The basic keys to raising healthy kids sound pretty simple: Provide good nutrition and at least an hour of daily physical activity. BY doing those two simple things you reduce your child's risk for obesity, diabetes, and other chronic disease. But what about the host of unhealthy temptations including advertising, peer pressure, and an abundance of junk food in shiny packaging that you're up against day in and day out?
The first and most important step you have to take for your child's health is modeling healthy habits in front of them. Make real food and a healthy lifestyle a family affair. Keep things simple and don't give up when kids get picky. The tips and resources provided below can help keep you on track.
Keep Kids Moving. Once kids are back in school, they are sedentary for the better part of the day. Do all the kids who are diagnosed with ADD really have Attention Deficit Disorder and Hyperactivity or do they just need more exercise? Kids naturally have tons of energy and if we don't give them an outlet for that energy, it's going to show up in other (usually undesirable) ways.
Outside of school, make sure your kids have opportunities to move, stretch, strengthen, and just PLAY! Make time for creative play at the park where children can engage all their major muscle groups and get their beans out. Provide opportunities for trying new sports or creative movement classes. Get the whole family involved with obstacle courses, biking, or hiking. When the weather outside is wet and cold, visit an indoor pool, playscape, climbing gym, or bounce-house facility.
Limit Screen Time. With more schools incorporating digital devices into their classes, it's important to monitor your child's free time on the screen. For younger children, set a daily limit of 60 minutes, and for older children, set a limit of 120 minutes for all media--TV, movies, and games. The World Health Organization recently published a study linking wireless phones to cancer and another expressing concern about the need for more research on the safety of wireless devices around infants and children.
Consider having a "digital-free zone" in your home: one room designated just for reading, games, and music without any headphones. Also, make one day a week (e.g., Sunday) a "device-free day" for all family members. Play games or get physically active, together.
A Nourishing Diet, Not a Food Fight. No matter what their age, kids can be picky eaters. Offer your child choices at meals that are acceptable to you, nutrient-dense, and palatable. Introduce and reintroduce healthy options at all meal and snack times. And don't fight about food...that only creates a negative association with healthy food and makes for unpleasant mealtimes. Sometimes, it really is okay to skip the asparagus and still have dessert.
Once your kids are old enough, have them help you with meal prep. The more they're involved in cooking, the more they'll want to try the food. When it comes to getting kids to try new foods, get creative: Blend veggies into homemade smoothies, serve raw veggies with hummus, or make zucchini-based brownies. Add fresh berries and dark chocolate nibs to a small serving of organic frozen yogurt. For the youngest kids, try renaming foods--steamed broccoli with cheese becomes "Hot-lava-covered trees." Kids' palates change as they age; what they like/don't like at age 3 is likely to be different at 13 and even 23!
Curb the Sweet Tooth. Sugar intake for children is recommended to 3-4 teaspoons a day. Cutting back on soda, candy, and cookies is only the first step. Read labels to identify added sugar that can be hidden in foods including bread, condiments such as ketchup and BBQ sauce, and canned and frozen foods. Make your own frozen treats from fresh, whole fruit, and cut down on packaged foods.
Sleep Well. During sleep, children's bodies generate hormones important to healthy growth and development. A good night of rest allows children to wake energized for the following day. Research has shown that sleep plays a role in maintaining a healthy weight and promoting a positive mood. Try to keep kids on a regular daily sleep-wake routine, especially during the school week.
Model the healthy eating habits and lifestyle you want your child to have whether they are at home or out with friends and that foundation will stay with them the rest of their lives.