Today, nearly one in three American children are overweight or obese. This extra weight can put kids are at risk for diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and numerous other health problems. Parents, however, have the unique opportunity to change these statistics and promote healthy lifestyles in their kids once again. By encouraging — and modeling — a healthy diet, a regular exercise routine and plenty of sleep, you can help your children create a happy, healthy life for themselves.
1. Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand
If your after school snack consists of pizza rolls and cookies, it's time for a change. Cut up some celery, apples and whatever other healthy vegetables and fruits your kids love most. And, when they get hungry midday, offer them up as a snack. Keep some peanut butter or hummus on hand for dipping. You might also keep these pre-made snacks in containers or bags in your refrigerator door for easy access throughout the week. Moreover, keep the cookie jar and any other sweet items tucked away out of sight.
2. Make Them the Chef
Forego fast food and make dinner together instead! Invite your kids into the kitchen and let them help you prepare the evening meal. Make them the head potato peeler or carrot chopper and explain how to make the dish as you go. If you follow a recipe, let them measure out the ingredients and mix them all together. The process of making a meal will teach them about nutrition and the importance of cooking. As they grow older, they may even begin making meals all by themselves.
3. Take Them Grocery Shopping
Another way to promote healthy eating is to bring your kids along to the grocery store. Let them pick out fresh fruits and veggies and avoid the frozen foods aisle. Teach them how to read labels, pointing out the sugar, sodium and fat content on each. Looking over the ingredients in canned and packaged foods is also a good learning opportunity for your little ones. Discuss the importance of natural ingredients and ones you should avoid, like high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors and colors.
4. Limit Screen Time
On average, kids spend seven and a half hours each day staring at a screen. Whether it be a mobile phone, a tablet, or the TV, electronics are replacing playtime. This has promoted an extremely sedentary lifestyle in many children, resulting in obesity, delayed development, behavioral issues and a number of other problems. To minimize these effects, parents should limit their children's screen time to no more than one to two hours per day. And dedicate the rest of the day to unstructured play and other activities like reading, coloring and dancing.
5. Exercise Together
You can also replace the kids' screen time with family exercise. Head to the gym — or make your own at home — and pump some iron together. Or, if your little one isn't too keen on simply standing around lifting heavy stuff, you could sign up for a yoga class or maybe even a Zumba class together. These activities will get you and your child moving around and breaking a sweat. And the best part is it won't even feel like work, just pure fun.
6. Explore the Outdoors
Unstructured, outdoor play is also an important component in promoting a healthy lifestyle. When you take them to a playground or park, you give them space to use their imagination and get some physical exercise. In fact, for every minute a child spends outside, they're 1% less likely to become obese. Make outdoor exercise a family affair and make the most of your time outside. Swing on the playground with your kiddos or choose a hiking trail to explore. You could even bring along bikes, rollerblades or skateboards for some fast-paced fun.
7. Enforce Bedtimes
But a healthy lifestyle isn't just about activity and diet. Children — and adults — also need their rest. And getting enough of it is the key to optimal health. The American Academy of Sleep recommends children three to five years old get 10 to 13 hours of sleep on a regular basis and those ages six to 12 get nine to 12 hours. Meanwhile, teens 13 to 18 years old should get eight to 10. You can help your kids get the sleep they need by setting and enforcing a bedtime each night.
8. Set the Example
Of course, the most effective way to encourage a healthy lifestyle in your kids is to set an example. Whether you realize it or not, your children watch you quite closely. They want to be just like you! Make yourself someone worth emulating by choosing a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and a regular sleep schedule. Once your kids realize that you follow the same guidelines and rules, they'll be more willing to follow in your footsteps. Eventually, a healthy lifestyle will be less of a choice and more of, well, a lifestyle.