By Raising Children Network
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On average, parents of young children exercise less than people in the broader community.
When you’re fit and well, you’re in good shape to look after your children. But with all the focus on looking after a child or baby, it’s easy to forget to look after yourself. These simple ideas for healthy eating and exercise can get you back on track.

Healthy eating and exercise basics 

Being a parent is much easier and more enjoyable if you’re feeling well. Keeping healthy can help you be the parent you want to be, and an active lifestyle contributes to overall health and wellbeing.

The keys to your good health are healthy eating and exercise – balance what you eat and drink so that you have plenty of energy, and move every day to stay physically healthy.

Exercise and physical health: tips for parents

As a busy parent, you might find it hard to fit exercise into your day. At the end of the day – sometimes even at the beginning! – you might feel tired and want to rest every chance you get.

But did you know that activity can increase your energy levels and make you feel better?

If you’re short on time, the easiest way is to fit physical activity into everyday activities.

This could be a walk with your child, splashing about at the local creek, kicking a ball together in the park, or walking to the supermarket for a few items instead of driving. Even a tango with the vacuum cleaner, if that’s what you enjoy!

Movement is what matters – 30 minutes or so a day. Even little amounts of physical activity that add up to 30 minutes will lift your energy. And fitting in some regular vigorous exercise will help boost your health. 

There are three other good reasons to stay active: 

  • relaxation
  • social enjoyment – activity often gives you the chance to catch up, play sport or go for a walk with others
  • personal satisfaction with your own health and wellbeing.
You can find out more by reading Australia’s Physical Activity Guidelines.

Healthy eating

Healthy eating gives you the energy you need during the day and keeps your body nourished so that it runs at its peak.

Preparing balanced meals might sound like a big ask when you’re a busy parent. But once you know which foods give you the nutrients you need, it can be easier to choose good foods and eat well.

Your body needs:

  • carbohydrates – like potatoes, rice and bread – for energy
  • regular sources of protein such as meat, fish and legumes to repair tissues and keep your body in good condition
  • vitamins for your immune system and overall health
  • essential minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc for your body’s chemical processes and growth
  • foods containing phytochemicals to help protect against various diseases.

Plenty of fluids will also prevent dehydration, which can make you feel even more tired and lethargic. Water is the purest, simplest and cheapest source of fluid – eight glasses a day is the recommended amount.

Drinks with alcohol and caffeine actually take fluid out of your system. If you have these, try to top up with an extra glass of water.

Faster food tips for quick and healthy eating

Try our tips for saving time and preparing healthy meals quickly. They can help you have a balanced, tasty diet without being a gourmet cook or spending a lot of money.

Quick meal ideas

  • Meals such as fresh pasta with vegetables or a salad can be prepared in a few minutes and give your body a real boost.
  • Scrambled, hard-boiled or fried eggs are quick, healthy and versatile.
  • Fruit, vegetable sticks, cheese, dips and yoghurt all make for healthy, easy snacks to grab when you’re busy with baby.
  • Frozen vegetables can be great shortcuts for healthy, tasty and nutritious meals.
  • If you do run out of ingredients and energy, look for takeaway food that is still healthy, like a stir-fry with rice and vegetables.

Pantry food ideas for quick meals

  • Keep long-life vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and onions.
  • For energy, store dried pasta and other sources of carbohydrate, like low-GI rice, dry noodles, lentils and couscous.
  • Keep dried foods like pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms.
  • Nuts such as almonds and cashews are a great source of protein and can be eaten as snacks or part of a full meal – but try to avoid salted or fried nuts.
  • Tinned tomatoes, corn and other vegies, as well as tomato paste, can be a lifesaver for one-pot dishes such as pasta sauces, soups and casseroles.
  • Canned meats and fish, such as tuna, salmon, ham and sardines, are good sources of protein, as are tinned legumes such as lentils.
  • Soup in cans or packets makes an instant hot meal.
  • Keep condiments such as tomato sauce, mustard, mayonnaise, soy, chilli or relish to give extra zest to quick snacks.
  • Use ready-made stocks to add instant flavour to fast meals.

Healthy frozen food ideas

  • Frozen vegetables retain a lot of nutritional goodness.
  • Try meat such as steak, mince, sausages and chicken. Try to freeze meat without bones.
  • Grate cheese for homemade pizzas and other dishes.
  • Bread and pastries also freeze well.

Food preparation ideas

  • Cook for two nights instead of one, or freeze portions for another time.
  • Keep leftovers for snacks and toasted sandwiches.
  • Save on washing up by cooking one-pot meals such as soups, curries and casseroles.
  • Cut vegetables and meat into smaller pieces to save time on cooking. Prepare food the night before if you have the time and energy.
Check out our family recipes section for more quick, tasty and healthy meal ideas.
  • Last updated or reviewed 08-09-2014