is part and parcel of every single game we play as a family. Sports have taught us both so much about life — they taught us how to win and they taught us how to lose, mostly because they showed us how one is treated when one is a winner, and how it feels to be a winner or loser. Both are valid experiences by virtue of the extraordinarily useful lessons that they carry. Kids' egos are delicate little things, which is why it is great to get them into the idea of letting go of theirs from an early age — which is exactly what good sportsmanship is all about. Granted, the whole concept of the Fit Home Team Challenge is meant to stir your family's "winner" itch; but just as significant will be everyone's ability to accept the reality of losing, and the understanding that the point is as much to enjoy as it is to be the undisputed champ. Teach your kids to be gracious, not to brag if they excel, to always shake hands, to really grasp the notion that it is all in good fun. Maybe explain to them that in sports, team captains are usually selected not on the basis of how good they are but rather in terms of their ability to be a solid team player.

Taking the right vitamins and minerals is just as important as eating the right kinds of foods, so part of the new Fit Home initiative will be to get your crew into the mind-set of supplementing their nutrition with all the right stuff. If that means you have to feed your kids vitamins in the shapes of cartoon characters, so be it — but do what you must to get everyone their daily dose of the needed nutrients. A good multivitamin is ideal, and it can easily become part of everyone's morning routine. In addition, you should address any special needs, such as iron deficiencies and so on, of individual family members.

Sitting together to eat
We live in a society where teenagers throw Pop-Tarts into the toaster, call it dinner, and run out the door, while parents, in their effort to "be cool," casually allow the television to be on during meals. In Latino homes, sitting together for dinner was always paramount, and when we were kids, this was one of those holy grails that you just didn't argue with. Today we are endlessly grateful for the strictness imparted to us regarding family meals, and thankfully, we matured into adults who actually think the really "cool" thing to do is enforce this rule with our own kids. Mealtimes are some of the few shared moments, when all the members of the family can take a break from their own agendas — work, school, or any other such obligations -- and simply enjoy one another's company, sharing in the miracle and joy that is family. Teaching your kids not to take these precious moments for granted, as we see it, fortifies them with the wisdom that true kinship is the most beautiful thing out there.

Write on
When we write things down, we essentially account for them — so keeping track of the family's progress, literally, will be key on the path toward fitness and health. You will see that taking notes is a surprisingly effective way to stay connected with your progress, as it asks you to chronicle your behavior, which forces you, as a group, to see where the bad habits and mistakes occur. See the chart at the back of the book on page 200, which you can pin up on your fridge and use as a reference against your shopping list next time you are in the store — a great way to keep the menus varied and dynamic. Every Sunday, sit down with your family and check your progress. This is also a great opportunity to catch up on other events in your kids' lives and to work together as a team toward a healthy family lifestyle.

Taking stock, and the art of always being ready
Have you ever noticed how sometimes the hardest part about anything is actually to be prepared, and how, when you actually are prepared, the "hard part" seems to be over and done with? Consider the following example: you want more than anything to whip up the most savory chicken soup, replete with all varieties of veggies, herbs, and fixings — however, you wish desperately that someone would just chop up all of your ingredients, line them up in perfect little bowls, like they do on the cooking shows on TV, and even wash your knives right up front, before the soup begins to simmer. Why do you wish these things? We are sure it is not because you are lazy, untalented, or stupid. It's because you want to be ready. Because in life, as in the kitchen, everything is so much smoother and less frenetic when you actually take the time to prepare.

Think of being ready as "the art of the head start," poising you for whatever it is you are about to face — which, in our case, will mean a couple things: first, in fitness we have to ensure that all of our sporting goods, props, toys, and safety gear are in place; second, in the kitchen we have to take stock of all of the relevant necessities that we may require, from ingredients to tools. If we are ready on both of these critical fronts, we are ready to be collectively healthy.

Let us be clear: being ready is more than just for the sake of being ready, and trust us when we tell you that our agenda in this discussion on preparedness is not because we want you to be unshakably nerdy or anal-retentive about how you run your show. Instead, we bring up this concept for one simple reason, which is that being ready is a natural motivator. Think about it; it's really very simple. If you have the right kinds of food in your fridge, you will be more inclined to eat right; so too, if you have the right kind of equipment in your house, in your backyard, by the pool, and so on, you are more likely to engage in those activities and games that call on such gear. It's the basic law of cause and effect at play, in the context of at‑home decision making, and with your family as the point of it all.

Be resourceful. Take a good long look around your house and reinvent it somehow as a gym. Where is there an open area for stretching? Where can you keep some balance/medicine balls around? Which chairs can we use for arm exercises? Are there any sharp edges we should be aware of? Take stock, and be creative about your space and its own resources. If you have a swimming pool, for example, that is a major plus, and know that from this moment on, you are really going to maximize its use (weather permitting, of course). So now that you understand how being ready is the root of organization and motivation, let's take a look at what this really means for you.

If we are indeed committed to embarking on a full-on Fit Home Team Challenge, the first order of business will be to stock up on the gear. "The gear" refers to all of the perennial must-haves — in the kitchen and beyond — that should be readily accessible in your household to actualize your campaign of fitness and health. Remember to keep everything organized and labeled, so that your house does not turn into a storage facility, and maybe assign each child (if applicable) different responsibilities for keeping everything clean and stored. You don't have to be a drill sergeant, but again, explain that tidiness is also part of the healthy agenda that we're all trying to get behind.

Since we know that our family health and wellness program is a two-pronged challenge — one being fitness and the other being nutrition — we also need to make sure that our kitchens are devoid of the toxic stuff and chock-full of all the right elements; this means having at hand not only the right foods and the right ingredients but also the necessary tools that will make every mealtime a piece of cake, so to speak. If it is possible, we recommend the following must-haves for your kitchen. (In the chapter that follows, we will review this list in more detail.)

Kitchen basics

  • Juicer
  • Blender
  • Chopper or food processor
  • A good set of knives (for adults' use only!)
  • A fresh herb garden
  • Plastic lidded containers, assorted sizes
  • Ziplock bags and aluminum wrap
  • Disposable plates, cups, and bowls in fun colors
  • Fresh fruits and veggies in the fridge, peeled and sliced
  • Popsicle trays in fun shapes
  • Toothpicks (kids love things on toothpicks; don't ask us why)
  • Water cooler with accessible cups nearby

Kids are all about attention span, so if you want to deliver for them, you simply must have your bag of tricks. This can literally be a giant bag that you fill with gear. Kids love variety, and your bag of tricks will vary depending on the season. Your job should always be to aim to entertain. The more you have handy, the more fun everyone can have. It's easy. Your summer bag has a Frisbee, sunscreen, beach ball, clean towels, goggles, paddles and ball, Velcro catch get the picture. The bag ensures your readiness and poises you to engage in these activities. It takes the hassle out of last-minute preparations and frees you up to play on the spot. Think of the following as a starting point hit list, and trust that your kids will get excited when they see the house abundant with such goodies.

The gear

  • Various sizes and styles of balls (beach ball, soccer ball, etc.)
  • Mats for stretching and yoga
  • Sunscreen
  • Bikes and bicycle helmets
  • Jump rope
  • Timer
  • Stepper
  • Frisbee and flying disk
  • Hula hoop
  • In-line skates
  • Athletic clothes, shorts, socks, sneakers, etc.
  • Knee and elbow safety pads
  • Boxing gloves (sizes for everyone)
  • Baseball bat, ball, and glove
  • Heavy, sturdy rope (for climbing and tug-of-war)
  • Gardening supplies: hose, watering pitcher, shovels, etc.
  • Balance and medicine balls
  • iPod with portable speakers or any other music-playing device that's easy to carry around
  • Basic first aid kit

You've done the hard part; you've assembled your gear and your tools, and hopefully you've done your best to pep up your home team in the spirit of smart, healthy living. Now you're ready to really get cooking, which is why we now move, quite naturally, to the topic of food.

Copyright © 2009 by Jorge Posada and Laura Posada