So you’ve tweaked your daily habits in the past month to meet your resolutions to be healthier in the New Year—you’re exercising more, eating five or more servings of vegetables a day, going to sleep earlier. Great! Not only are you changing your own life, your healthy habits will be a great example to your kids.
Beyond simply setting a good example, what else can you do to help your children make healthy choices? Based on research, we have some recommendations for easy changes you can make in your children’s routines to set them up for a healthier life.
While your kids may fuss about it, consistently putting fruits and vegetables on the table will help send the message that healthy foods should be eaten regularly.
Try to emphasize a diet that is rich in healthy plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans) and low in animal products. Some easy changes to create healthy eating habits are to:
- Make fruits and vegetables a part of every meal. Put fruit on cereal. Cut up vegetables as a snack.
- Dice vegetables into soups, sauces, even batters as an easy—and hidden—way to add more veggies to meals.
- Keep fruit out where kids can see it, so they’re more likely to reach for it for a snack.
- Keep sugary drinks, like sodas, fruit drinks and energy drinks, to a minimum. Offer your kids water regularly to establish a habit of reaching for the water tap whenever they’re thirsty.
Try to encourage your children to engage in fun, active play every day. Associating physical activity with playing keeps children more engaged and likely to play longer, and also helps them exercise their imaginations.
In addition to daily play, there are some things you can do to create lasting memories and traditions that involve physical activity. While there’s still snow on the ground, you can:
- Build a snowman
- Go sledding
- Turn up the music and dance around the living room
- Bring them to indoor winter swim lessons at the Y!
Once the weather warms up, you might:
- Take the family for a walk or to the park after dinner
- Take a bike ride together on local bike paths or trails
- Bring a basketball to the local park and shoot some hoops, or dribble around the driveway
Both a healthy diet and regular physical activity can help keep kids at a healthy weight, which itself is key in the prevention of cancer and other diseases later in life.
Limiting Screen Time
Too much screen time can take time and attention away from physical activity, and can promote unhealthy eating. Try to limit TV, tablet, computer and other screen time to less than two hours a day.
One way to help children avoid the habit of picking up an electronic device when they’re bored is to keep these devices out of their bedrooms and out of their reach.
Another way is to set a good example yourself—choose one day each week to go TV and tablet-free as a family. Instead, use that time to:
- Play board games
- Read together (pair this with a trip to the local library to let them pick out their own age-appropriate books)
- Cook together, letting your child help you wash vegetables or measure ingredients
- Do a puzzle together
Whatever activity you encourage your child to do, make sure it’s consistent and regular, which makes it something they can expect and look forward to during the week. This makes it more likely to become a lasting habit they’ll continue throughout their lives and eventually with their own children.
Written by: Adetunji T. Toriola, MD, PhD, MPH, is a Washington University assistant professor of surgery and researcher at Siteman Cancer Center. His research focuses on understanding the effects of energy, hormones and inflammation on a person’s risk of developing breast, ovarian, gastrointestinal or other types of cancer.
Photo Credit: Getty Images