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Keeping Health at the Forefront as a Busy Parent

Originally written by Nikki Prosch, former SDSU Extension Health & Physical Activity Field Specialist, and Megan Erickson, former SDSU Extension Nutrition Field Specialist.

It’s Monday, after a busy weekend traveling to sporting and school events, family gatherings and catching up on housework, an overwhelming feeling of stress and inorganization fills your mind. Your time is stretched thin and thinking about how to keep your children’s eating and exercise habits a priority, as well as your own, is something that feels too complicated and requires too much of your time. As two busy, working moms ourselves, we too have experienced this feeling. However, with the help of research and some real-world experience, we have some helpful tips to keep healthy living at the forefront in your household.

Exercise Everyday

Everyday? Yes, everyday. It doesn’t mean a 30+ minute workout everyday but sneak in movement whenever you get a chance throughout your day. There are so many opportunities to squeeze in some activity, whatever gets you moving counts! For instance, you can try doing some mini-workouts when your schedule allows 5-10 minutes, exercise with your kids (they will love it), get creative with when and where you add in movement. Walk whenever possible and encourage free play in your children. Consider signing yourself, or family, up for an upcoming fitness event (i.e. 5K run, family yoga class), do some squats while you brush your teeth, balance on one leg while preparing meals, use household cleaning as a chance to pick up the intensity and power clean, garden, walk your dog, stretch or host a regular family dance party with some upbeat music.

  • Tip: If sneaking in exercise while the children are awake isn’t working for your schedule, try waking up 20-40 minutes before everyone in the house to squeeze in the exercise of your choice.

Menu Plan and Make Ahead Snacks

Meal planning can be daunting, but once you get the hang of it, you will be asking yourself, “Why didn’t I do this before?”. Meal planning will save you time, money and stress! We are here to help. Time – no more getting home at 5:00 pm and wondering what you are going to feed your family. With a plan, you are saving time in grocery shopping because you have a shopping list and a plan. You are saving time at home because you know what is on the menu for each day. Money – you can menu plan around sales, what is in season, etc. You save money by not eating out and also buy fewer expensive convenience foods. Take a look at your fridge before grocery shopping and this will help you cut down your costs and eliminate food waste. Some healthy snacks to have on hand include nuts, string cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, low-fat Greek yogurt, or baked tortilla chips with salsa. Read some more information on meal planning and prep.

  • Tip: Include at least one selection from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein foods. Pick a day to grocery shop and a day to meal prep. Portion snacks into grab-and-go containers for easy access – use plastic bags or plastic containers to make snacking easy. Check out this tip sheet on 25 Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids.


Sometimes this seems easier to write on paper but remember the importance of sleep and your body functioning. Getting enough sleep puts you in the right state of mind, helps you stay on task, helps your brain process new information and overall keeps your body feeling refreshed and ready for the busy day ahead of you. Adults should shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, whereas teenagers, children and newborns all need more hours each day. Read some specific sleep guidelines and more about brain health and sleep here.

  • Tip: Stick to a schedule for yourself and your kids. Bedtime habits can help you and your whole family relax before its pajama time!

Take Time for Self-Care

Stress affects everyone, especially busy working moms. “Me-time” is usually last on the agenda. Allowing yourself time to relax and provide self-care is an important factor in your health. Whether it be a 5-minute break to just breath, scheduling a monthly date night with your significant other, going to get a pedicure or massage, or planning a girl’s weekend, finding what gives yourself time to unwind and relax is needed.

  • Tip: Schedule some “me-time” on your to-do list! Start small and put 10 minutes a day for just you. Or each night, try writing down the three best things that happened that day.

Cut Down on Screen Time for Your Whole Family

Screen time has increased over the years as technology continues to evolve. Media is everywhere – Internet, TV, computer and video games, phones, and other electronic devices. On average, children are spending seven hours a day on entertainment media. Finding that balance for the whole family can take time. One way to help is to create a personalized family media plan here. Keep in mind your family values and parenting style. Create a plan that works for you and your family! Screen time does allow children to have access to endless learning opportunities such as educational games that improve literacy skills and cognitive development or some make learning fun through games and puzzles. The key is being mindful of the use of media within your family. Find what works best for your family and develop those healthy media use habits early on.

  • Tip: Establish a screen time limit for your whole family. No phones or screens after 6pm, allowing 20-30-minutes of screen time each day for your children or restricting screen time to only educational or health promoting games or activities.

Sparingly Is the Key

Sometimes your schedule will make it really hard to sneak in physical activity, and that’s ok. Remember to pick up right where you left off and keep the whole family moving. Serving meals to your family doesn’t have to be a struggle. The time you put towards prepping healthy meals and snacks at home is worth it. But keep it flexible. It can be hard to plan for everything, and this is okay!

  • Tip: Be wise about eating out – portion sizes can be large. If bringing home take-out, serve it with a bag of salad or frozen veggies, some fruit and low-fat milk for a more balanced meal.
  • Tip: Check out the Move Your Way Activity Planner website to set your own weekly goals, choose activities you want to do and gets tips to stay motivated.