Healthy Habits Last a Full Lifetime
Recipe Serves: Every kid and adult in America.
Directions: Mix together healthy food and physical activity. Add plenty of sleep and just a dash of screen time. Serve every day until healthy habits are ingrained.
“Eat your vegetables!”
We are all familiar with this command. We remember hearing it from our parents, or we’ve said it to our children. But day-to-day, convincing our kids to eat healthy foods can be a challenge – especially if they don’t see us doing it. Understanding the ravage of diet-related disease among young children makes it crucial for parents to get involved.
“We may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.” – Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona
It’s an ominous statement. To back it up, consider that the American Heart Association estimates one child in three is now overweight or obese. They face much greater risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type II diabetes and other chronic conditions. They are also more prone to mental and emotional health issues. These include poor self-esteem, negative body image and depression. That’s clearly not what we want for our kids. Let's see how we can transform this recipe for disaster into a recipe for health.
Parents can play a major role in preventing long-term health issues and teaching healthy habits to children. Use the 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go! Program as your guide. This means 5 fruits and veggies, less than 2 hours of screen time, 1 hour or more of physical activity, and 0 sugary drinks per day. One of the most effective ways to teach these healthy habits to your kids is to model them yourself. Actions speak louder than words, especially when you are trying to instill lifelong behaviors in your children. If kids grow up with healthy role models, they are more likely to continue healthy habits into their adult lives.
Before they can even speak, children form preferences based on foods they try at home and caregivers’ attitude towards food. Treating dessert as a reward for finishing a serving of broccoli tells children that vegetables are less valuable than sweets. Giving a child multiple chances to try new foods increases the chances that they will like it. Using verbal praise or high-fives when a child chooses a healthy snack, and avoiding food shaming, also reinforces healthy behavior. Other ways to promote healthy eating include:
- Cook with your kids. When children are included in food preparation and feel proud of their creations, they are more likely to enjoy eating them. Cooking Light, Eating Well, and Super Healthy Kids are great online resources for recipes and tips for kid-friendly, healthy cooking.
- Buy healthy snacks. Pick up carrots, apples, and whole grain cereals for snack time. Leave the chips, candy, and sugar-sweetened beverages at the store.
- Do a recipe makeover. If your child’s favorite meal is delicious but not very nutritious, rethink the recipe to make it healthier. Use low-fat cheese and milk to make mac and cheese that is just as creamy without all the calories. Pizza made with whole-wheat flour and loaded with fresh veggies is healthy and fun for kids to make. You can even sneak veggies into a classic dessert with this Fudgy Chocolate-Spinach Brownies
- Advocate for healthy food at school. If your kids eat any meals at school, find ways to make that food healthier. Organizations like FoodCorps and the National Farm to School Network teach kids about nutrition in schools across the country. You can volunteer at a school garden, donate cooking supplies to teachers, or ask your representatives to support these programs.
Along with healthy eating, kids need to develop other healthy habits that will boost their well-being in the long run. These include plenty of sleep and physical activity, as well as limited screen time. A few minutes of exercise combined with shutting off the TV before bed helps kids fall asleep easier.
As parents, you can practice these healthy habits at home and encourage all your kids’ caregivers to stick with the program :
- Plenty of sleep. Kids need much more sleep per day than adults, from 14 hours for toddlers to 10 hours for school-age kids. The National Sleep Foundation recommends setting a regular and consistent bedtime routine and sleep schedule.
- Get moving! Experts agree that kids need at least 1 hour of physical activity every day. From dancing to playing tag to throwing a ball, the activity can be anything that gets kids moving. Incorporate exercise into your family’s daily routine with evening walks or mini dance parties while doing chores. Check out Let’s Move for more fun ways to get active as a family.
- Shut off the screens. Try to limit screen time to less than 2 hours per day. Choose one or two TV shows per week to watch as a family and make a “no-sitting during commercials” rule. Set aside one night a week for family game night and invite your friends or neighbors to play. Help your kids find after-school hobbies away from screens, like drawing, reading, or playing sports. And, of course, set a good example by cutting down on your own screen use.
The change we want to see is possible. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation notes a “steady stream of encouraging news about childhood obesity rates leveling off or declining.” Let’s move these positive changes into every home and school in America. We need to act like our kids’ lives depend on it – because they do!