Creating Healthy Habits for Kids
A major challenge for many families today is instilling values and practices in children that lead to a healthy and active lifestyle. Television, video games, VR, and other forms of electronic stimulation often lure kids away from outdoor physical activity. High-sugar and high-fat snacks, as well as processed foods, are always hard to resist.
However, these factors have led to increasing rates of childhood obesity—which can lead to:
- Risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol
- Bone and joint issues
- Diabetes and prediabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Social and psychological issues such as low self-esteem and depression
- Poor academic performance
So how do you help your kids develop lifelong healthy habits? Here are 10 smart and easy ways:
- Get everyone moving
If your children don’t see you being active, then why would they feel the need to be active? Make time for the whole family to engage in exercise or an outdoor activity together. Take walks, ride bikes, swim, go hiking—and invite your kids’ friends as well.
- Serve up more fun
Getting young kids to eat fruits and vegetables can be a challenge. But no kid can resist a fruit or vegetable that’s presented as an animal or cartoon character. Use your creativity in ‘disguising’ healthy food and making it as fun to look at as it is to eat.
- Plant a garden
Kids are much more likely to eat foods in which they have been directly involved in planting, watering, fertilizing, and harvesting. Gardening involves exercise and also teaches kids to be responsible.
- Let kids be shoppers and chefs
Being part of the meal preparation process gives kids greater respect for food. Let them help you shop for groceries and involve them in the meal prep and cooking.
- Read food labels
Help your children be more aware of the nutritional value of foods by encouraging them to look at food labels. Focus on areas such as grams of sugar or sodium, or amount of trans fats. You can even make a game out of seeing which brands have the lowest amounts of fat or highest offerings of protein per serving when comparing options.
- Wash hands
Start your kids early on hand washing. Guide them to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, when they come in from outside, after playing with animals, and before eating. This reduces the chances of them picking up germs or spreading them to others.
- Keep indoor activities active
If the weather puts a temporary stop to playing outside for kids, be sure indoor options don’t automatically default to watching TV. Play Dance Dance Revolution on Xbox or PlayStation, Twister, or even good ol’ Hide ‘n Seek. If you have room in your home, get a table tennis table.
- Ditch the Clean Plate Club
Encourage your children to eat until they’re full—not until their plate is empty. Children often are more attuned to their body’s appetite signals than adults, and getting them to eat beyond their natural full feeling can lead to continual overeating and weight gain.
- Focus on food variety
We know that kids often have favorite foods that they could eat for every meal—chicken nuggets, burgers, and pizza are the usual suspects—but it’s important to keep meals interesting and exciting. Try establishing an all-veggie night once a week or having a meal in which every component is a different color. Kids will be more inclined to experiment and try new foods if they see you participating in a colorful, healthy meal. By keeping meals fun and unpredictable but still healthy, kids are more likely to be engaged in what they eat and make smarter decisions.
- Make sleep a priority
Proper sleep is critically important to every child’s cognitive and physical growth and development. Establish non-negotiable bedtimes for school nights and reasonable ones for weekends. You can, however, create favorable conditions for sleep by having children take baths before bed, reading them bedtime stories, and/or using a white noise machine.
These are just a few examples of how you can help your children develop healthier daily habits and eating practices that can carry on to later years and continued wellness. You know your children better than anyone else, so test these out and tweak as needed to fit your household best.
Specializes in Pediatrics
Dr. Chin is a native of Jamaica, West Indies. She attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology for her undergraduate studies and received her medical degree at Temple University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in Pediatrics at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Rhode Island and has practiced for the last twenty years in the Atlanta community. She currently works with Morehouse Healthcare at Howell Mill/ Morehouse School of Medicine.
She has a strong passion for serving children and their families. Over the years, she has enjoyed seeing her patients mature physically, spiritually, and mentally, through their continuous interaction in their wellness visits. In addition, she has a special interest in preventing and counseling on childhood obesity and wellness, as well as managing asthma and ADHD.
Learn more about Dr. Chin.