"I want the best for my children." All parents want their children to succeed in life. The question is how can we help them reach their full potential? Certainly education is a key ingredient for success. Teaching children what good health looks like and "smart" habits to maintain a healthy body is also part of the success story.
Childhood obesity is on the rise - 16.3% of children and adolescents between the ages of two and 19 are obese (1). An unhealthy weight puts children at risk for diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. As parents, we know that illness diminishes the quality of our lives. We can take action and help our children avoid these health issues.
Here are some tips to promote healthy habits:
1. Think your activity: It is recommended that children participate in at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. The 60 minutes can occur throughout the day in many forms. For example, 15 minutes of walking, 30 minutes of swimming, and 15 minutes of playing outside games will give your child 60 minutes of exercise.
2. Think your screen time: The Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit their children's screen time (TV, computer) to 1-2 hours per day. This will help your child become more active as well as develop new interests, e.g. books, board games etc.
3. Think your drinks: Drinking enough fluids is critical for good health. Milk, water, and juice are the recommended beverages of choice. Soda and other calorie laden beverages are unwanted sources of calories. In addition, they rarely provide important nutrients needed for growth. Wean your children off soda by offering soda water mixed with fruit juice or water with lemon.
4. Think your snacks: Make your child's snacks count. Too many snack foods are high in salt, sugar, and fat. Fruit is a wonderful snack. It is sweet and packed full of nutrients that your child needs for growth. Some other options might be veggie sticks, popcorn, pretzels, yogurt, peanut butter and crackers, nuts, and homemade juice pops. Stay away from candy and snack foods high in sugar, salt, and trans-fats.
5. Think your lunches: Children need calcium for the development of healthy bones and teeth. Make milk or soy milk fortified with calcium the beverage of choice for lunch. Instead of potato chips and cookies, offer fruit and veggie sticks. Remember children do not have big appetites. Every calorie counts.
6. Think your vegetables: Are you offering children vegetables at your evening meal? Offering a variety of vegetables throughout the week will provide your child with important nutrients for growth. If your child does not like a particular vegetable, don't give up. It may take up to 7 to 8 exposures before your child accepts a new food.
7. Think your portion sizes: Let your child's tummy be the guide. Start your child with small portions and give them more if he/she requests more. Don't make your children clean their plates. That promotes overeating. When going out to restaurants, share a meal with your child. Usually restaurant portions are big enough to feed 2-3 people. If your child orders a separate dinner, let them take home a "doggie" bag.
Remember the habits that you help your child develop will last a lifetime. Make it a lifetime of good health!
Sources: (1) Institute of Medicine, Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity (September 2009)