Single parents have a lot to deal with on a daily basis. All the responsibilities fall on their shoulders: they are bread-winner, grocery shopper, house cleaner, accountant, tutor, counselor, first aid administrator, chef, and a thousand other job titles. It is no wonder that single parents become tired, frustrated and sometimes depressed.
There are serious side effects to these physical and emotional conditions. One of these side effects are the increased possibility of becoming obese. Single parents find themselves searching for ways to cut corners, save time, and “keep the peace” within their families. This often results in poor nutrition, whether through fast food, frozen semi-prepared meals, or simply catering to the tastes of the kids. Additionally, while tired from the stress of the day, single parents often do not get enough physical exercise. Depression and self-imposed isolation can increase both problems as some people are prone to eat when they are depressed and people are rarely motivated by being alone. So what is a single parent to do?
Food can be a big issue. By the time you have worked all day, picked up the kids from school or daycare, and arrived home, there are phone calls to return, homework with which to help, as well as household chores. No parent wants to spend an hour in the kitchen preparing a meal that will be little appreciated by the children. These are the very valid reasons that single parents often depend upon fast food and semi-prepared meals to feed their families. These meals are also a major culprit for the decline in physical health of the American family. Fast food is usually very high in fat, sodium, and carbohydrates. Semi-prepared meals, while sometimes reasonable in fat and carbs, are often even higher in sodium and usually quite pricey. So what is a single mom or dad to do?
Quick, nutritious meals can be had in thirty minutes or less, without breaking your budget. Frozen veggies are comparably priced to canned veggies and have much less sodium. Most varieties are parboiled and flash frozen, cutting the preparation time to twenty minutes or less. Fresh or frozen chicken tenders, compared to boneless or bone-in chicken breasts, cut cutting time considerably. Ground beef (as lean as your budget will stand) and ground turkey provide quick and easy meals when combined with parboiled rice, noodles, and a variety of veggies. Mix and match your tastes and get creative in the kitchen. Canned tuna (packed in water) is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Tell your kids that it is brain food and will help them perform better on their next test! Disguise it in an open-faced tuna melt and let them create a happy face with olive slices and a pickle strip. Salads are wonderfully nutritious and can be made in advance for quick dinners on hectic nights of school meetings or soccer practice. A base salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and other standards can be topped to the individuals choice with egg slices, grated cheese, bacon bits, sliced turkey or ham, and low-fat salad dressings, all which can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge until needed.
Meals should be as balanced as possible and I understand how difficult that can be. I had a rule at the dinner table: “Everyone (including me) has to eat at least two bites of everything.” I understand that some people like some foods better than others, but our tastes change as we mature and there is no way we will know it unless we periodically try it again. I loved spinach as a child, hated it as a teenager, and have come to love it again, raw, as an adult. I saw lots of disgusted faces on my daughters when they were young and had to eat their two bites of brussel sprouts or cauliflower. But over time, they came to like veggies – almost all veggies! – and there are very few things that they will not eat.
And speaking of the dinner table, use it! That’s right – stop having dinner in front of the television set or in shifts as the kids pass through the house. Establish a dinner time and stick to it as much as possible. Some nights will be impossible because the kids schedules will have you all over the place, but when you can, set everyone down to the dinner table, enjoy dinner, and discuss the day. When you know that you are going to be able to accommodate the family dinner, enlist the children in preparing for it. Let them help in the kitchen, set the table, fix drinks, with tasks based upon age and ability. They can then feel proud that they helped prepare the dinner that everyone will enjoy.
Snacks are sometimes necessary, too, but not the sugary, empty calorie kind. String cheese, apple or orange slices, individual cups of apple sauce, juice boxes (the 100% juice kind!), and low sodium crackers will keep the kids from getting whiney on those days where the practice schedules are hectic. These are also easily portable, so you don’t have to worry about them any more than you would a bag of chips.
Odds are that your kids, if they are playing sports, are getting enough exercise. But you, sitting in the stands, probably are not. Take practice time to walk around the outside of the field or a nearby walking track to get your heart rate up, burn off calories, and release the stress of the day. Statistics show that parents who walk at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week, not only maintain a healthy weight, but also are less susceptible to stress-related problems such as ulcers, stress headaches, and increased muscle tension. If your kids are not involved in sports, then it is time for you to get them out of the house and make it a family time to walk around the block or make a visit to the park in your neighborhood. The point is to be active. You don’t have to clock the miles or time the lap. You just have to move! As long as you are moving, you are doing yourself good!
As much as I believe in healthy nutrition and being active, I also realize that there are times when you just do not feel like doing either. We all have bad days that leave us feeling like we just do not care. Maybe we hit McDonalds on the way home for burgers and fries and cannot get ourselves off the couch because we just don’t have it in us. Don’t beat yourself up over it; let it go. One night is not going to ruin our effort at new and healthy habits. Just don’t make it a habit of being more than one night every two weeks. In other words, when you have lazed about enough to make you feel a little guilty, get your self back up and into motion! Everyone needs some down time, as long as we don’t let the downtime take over our lives.
Do it for your kids; do it for yourself; do it for your life.