Raising Healthy Children

Kids are eager to learn and to get involved, and everyday tasks such as grocery shopping that may seem mundane to parents can be great learning opportunities. Here are 12 easy ways to teach kids about nutrition and activity and to encourage healthy lifestyle habits. 
Carolyn Land Williams, M.Ed., R.D.

1. Be a role model.  
The best way to teach children healthy habits is to practice healthy habits. Even though you may think your kids are not paying attention, they watch everything that you do and will eventually adopt the behaviors that they see. By eating healthy and being active, you’re sending a powerful message to your children.

2. Go shopping.  
The grocery store is a classroom for all ages! Younger kids can identify colors and practice counting skills in the produce section; older kids can practice reading skills and learn to read labels. Let children pick a new fruit, vegetable, or herb to try. If they’re involved, they will be much more likely to try a new food.

3. Explore new foods.  
The more foods you introduce to children, the greater the variety of foods they will eat as adults. Preparing ethnic dishes offers a great opportunity to try new foods, flavors, and spices, as well as to learn about a new culture. Consider having a theme night, complete with music from that culture. Older kids can research that part of the world and share fun facts at dinner.

4. Plan meals together.  
Part of eating a healthy diet is pairing foods together to get a variety of nutrients. Let older children help plan meals. Challenge your child to help you plan a meal with one whole grain, two vegetables, and three ounces of meat. For younger children, let them help you choose a plate full of colors (red strawberries, green broccoli, yellow corn, and brown chicken).

5. Get cooking.  
Involve your child in the cooking process. Though it does require a little patience and time, cooking with your child offers many opportunities to learn and to bond, as well as to establish a lifelong interest in food and nutrition.

6. Make mealtime a happy time.   
Create a relaxed meal environment by turning off cell phones and televisions. Avoid food fights by never pressuring your child to try something or to clean his plate; simply offer what has been prepared and let him take it or leave it. Discourage negative comments about foods being served.

7. Eat as a family.    
Kids like routines, and regular meals eaten as a family provide needed structure and reassurance. Family meals are also a perfect opportunity to talk about events from the day and to reconnect as a family. Some research has even suggested that children who eat regular family meals are less likely to be overweight. 

8. Start a garden.   
Gardening helps kids understand the full circle of life, teaches responsibility, and provides daily physical activity. If you don’t have a green thumb, start with a pot of herbs, such as rosemary or basil. Your child will enjoy watching them grow, and then picking and cooking with the herbs.  

9. Be active together.      
Going on walks after dinner or bike rides on the weekends allows everyone to get exercise. It also provides family time to catch up and bond.    

10. Take field trips.   
Visit a farmers’ market, talk to the farmers about how they grow food, and let your child pick out fresh fruits and vegetables. Tours of local dairies and farms also make great outings for kids to learn about food and where it comes from.

11. Consider a screen time limit.    
It’s hard to leave video games, computers, and TVs, but these sedentary activities are contributing factors to the growing obesity crisis. As a parent, look closely at how much time your child spends being sedentary versus being active, and consider a time limit such as 60 minutes of screen time per day.   

12. Schedule and plan in advance.      
Just like adults, kids are busy people, so start a family activity calendar. Prior to the start of each week, let each family member pencil in when and how they plan to be physically active.