Creating Healthier Habits for Kids

Tuesday, April 7 2020 11:00 AM
By Katlyn Hartford

Chicken nuggets. French fries. Mac n’ cheese. These “American staples” are seen on almost every children's menu around the country, appeasing picky eaters and young foodies alike. While tasty, these delicacies may be doing our children more harm than good.

THE FACTS ABOUT CHILDHOOD OBESITY IN AMERICA

You’re likely aware that the United States has a childhood obesity problem. According to the CDC, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6 – 19) is obese, and the percentage of children with obesity in the U.S. has more than tripled since the 1970s. Kids who are obese are at a higher risk of being obese as adults, making them more susceptible to four of the top 10 fatal diseases: heart disease, strokes, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

The impacts aren’t just limited to the long-term, but kids who are obese are bullied and teased more often than their normal-weight peers, and more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem. To make matters worse, statistics show that only one in three children are physically active every day and children spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THE HEALTH PROBLEMS FACING OUR YOUTH?

Here are some recommended nutrition habits for kids and some tips that parents can use to prevent childhood obesity and keep their kids healthy.

HEALTHY KIDS START WITH HEALTHY HABITS

The Washington Post reported that the junk food habit - and other poor nutritional choices - start in the toddler years. By their first birthday, many kids are seeing 40 percent of their diets filled with things like brownies, cookies, crackers, and other salty snacks. By the time they are two, babies are consuming more french fries than vegetables. Americans toddlers are trading mashed green beans for mashed potatoes.

Best way to reverse this trend? Adopt healthy habits as a family instead.

If the parents are still practicing bad habits, you’re not going to have much luck instilling better habits in your children. We recommend the following habits:

1. ADOPT AN OVERALL HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE

Are you thinking to yourself, “well thanks, that’s not vague or anything!” That’s the point. This habit is supposed to be defined by your own standards. Make choices that will lead you to better health that is sustainable for everyone in your family.Tips: Try one new vegetable a week as a family. Prepare vegetables in different ways and involve your kids as much as possible to help them build familiarity with them. You may just find some new options to keep dinners fresh and your kids enthusiastic about new foods! 

Still have a veggie-hater on your hands? Try gardening with your kiddos. Multiple studies show that children who grow their own food – and all the work of planting, caring for, and harvesting it – are more likely to eat (and enjoy!) fresh fruits and vegetables.

Another easy switch is to cut the fizzy cavity-causing culprit: soda. Not only are they empty calories, but they are bad for their teeth. A single can of Coca-Cola has 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar!

 

2. SAVE 60 MINUTES A DAY FOR PLAY

You heard us right - kids spend an average of seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen. Shave off time in front of the TV and replace it with a trip to the park, basketball in the driveway, biking around the neighborhood… whatever gets your kids moving. Kids don’t need to be going to the gym and lifting weights or using exercise machines to maintain a healthy weight. Instead, the focus should be on fun activities that kids enjoy! Ride a bike, toss a ball, go swimming, play on the playground, try indoor rock climbing, or participate in a volleyball or basketball camp.  As long as it’s active and fun, you are more likely to help your child become active for life.

Genesis offers a new program in all our major markets called Mighty Camp. Find out if there is a camp near you!

 

3. BE PREPARED

Take the boy scout motto to heart and plan out snacks for the week so your kiddos have something healthy to grab from the fridge instead of high-calorie treats. Cut veggies to dip in ranch. Have a stock of fresh fruit on the counter. Invest in granola bars (but watch the sugar intake and try to keep them at 6 grams or less!)

Speaking of snacks, you should also have control over pre-dinner snack options. Kids can easily ruin their dinners by eating too much junk food prior to mealtime. Don’t deprive your kids of food if they are hungry, but give them options that won’t spoil the dinner you’ve slaved away making. This is a great time to squeeze in extra vegetables by offering them pre-dinner veggies and hummus to munch on.

 

4. KEEP A SCHEDULE

We love brunch too, but irregular weekend and summer eating can lead to overeating. During the school year, kids are incredibly consistent. Breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner - all at the same time every day. This regularity is absentfrom lots of families during the weekend or summer. Kids will sleep in and miss breakfast, then all of a sudden, they’re starving at 2pm and their whole day is messed up. We’ve all tried grocery shopping on an empty stomach and wound up purchasing goodies that we wouldn’t otherwise want if we were full. Kids experience a similar problem. When kids get over hungry, they will reach for anything that is quick and easy – often snack foods. Encourage your kids to sit down for breakfast and lunch rather than letting them graze all day or allowing them to get over hungry.

 

5. BE THE GATEKEEPER

It’s simple. If you don’t want your kid drinking soda, don’t buy soda. If you don’t want your kids eating chips, don’t buy chips. Don’t feel like you must restrict your children from eating chips or ice cream, but make it known that it is a once-in-awhile treat and not a regular thing. The same advice extends to family gatherings or social situations; don’t let others dictate how you should be feeding your children.

 

6. EAT DINNER TOGETHER

Maybe your kiddo hates broccoli, but seeing dad eat broccoli at dinnertime is going to make him more willing to try the leafy vegetable. When you all sit down to eat together, it will help reinforce standard norms like always having a vegetable with dinner. Even if your kid doesn’t like the veggie that night and refuses to eat it, that’s ok!  Being a good role model at the dinner table will provide the reinforcement that may help even the pickiest of eaters try new foods eventually.

Plus, dinnertime is a good time to check in with your kids. Studies show that kids do better when parents eat dinner together. Kids are also more willing to talk at night. If they are sufferingfrom a bully at school or feeling insecure about themselves, they are going to be more open to talking about it at nighttime.

 

7. GET RID OF THE CLEAN PLATE CLUB

Clean plate club teaches kids to overeat and ignore hunger cues. Kids naturally have a better understanding of hunger than adults, and they should be encouraged to stop eating when they’re full, not when the plate is empty. Even worse, children are oftentimes rewarded with even more food (dessert) if they eat everything. You’ve heard the saying: you’re not a dog, don’t reward yourself with food. The same goesfor your kids.

 

8. KEEP BEDTIMES

The late-night munchies are real, and they don’t just impact adults. When you stay up late, your body will crave food. Research even shows that sleep deprivation makes the brain more sensitive to the rewarding properties of food which makes it easier to eat tempting foods in large quantities. To combat this, make sure you and your kiddos are getting enough sleep each night and following a regular bedtime routine.

 

These 8 tips will help you ensure that your children live a healthy lifestyle. We want to give you all the tips and tricks you need to help! Want to learn more? Stay-tuned for more healthy habits for kids!

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