2016 Fit Family Challenge Kicks Off

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Photo courtesy of the Lucas family

Carolina Parent’s Fit Family Challenge is a free, eight-week healthy lifestyle program for Triangle families that takes place May 1-June 26. Its mission is to help parents and children become more physically active and improve eating habits.

While anyone can take part through myfitfamilychallenge.com, Carolina Parent will follow two spotlight families throughout the challenge who will work with a panel of wellness experts.

The Lucas family lives in Wendell, and they have some common concerns. Daily life is busy and it can be tough to make good choices. As a family of five, they need to stay on a grocery budget. Mom Felicia and Dad Kelvin enjoy cooking, but their choices aren’t always healthy. While the kids — Isaiah, Kelsey and Silas — play sports, their parents want to find fitness activities that involve the whole family.

The Prater family includes single mom Jennifer (“Jenny”) and her children,­ Matthew and Allyson. Time is tight and so is money. The kids don’t participate in activities that provide much physical exertion, and Mom isn’t crazy about working up a sweat. So this Chapel Hill family will need some motivation to create new habits.

Carolina Parent has called on four experts to help both families address these issues and pursue lifestyle changes:

•           Tracy Owens and Ashley Acornley of Triangle Nutrition Therapy are registered dieticians who will customize nutrition solutions for everyday eating.

•           Evie Houtz is a program specialist for Be Active Kids who will share physical activities designed for parents and kids to enjoy together.

•           Gaye Esser, owner of Redefine Balance, is a life coach who will help the families find the motivation they need by helping them create positive lifestyle changes.


Felicia and Kelvin Lucas don’t have a lot of free time. Felicia is a retail manager with a 40-minute commute, and Kelvin works in retail and serves as a pastor. Isaiah (16), Kelsey (13) and Silas (8) play sports and keep busy with school activities.

“Sometimes we go for walks,” Felicia says. “Just being able to have the time to do it is the biggest challenge.”

Felicia’s three goals for the Fit Family Challenge:

•           To learn about healthier food choices while staying on a budget.

•           To increase her family’s physical activity.

•           To learn to use exercise equipment that will help her lose weight.

The Lucas family doesn’t eat out much, so that’s a good start on avoiding nutritional pitfalls. Mom and Dad like to cook — lasagna, pot roast and ribs are favorites — but they tend to fall into a routine of choosing meals like hot dogs, corn dogs and chicken nuggets.

“We generally cook at home,” Felicia says. “The main thing is knowing what to eat when you’re a family of five on a budget. The things they really like are the cheaper things we buy. I want to figure out the best choice.”

Keeping the kids active is no problem. All three play recreational sports: baseball, softball, basketball and soccer. Mom and Dad enjoy being spectators, but they would like to find activities that work for the whole family.

“Obviously walking is the easiest, but the 8-year-old doesn’t want to walk for 45 minutes,” Felicia says. “We’re still trying to figure out what we can all do, because I’m not going to be the one running up and down the basketball court. What can we all do together?”

She says her family is typical in another way, too: They like to snack.

“After school, after dinner, it’s the cookies and chips,” she says. “Anything sweet. Chocolate and candy bars.”

Felicia has one goal of her own. She would like to shed those pounds that have crept up over the years. The trouble is, she doesn’t know where to start when it comes to exercise.

“That just kind of scares me,” she admits. “At Wendell Community Center they have a gym and a weight room. Using the fitness equipment is a little overwhelming. I have no idea what to do. Being able to tackle that and not be afraid to do it is a goal.”

The Lucas Family’s Biggest Challenge:

Felicia knows the kids will have choices to make independently — at school, for example. Will they say no to a candy bar when their friends head to the vending machine?

She says “Making sure everyone is on board and sticks to whatever plan we come up with” will be the family’s biggest challenge. “I’m not with them all the time, so I’m hoping they will still make the right choices.”


Jenny Prater is a single mom who works fulltime as a researcher in the psychology department at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her ex-husband lives out of state, so Jenny feels all the responsibility of parenting.

“It can be stressful,” she says. “Money is always so tight.”

Photo below courtesy of the Prater Family

Here are Jenny’s three goals for the Fit Family Challenge:

•           For the entire family to run a 5K without stopping.

•           Figuring out a budget for healthier groceries.

•           Overcoming the family’s reliance on sweets.

Jenny acknowledges that it will take a new mindset for her family to get on their feet and face some physical challenges.

“As far as physical activity or sports, that doesn’t really happen for us,” she says.

Matthew (11) and Allyson (9) are not involved in sports or any organized activities. Mom gets them out and about, but the activities are often passive.

“We try to do something every weekend, but just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s physically active. We go to the mall, the movies. We go to the pool, and sometimes we go hiking if the weather is good.”

Each child tried soccer years ago, and there was a time when they would play outdoors with the neighborhood kids. But these days, Matthew is inclined to choose video games when he has free time, and Allyson likes to watch music videos on her mom’s phone.

Jenny wants to set a better example, but she knows her own tendencies get in the way. 

“I’ve always been the type of person who avoids sweating at all costs,” she says. “I’d much rather be nice and comfortable on the couch watching TV.”

That leads Jenny to her harshest self-assessment.

“Obviously I have a motivation problem, feeling like the effort is (not) worth it. The stress of things, everything is so hard. No one has ever helped me before,” she laments.

Until a year ago, the Praters were good about eating at home. “But I’ve gotten out of the habit of cooking at home,” Jenny says.

Her fear of spending too much money means she often purchases cheaper foods. “But cheap food is the unhealthy stuff,” she worries.

When they go out, Jenny avoids traditional fast-food restaurants. Instead, they opt for sub sandwiches or a Chinese buffet. She encourages the kids to choose low-sugar drinks. When they eat at home, she tries to choose organic foods, particularly chicken.

She knows that some those choices aren’t ideal. And when they return home, it’s hard to stop the sweet tooth — particularly when chocolate is available.

“The kids prefer ice cream. My son will choose a brownie over anything.”

The Prater Family’s Biggest Challenge:

By slipping into bad habits herself, Jenny worries that the kids might tune her out when she discusses the health benefits of making good decisions.

“It will be overcoming the ‘mom effect.’ As much as I know about health and nutrition, the kids won’t believe me,” she says. “They refuse to do what I suggest. I’m not an expert, but I’ve seen so much.”

Stay tuned next month for an update on how the spotlight families are doing, and be sure to sign up your family today at myfitfamilychallenge.com.

Kurt Dusterberg is a freelance writer who lives in Apex. He is the Carolina Hurricanes correspondent for NHL.com and author of the book, “Journeymen: 24 Bittersweet Tales of Short Major League Sports Careers.”

Categories: Fit Family Challenge, Health