Healthy habits last a lifetime, and as a parent, your best tool is you. Here’s how to adopt a family-based approach to help children eat well and stay active.
Stop skimping on sleep
Between early mornings and stimulating nighttime activities, children aren’t getting the sleep they need. This chronic sleep shortage adds up and has been connected to obesity, blood sugar problems and type 2 diabetes.
- Limit light, stimulation and screens well before bedtime. These can suppress melatonin, our sleepy-time hormone.
- Create a calming routine for young children, like bath time followed by a quiet time activity like cuddling or singing lullabies.
- Teach children relaxation and self-soothing techniques, like deep breathing, guided imagery or listening to calming music, which they can continue to use as they grow older.
- Stick to consistent bedtimes and wake-up times during the week and on the weekends to help improve sleep quantity and quality.
Break out the breakfast
Starting your children’s day with breakfast can help them maintain a healthy body weight and balanced blood sugar levels. Regularly skipping this morning meal can dampen mood and energy levels and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Choose whole foods high in fiber and protein to help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes.
- Get ingredients and dishes ready the evening before. Cook steel-cut oats or chop and assemble smoothie ingredients in reusable containers.
- Have grab-and-go breakfast options ready for days when everyone seems to be running late. This might be yogurt and trail mix or a fruit salad.
- Enlist your children’s help in planning and preparing morning meal options.
Eat together to stay healthy together
Regular family mealtimes can help instill healthy eating habits in children and adolescents. Children and teens who often eat with family are more likely to be a healthy weight and eat healthy foods.
- Have healthy snacks on hand. Sliced fruit, almonds and other nuts, yogurt and chopped vegetables with hummus are healthy items to stock up on.
- Involve the whole family. Have kids help out in age-appropriate ways, whether it’s arranging fruit and vegetable platters, making smoothies, measuring and mixing or choosing which meals and snacks to serve.
- Plant a vegetable garden with your kids in the backyard or at a local community garden.
Get active together
Staying physically active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any age. When parents participate, children are six times more likely to be physically active.
- Bike or walk close distances. Whether you and your child are headed to school or a nearby friend’s house, leave the car at home.
- Plan outdoor family activities.
- Take a class together. Look for dance, aerobic or yoga classes for parents and their children.
Building a family health strategy can be challenging at first. Remember to start small, stick to a routine and have fun.