9 Changes to Make in 2009

By Christina Elston

About half of us make at least one New Year’s resolution before we crack open that new calendar, and statistics show that most of us don’t keep them. So instead of resolutions – things we promise to do or quit doing – how about making some changes this year?

Changes are different, because they represent a shift rather than an either-or. They’re adjustable, and so, more keep-able. Here are a few suggestions from the experts:

For Fitness: Start with some before-breakfast exercise to get the family moving.

“It is a constant battle for most people, me included,” says Mike Levinson, R.D., author of Buff Dad (HCI, 2008; Here’s his suggestion for a 10-minute daily workout:

• 20 bodyweight squats – With feet slightly wider than hip’s width apart and toes slightly pointed out, hold your arms straight out at shoulder level and gradually bend your knees and lower yourself as far as you can without your heels coming off the floor, then slowly push back up.

• 10 push ups – If you cannot do them on your feet, do them on your knees.

• 20 abdominal crunches.

Do one exercise right after the other without rest, then rest for one minute. After one minute, run through the exercises again, rest for one minute, and do one final set.

“This is a fantastic total-body mini workout that will get your heart rate up, build some lean muscle mass, increase your metabolism, give you some morning energy and improve your overall fitness level,” Levinson says.

To Your Diet: Have a healthy snack ready at the end of the school/work day to snuff the family’s junk food cravings. “That is definitely the time to introduce healthy foods, when they are the hungriest,” says Netty Levine, R.D., a dietitian and diabetes counselor with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los angeles. “A lot of times they stand there with the refrigerator door open, and you’ve got to be one step ahead.” One great option is cut-up fruit. “Kids who are losing their teeth don’t like to bite into fruit,” Levine says.

You can puree berries – fresh or frozen – for a healthy dipping sauce. And in the summer you can freeze the fruit itself.

Hummus, low-fat dressings and salsa all make good dipping sauce for cut veggies. Or in the winter, you Could put a vegetable soup in a croc pot so it’s ready at the end of the day. “The aroma might entice them to try,” says Levine. And if they object to the pieces of vegetable, get out your hand blender and puree the soup. With a snack like that, there’s no need to worry about spoiling their dinner.

To Your Schedule: Take control of your to-do list with an exercise called "Bag it, Barter it, Better it." First, make a list of all the things in your life that you don’t like to do. Then ask yourself whether you really have to do each one. Few things fall into that category, explains Master Certified Life Coach Jackie Gartman ( The rest are choices, and there are ways around many of them.

Hate picking up the dry cleaning? Find a cleaner that delivers. (Bag it.)

Don’t want to sit at soccer practice? Maybe a fellow team mom will trade off with you. (Barter it.)

Can’t stand grocery shopping? Get organized so you spend as little time at the store as possible, and treat yourself to a latte on the way home. (Better it.)

“The whole objective here is to create the space to do what you really want to do in your life,” explains Gartman, who has a practice in the San Fernando Valley. “The idea is to move toward things that energize you and away from things that deplete you.”

With Your Finances: Stop midnight money worries by crafting a financial plan. “It’s just like most things in life,” explains Nadia Allaudin, a financial planner with Merrill Lynch ( “When you have a strategy, you’ll feel a lot better.” First, identify your priorities. These might include paying down your credit card debt, setting up a college fund for your kids, or saving to care for your aging parents or for your own retirement. “You have to prioritize, because you’re not going to be able to do everything at once,” says Allaudin.

Next, write down the “action steps” you’re going to take. For paying down debt or putting savings aside, Allaudin suggests identifying how much you can spend and setting up an auto-debit through your checking account.

For that college fund, opening up a 529 plan will give you a place to house your own contributions, plus gifts from family and friends. And don’t be afraid of your 401K.

Allaudin points out most plans offer a range of options beyond the volatile stock market.

“Each of us needs to look within ourselves and map out what’s right for us,” she says. With financial situations, it’s very personal.” And if you’re still uncertain, get some help from a financial planner.

For Your Kids: Climb inside your kids’ heads with communication strategies from Susan Stiffelman, MFT, (www.susanstiffelman. com) a Southern California author, speaker and family therapist. “Allow kids to fully express their point of view or upset before rushing in with unsolicited advice or insight,” Stiffelman advises.

“Kids are far more likely to want to tell you what they’re thinking and feeling if you communicate your willingness to listen with a quiet mind, rather than jumping in to explain or enlighten.” When you ask for their opinion about something, “glue your lips together as you listen with a curious mind,” she says. “Let them see that you’re fascinated to discover more about them by hearing their point of view without criticizing or correcting.” On a more lighthearted note, consider creating a riddle- solving game to keep everyone engaged at the dinner table. Have each family member bring a riddle to the meal to share. If you’re stuck for ideas, you’ll find plenty online.

At Home: Conquer clutter by thinking “eliminate” not “accumulate.” “That is going to give you a new lease on life for 2009,” says Dorothy Breininger, professional organizer and founder of the Delphi Center for Organization (www.centerfor Whether you are tidying up a room or checking your day planner, be thinking “What can I delete?” Your goal is to create a clutter-free zone in every room of your home. This one space must stay free and clear at all costs. In the bedroom, it might be the bed or the top of the dresser. In the kitchen, it might be one part of the kitchen counter. It creates an oasis in the room, and creates space for you to move around. When you’re able to find a spot to sit down, or counter space to sign your child’s permission slip, you might start to like it. “Just like clutter creeps from one area to the next,” Breininger explains, “so do clutter-free zones.”

At Work: Lighten your load as a working parent by creating a “Circle of Support.” “With the economic slowdown and people being cut, people are being asked to do more and more,” says Louis Barajas, author of Overworked, Overwhelmed & Underpaid (, who offers a form for the exercise free on his site.

Your circle could include a professional organization that offers resources, a mentor or colleague you can use as a sounding board, or an administrative person who can take over time-consuming tasks like answering e-mail. It could even include personal responsibilities.

One lawyer mom Barajas recently worked with found herself taking an entire day off just to visit the pediatrician.She upgraded her circle of support to include a docTor who was a more efficient scheduler with shorter wait times for appointments. Your circle could also include a friend who can pick up your child from school if you’re caught up at work.

Barajas also suggests refocusing your efforts at the office so that you spend most of your time on activities that make you most valuable. Focus on where your abilities lie, and try to delegate or barter much of the rest. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. “A lot of people have this rugged individualist mindset,” Barajas says. “They want to do it all.”

In Your Community: If the current economic crisis has you asking, “What can I do?” consider trying your hand as a volunteer.

Every community needs help, and service is a powerful tool for creating change. “One of the most important values parents can instill in their kids is the value of service to others,” says Bob L. Johnson, co-founder of L.A. Works ( The organization, which calls itself the city’s leading volunteer action center, maintains a searchable database of volunteer opportunities online, making it easy for busy families to find just the right fit.

“There are projects that address all kinds of social issues, such as homelessness, at-risk youth, the environment, literacy, arts and crafts,” says Johnson. “Your contribution of a couple of hours a week – or even a couple of hours a month – can make a tremendous difference in the lives of others.”

For the Planet: Do your part to decrease global warming by reducing the only carbon footprint over which you have full control – your own. “At Healthy Child Healthy World, our constant message to parents is that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something,” says CEO Christopher Gavigan. His suggestion: Go meat-free one day a week.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions during the production of animal feeds and when cows, for example, emit methane, which is 23 times more harmful as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide. Adopting a plant-based diet (even just one day a week) reduces greenhouse gas emissions, reduces water and air pollution, saves wildlife habitat, and improves personal health.

“A step like this is not simply ‘going green’ to save the planet or protect the polar bears,” says Gavigan. “It’s becoming a more conscious, intentional, and thoughtful person to protect ourselves and our children’s health and future.