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How to Raise Healthy Children: It's a Family Affair

By Joanne Barker
WebMD Feature

Raising healthy children sounds pretty simple: Good nutrition and 60 minutes of physical activity a day protects kids from obesity, diabetes, and a host of chronic diseases later in life.

These days though, health-conscious parents have to compete against any number of unhealthy temptations. "The environment plays a huge role in supporting unhealthy habits," says Tara LaRowe, PhD, assistant scientist in the Department of Family Medicine at University of Wisconsin-Madison.  

As a parent, what can you do? Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, director of wellness coaching at the Cleveland Clinic, gives parents three rules for healthy eating:

  • Make it a family affair.
  • Stay involved.
  • Keep it simple.

And never forget: Parents play a key role in their children’s choices and behaviors.

In this article, Jamieson-Petonic and LaRowe provide nine tips to help busy parents and their children make physical activity and good nutrition a part of the family’s everyday life.  

1. Play Active Games
One hour of physical activity a day may seem like a lot. But those 60 minutes can happen in short bursts throughout the day. Here are some ideas for active things you can do with your child:

  • Play hopscotch.
  • Bounce a balloon in the air.
  • Play tickle monster.
  • Blow bubbles so your child can chase them.
  • Kick a soccer ball or play catch.
  • Go for walks together.

2. Motivate Your Child in Your Own Way
Different parents support their kids’ physical activity in different ways. What matters most is that your kids know how much you value and support their active pursuits.

  • Go on active family outings.
  • Sign your child up for sports, help her get to practice, and cheer for her at games.
  • Make sure your child has the right clothes for the conditions. Kids can play outside in most weather if they are dressed appropriately and drink enough water.

3. Replace Screen Time with Active Time
TV and Web surfing eat up many hours your child could spend being active. Meanwhile, food ads barrage him with images of tempting, unhealthy foods.

  • Pay attention to how much time you and your child spend in front of a screen.  
  • Take the TV and computer out of your child’s room. Keep both in a public area so you can stay on top of how much time your child spends glued to them.
  • Set a daily or weekly TV time limit and stick with it. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no more than 2 hours of TV time a day for kids 2 and older.
  • Plan activities to replace TV watching.

4. Plan for Healthy Meals
If fast food is a staple at your house, you probably know that healthy meals do not magically appear on your table. But healthy food prep does not have to keep you chained to the kitchen.  With a little groundwork, you can plan to:

  • Buy foods that are healthy and convenient.
    • Frozen fruits and vegetables can "health up" a family meal with little effort.
    • A can of low-sodium beans can add protein in about a minute.
  • Prepare meals that take 30 minutes or less on weeknights.  
  • Put aside time on the weekend to make things you can freeze now and eat later.

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