By Jesyka Mcknight
Health and nutrition should be top priorities for all parents, but when you’re a parent and a registered nurse, the two are always at the front of your mind.
Stephanie Estes, mother of two and school nurse at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, said her medical background has given her the ability to look at a health problem from all different angles and determine the best actions to take.
For example, Stephanie made an informed decision to switch to non-dairy milk to help one of her son’s digestive tract, and she said he hasn’t had problems since.
“My favorite part is how the education pulls together the reasoning of why those things worked, and therefore helps me be creative and confident as a mom finding different ways to take care of my family.”
Stephanie’s knowledge also helps her take care of the students at MLK every day. Here are some of her best tips for keeping kids healthy and happy.
Stephanie is married to Thomas Estes, and they have two boys Jackson, 5, and Ethan, 3. The Estes family’s diet and habits have changed since Stephanie became a nurse.
Whole plant foods are majority of their meals and meat is usually kept as a side instead of the entrée. Drinking plenty of water is a priority. Stephanie has a personal goal of 10 cups a day for “brighter skin, a happier mood, regular digestion and better performance,” and she tries to make sure the boys get three to four cups a day.
“Staying well hydrated every day is a key component to a healthy lifestyle, in my personal book of opinions,” she said, “and I shout it from the rooftops in the least annoying way possible.”
Another thing Stephanie stressed is balance when it comes to restricting or allowing indulgences. For example, she doesn’t put carbonated beverages on the grocery list but will allow a can of soda with popcorn on family movie night. Sweets are not completely banned but are kept small in size and limited, so the boys feel like sweets are a privilege, not a necessity.
“At our house, if they eat all their food, they can pick one prize from the prize bowl,” she said. “This keeps things exciting for them knowing the reward will come.”
Although it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, spouses may have different goals or ideas when it comes to nutrition. Stephanie said her husband hasn’t adapted all of her habits but is supportive of her decisions. Thomas has made small changes along the way, such as replacing his daily soda with bottled water and drinking 2 percent milk instead of non-dairy like Stephanie and the boys.
When cooking, Stephanie finds healthier alternatives, such as combining half portions of lean ground beef and meatless crumbles, which are completely plant based but taste like real beef. She reiterates it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
When asked if she had any tips for getting small children to try new foods, Stephanie said it’s important to know your kids’ likes and quirks. She joked that her 3-year-old will try anything if he has ranch to dip it in.
“Mine will typically try anything if it is attractive,” she said. “For instance, consider colors, shapes, placing or building the food into familiar patterns, letters, or even towers!”
Aside from using rewards and getting creative, Stephanie said parents should let their children see them taste different types of food with a good attitude.
“Remember, if you can’t eat it because it tastes so bad, it’s not really fair to expect them to,” she said.
With technology at everyone’s fingertips, exercise can often be the last thing on our minds, but Stephanie suggests ways to squeeze in workouts, even on the busiest days.
When watching TV, “Use commercial times for push-ups, planks, jumping jacks, lunges, squats, crunches or even jog in place.”
Studies show everyone should get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. So another trick from Stephanie is to set a timer for five minutes, six times each day after school and work, and assign different exercises for everyone. Take turns or turn it into a competition to make it more fun for the whole family.
“By doing these simple exercises in your home in front of your children, it trains them to do it too.”
Some parents struggle to determine what’s most crucial in keeping their children healthy and happy, but Stephanie said establishing a daily routine is one way to do so.
“I can’t stress enough how important a routine is for children,” she said.
This stabilizes children because they know what to expect, and it helps them become independent. When parents are away, it’s important for caretakers to know the times for homework, dinner, baths and bed.
Spending quality time together also plays a role in raising healthy and happy children.
“Have that play time with them, read them those books, and sing them those songs,” Stephanie said. “Building those memories is caring for their self-worth, which will motivate them to care for themselves in the future.”
Overall, Stephanie said keep a positive attitude when it comes to making healthy changes, like exercising and eating right. Don’t treat it as a burden because children will follow your lead.
“Stay excited about it and look forward to the better you that you are becoming!”
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