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The Girlfriends’ Guide to Fit, Healthy Families

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Susan Barnett talks to editor Holly Sleppy

When Susan Barnett and I are together, it still feels like we’re two high-school girls who can chat about anything from clothes and hair to boys. Only now – the boys are our husbands and sons. How do we keep our families fit and healthy?

Working in news (and married to a doctor), health and fitness are on Susan’s mind every day. And it’s the same for me as the editor of, an online women’s wellness magazine.

Susan and I are both the youngest of six. Our moms cooked for an economy of scale, and the number one rule at our dinner tables was “clean your plate.” There was no gourmet food or Trader Joes for organic produce and milk. It’s a wonder that our refrigerators now are stocked with an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and organic foods.

My husband Greg is a very healthy eater and has the discipline to make good food choices all the time. He grew up in a house where farm-fresh, healthy food graced the table every day. His parents also were very active, and still exercise everyday even now. Greg’s healthy habits have had a positive influence on me and our kids. We have a share with a local organic farm where we get a weekly supply of fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits.

The biggest challenge is in how you make those healthy, wholesome foods taste really yummy for kids who turn their noses up to anything green.

Susan and Holly: We share the same philosophy – fruits and vegetables are pretty much equal in our eyes (despite knowing that they’re not!). We both have kids who eat just a few vegetables but are happy to eat a rainbow of fruits. What will you find on our dinner plates?

  • A protein – anything from scrambled eggs to black bean burgers or grilled chicken
  • Baby carrots and peppers with light ranch dressing, steamed broccoli or asparagus, or simple salads
  • Seasonal fruits like strawberries and blueberries, apple slices or natural apple sauce
  • When there’s a starchy side dish, it’s usually brown rice, hand-cut baked fries or whole-grain bread or rolls

We both agree that you can live and eat healthy every day, but ALWAYS leave a little room for indulgence.

My sweet escape is pumpkin pie and my salty indulgence is tortilla chips with melted extra sharp cheddar.

I like a salty/sweet combo, so I’d choose my chocolate peanut butter chip pretzel cookies (what the dietitians I work with have deemed “happy cookies,” as the salty/sweet combo is shown to trigger the chemicals in your brain that make you happy).

With a career in the public eye, staying fit also is a top priority. I work out a few times a week, but one of those workouts is always with a trainer. Workouts include cardio on the treadmill or elliptical machine, and weight training. The wardrobe of news anchors has evolved from suits to sleeveless dresses, so my strength training includes more extensive shoulder and arm work. I prefer to get out of the gym and get outdoors with my family, often walking a 4-mile loop at a local park with the little ones in a wagon.

For me, exercise provides as much stress relief as it does cardio and strength training. Twice a week, you’ll find me working a bag in kickboxing, or pushing my physical limits in a high-intensity interval training class that combines weights and cardio for a fat-burning workout. When I leave either class, I know I’ve left all of my stress and worries behind as well. Other days are spent with my kids and phys-ed-teacher husband playing soccer or running obstacle courses on the front lawn or having dance parties.

There’s no perfect science to how we make it all work, but it works just the same. Living a healthy lifestyle and setting that example for your kids is the goal. How you get there requires a little flexibility and creativity. Offer lots of healthy food choices, and make a game out of trying new foods. And know that getting active as a family doesn’t mean spending hours in the gym. Playgrounds, parks and even your own backyard provide all that’s needed to make fitness fun.