But adults are not the only ones who struggle with weight and health issues. Childhood obesity and type II diabetes are increasing at alarming rates, and there are many children who have no idea how great it can feel to be a kid because they are literally dragged down by excess weight.
Aside from the tremendous benefit of improved overall health, being fit has many benefits for kids. Fit kids have more energy and more confidence overall than kids who are at an unhealthy weight. There have even been studies showing that fitter kids perform better academically than kids with poor fitness levels.
As parents, we are responsible for building the foundation for our kids health and wellness. We the have the power, especially when our kids are young, to give our children the gift of good habits that can translate to a longer, happier, healthier life. This is not about crash dieting or shame or singling out the overweight child. This is about establishing a healthy lifestyle for your entire family that will help your kids avoid being one of millions of adults resolving to lose weight thirty years from now.
Here are 15 tips to help get your family on the fitness track:
- First, educate yourself and your child on the basics of health and nutrition.
As a general rule, the healthiest foods are closest to their natural form. The less refinement the better. So, for example, whole wheat bread is better than white bread. Learn what ingredients to avoid (the top two that our family vigilantly avoids are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils and corn syrup). Know that just because a company's marketing department makes something sound healthy doesn't mean it is. For example, "Fruit Snacks" (the gummy fruit-flavored candy that sometimes includes a small percentage of "real fruit juice!", are not real fruit. They are gummy candies made primarily of corn syrup. I could write a whole post on this, and probably will. But for now, please just be aware and do some research if you can.
- Don't be drastic.
Raising a family is a wonderful and rewarding, yet challenging and sometimes exhausting job. Don't make yourself and the whole family miserable by starving them and making drastic changes too quickly. Challenge yourself to incorporate these healthier habits into your routine at a tolerable pace and the odds of sticking to it will be much greater.
- Make sure your kids eat a healthy, balanced breakfast.
Don't let your kids skip breakfast, and don't feed them the sugary cereals that are marketed to kids. Some combination of fruit, whole grains, and protein (some choices: milk, peanut butter, eggs/egg whites, beans) will give your children nutrition, and energy to sustain them through the morning.
- Have your kids drink water instead.
If your kids drink juice, juice-flavored drinks, soft drinks, energy drinks, etc. they are drinking hundreds of unnecessary and unsatisfying calories
- Keep convenient healthy snacks on-hand.
One of the biggest challenges is having healthy snacks on hand. I know how crazy it can be when you're frantically preparing dinner and taking a phone call and your kids are whining about wanting a snack. I know that the foods that are packed with sugar, sodium, carbs and calories are also the most convenient foods to throw your kids' way. So this part requires some planning. Prepare ahead of time some pre-cut veggies with hummus, air-pop some popcorn, pre-mix some nuts and dried fruits (add a few chocolate chips to make it feel extra special).
- Serve healthier foods. Have fun serving dinner in courses, start with salad with light dressing or a broth based soup. (see my previous post The Great Big Secret to Getting Your Kids to Eat Just About Anything).
- Let kids help plan and prepare meals.
Kids love to help with this kind of stuff. Helping you cook will keep them from sitting in front of the TV being bored and looking for a snack. Also, kids feel really proud when they help cook a meal - its a great time to introduce a new healthy dish - kids are more open-minded when they've had a part in its creation.
- Turn off the TV.
This one is pretty obvious. I know that the TV is a cheap and easy babysitter, but if your kid sits there all morning or afternoon watching it, that "babysitter" is stealing your child's health. Turn the TV off and give your kid some other activities to do.
- Make being active easy and irresistible.
If you have a yard equip it with balls, a jump rope and/or a hula hoop. If you don't have a yard or are stuck indoors because of bad weather, get games that encourage activity at home like Wii, Hyperdash, Hullaballoo, Dance Dance revolution. Put a small trampoline in the living room, or if TV is a must, put it in there. Install a pull-up bar in the doorway. My kids can't resist ours.
- Get active as a family.
Kids value family time (even if they don't act like it sometimes). As a parent, your attention is a highly prized incentive. Go for family walks in the evening. Take weekend outings that are active - hiking, snow sports or even just a snowball fight, play tag or touch football in the yard, ride bikes together or shoot some hoops at the local park or gym.
- Get your kids involved in sports.
It's fun, it's exciting, it keeps them moving and prevents boredom. Group sports, individual sports - it doesn't matter. It doesn't have to be a mainstream sport. Let your child choose. Football, judo, badminton, cross-country - it doesn't matter - as long as it is fun and gets them moving.
- Make sure your kids get enough rest.
This one is a biggie. You'd be surprised how much sleep kids need. Here's a tip: just because your child says he's not tired doesn't mean he's not. See here for guidelines on how much sleep your child needs each night. Again, kids depend on us to keep them healthy, so get them to bed!
- Incorporate favorite "junk foods"
If possible, come up with a healthier alternative that is just as yummy. But even if there is no alternative, plan for occasional treats. A 90/10 rule is great - where 90% of what you put in is healthy, with 10% reserved for an extra special treat. Just teach your child to make the calories worthwhile - make sure it is something she really enjoys.
- Model the behavior.
There is no greater influencer in your child's life than you. Your kid wants to be just like you. So you need be a model of good habits.
- Keep it up.
Don't forget that your child's health is at stake. Keep up the great habits. The reward of a healthy family will be so worth it!