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Posted by Dr. Monica Wonnacott | January 2, 2017

3 Easy New Year’s Resolutions To A Healthier Family

I am a goal driven person. It should come as no surprise that I like setting New Year’s resolutions. However, I haven’t always been good at it. I used to set goals like “lose weight” or “eliminate all refined sugar in my diet.” Those goals never stuck. The problem was that these goals either didn’t have a specific plan to accomplish them or weren’t sustainable. As I’ve changed my approach, I’ve had more success. As you decide on the best goals/resolutions for you and your family, here are 3 easy, doable, long-term healthy suggestions to incorporate in your family.

Eat dinner together.

There is a mountain of scientific research out there touting all the benefits of eating dinner together as a family. The benefits are particularly noted when the meal is prepared at home and done without the involvement of media. In case you aren’t convinced, a huge study (involving 182,000 children) published in Pediatrics (a renowned scientific pediatric journal) showed families that eat dinner together at least 3 times a week had these benefits:

  1. Decreased risk of being overweight (12% less risk)
  2. Better eating habits (20% decrease in unhealthy food choices)
  3. Reduced risk of eating disorders (35% reduction in rate of anorexia and bulimia)
  4. Better social-emotional health (better relationships, more emotionally resilient, more empathetic, decreased risk of depression).

Multiple other studies have shown benefits like decreasing risk of suicide, anxiety, and drug use. Kids who eat dinner with their families also have better academics and relationships with parents. So in case you were trying to figure out if it’s worth your effort, one single daily habit change has far reaching effects.


  1. Turn off the TV while you eat
  2. Talk together

At the Wonnacott household, we have dinner at our table 5 nights a week. We’ve had to adjust meal times and activities to accommodate it (it’s hard with extracurricular activities, work, etc.), but I believe it is well worth the sacrifice. The table is considered a “media free zone” (including no cell phones). We also play a game called “Hi-Lo” at the table. We go around the table and everyone tells their “high” for the day and the “low” for the day. It’s amazing the kind of conversation and support that comes from celebrating each other’s victories and supporting the low moments.  Feel free to use our ideas if it works for your family.

Create media free zones/curfews.

Media Free Zones

Media of all sorts is pervasive in our world today. Can you imagine going anywhere without your cell phone? We’d feel naked. Designate a few “media free zones” in your home. A simple “no media at the table” rule (including phones, iPads, TV, etc.) can make a significant improvement in the quality of the mealtime experience. It’s amazing what kids will share with you when they aren’t distracted by media. As a family, you may determine other media free zones. We also recently made our children’s bedrooms “media free.”

Media Curfews

The media curfew component has more to do with preventing disordered sleep patterns. I am seeing tons of teenagers who are chronically tired and have sleep problems related to nighttime media use. Kids stay up late on their media. Their friends text in the middle of the night and wake them up.

Decide what time “media off” is going to be and stick to it (some of that will depend on your children’s ages. It may be anywhere from 7 pm to midnight; you’ll know what works best for your family).

Leave the cell phone/media device in a designated location (not in the child’s bedroom) after curfew.

Establish bedtime routines.

My favorite time of the whole day is when I have a few minutes with each individual child at night (for my youngest, that involves a snuggle and a few minutes in the rocker, while for the others it is reading with them). If you have teenagers, it may be as simple as going into their rooms each night for a minute to say goodnight. I’ve arranged my children’s bedtime routines to stagger “mom time” (wouldn’t being in multiple places at once be great?). That time is often when I hear little “nuggets” about friend dramas or happenings in my child’s day (when kids are quiet and have your one and one attention is when they are more apt to talk). Those little talks create teaching moments for me with my children (e.g., I may coach them with what to say or how to handle another child being rude or mean). In addition to all those benefits, there is the obvious benefit of bedtime routines helping improve overall quality of sleep. And who couldn’t use more quality sleep?

Good luck choosing what goals/resolutions to make happen this year. May it be a happy, healthy 2017!