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Keeping your family strong and well fed

At work, Ann Crosby focuses on health and fitness as the Chicago Sky strength and conditioning coach. She makes sure the WNBA players are in optimal shape so they can perform their best on the basketball court.

Ann Crosby helping to stretch a Chicago Sky player’s muscles.

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At home, Crosby focuses on keeping her two daughters healthy and in the best possible shape so that they can perform their best at school and at play. She also knows that making sure kids eat nutritious food and get a good amount of exercise isn’t always easy, but she says it is doable.

To help other parents, she is sharing some of her best tips.

Preparation makes it easier to eat healthy

Meal planning can make it much easier to eat healthy with your family. “It’s harder to get sidetracked when you have exact plans. If you don’t plan, you’re more apt to overindulge and eat on a whim,” says Crosby.

She advises planning out both lunches and dinners for everyone in the family.  It is easier to then make a grocery list and not succumb to impulse purchases in the store.

Crosby picks one day a week to grocery shop and then she prepares the food as soon as she returns home, including washing the fruit and cutting the vegetables so healthy options are available throughout the week ahead.

“It makes it easy for the kids to grab a clean apple rather than a bag of chips,” she says. Packing healthy lunches is also simpler when you have healthy items like carrots, celery and pepper strips already cut and ready to toss in the lunch box.

“Being intentional matters. It’s harder to get sidetracked if you know what you’re having and it’s quick to assemble. You’re much less likely to order something when it gets to be 6:30 at night,” she says.

Frozen is your friend

If your fruit is already cut and seems close to expiring, Crosby suggests tossing it in the freezer. Then you can thaw it when you’re ready to use it or just toss it in a smoothie. Smoothies are a very popular healthy snack in her house, as are frozen grapes and kefir yogurt tubes.

Another nutrition-boosting trick she uses is sneaking ground chia seeds into chocolate milkshakes. “They are high in Omega-3s and a good source of fiber. They’re also good for eyes and skin.”

Don’t make it complicated

Another way to make it more likely that you’ll cook instead of grab takeout is by keeping your meals simple. Complicated recipes and weeknights are rarely, if ever, a good match.

“Keep it simple,” says Crosby. “For dinner it’s OK to turn the oven to 350 degrees and roast chicken breasts and veggies together, or throw it all in one pan.”

Pinterest is her favorite source of simple recipes for both dinner and kids’ lunches. A zucchini chocolate chip muffin recipe she found is a big hit in her house and will be making frequent appearances in her girls’ lunches this year.

Talk about food with your kids

It helps when parents help kids understand how food works in their bodies to give them energy. “They need to be aware of what’s going into their bodies, and doing so will help kids throughout their lives,” Crosby says.

She says she makes sure her kids see food as fuel. “I wouldn’t put sugar in the gas tank of my car, so why would I put that into my body’s gas tank?” she tells her kids.

Be a good role model

As a working mom, Crosby definitely understands that eating healthy can be far from easy for parents, but she stresses that doing so benefits not only parents but sends a powerful message to kids, too.

“If parent doesn’t eat well, a kid isn’t going to do so. It’s monkey see, monkey do,” she says.

The same is true with exercise. Crosby says, “You find time for what’s important to you. When your children see you exercise, you send them the message that how my body functions is important to me.”

“I explain to my girls that I take care of my body so I can help them take care of their bodies,” she says.

Find other good examples

“The Olympics are a huge motivator,” says Crosby. Talk with kids about how the athletes going for the gold know the importance of good nutrition and eating healthy foods to get the best performance.

Take advantage of the professional sports teams around Chicago to show kids awesome athletes in action, like players on the Chicago Sky with whom Crosby works. Watching those teams can motivate kids to play at home which is both fun and good exercise.

Work out together

Finding time to go to the gym can be difficult, which is why Crosby says she sometimes has the kids work out with her in the front yard. “We can sprint down the street, jump rope, do all kinds of exercises in the grass,” she says.

Crosby stresses the importance of using large muscle groups and is also a big fan of weight-bearing exercise, whether that comes from playing on the trampoline or setting up your own American Ninja Warrior course in the yard. “I want my kids to be able to push and pull the weight of their own body when we’re playing. It helps them have less injury in life and lessens the chance of osteoporosis,” says Crosby.

Walk to school

Walking to school can be a great way to get some exercise and enjoy some quality time together. “Our kids understand that the rules are different in each house and while we see people in our neighborhood who drive to school every day, we tell our kids that doing so is not an option for us,” says Crosby.

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