Getting Your Kids to Eat Healthy and Exercise

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With the epidemic of obesity in children and adults, 55 percent of the U.S. population is overweight and 30 percent is obese. Children are being diagnosed with high blood pressure and Type II diabetes (related to lifestyle) more commonly than in the past. If this trend continues, it is estimated that parents will begin to outlive their children. It is more important than ever to create a healthy lifestyle for your family.

I encourage a family approach to a healthy weight for several reasons:

Being a healthy role model is one of the best ways to get kids on board with making healthy choices. Children will follow actions more than words. Healthy role modeling includes developing a work/play balance, making time together as a family and having this time free of distractions. Getting plenty of quality sleep is important in that you will have more energy and be in a better mood when you are well rested. Your children will notice that you are making time for yourself and your health.

Expanding your social support system is another effective way to involve your kids with healthy decision making. You can join a healthy cooking club, join a dance class or take marital arts together, or find a family fun night in your community that involves physical activity or healthy eating. When you share your goals with others, you are three times more likely to achieve that goal.

Avoiding self-criticism and negative comments about food or exercise can prevent your children from criticizing themselves or even food. Statements like “I feel so fat in these jeans” or “that food looks gross” or “I need to skip breakfast because I ate too much last night” can have a negative impact on your children’s perceptions of themselves and of food. It’s important to focus on healthy choices rather than weight and to praise your children when they make good choices instead of lecturing them. Use teachable moments, like when they skipped breakfast and then came home tired and not feeling well.

Getting your children involved with meal planning can increase their creativity and help prevent or reduce picky eating. Your children can go grocery shopping with you and pick a ‘color of the rainbow’ for fruits or vegetables. Or maybe they would like to choose a vegetable that starts with the letter ‘C’. You can pick a day of the week when your child is in charge of the menu for the day. Offer some healthy options, but allow your child to choose which ones to use. Make sure that the recipes are easy to prepare, and offer assistance with measuring items, cutting foods and things that may be time-consuming, since kids have a short attention span.  Colorful and animated kitchen utensils keep it fun in the kitchen. Studies show that children who eat with their family do better in school and with behavior, and all family members choose healthier foods when eating at home.

Planning physical activities together can help keep everyone motivated. This is a good opportunity to let each family member take turns choosing an activity. Planning a hike on a nature trail or riding bikes together or even doing household chores builds up confidence and adds a variety of new skills. Involving each family member in the decision making, instills a sense of worth and responsibility, and your child is much more likely to get involved in other activities as well. Adding a variety of activities reduces the risk of becoming bored with the same activity, and it also works your muscles more since you are using them in different ways.

These are just a few ideas to get your kids on board with healthy eating and exercise. Explore a variety of foods and activities, and find what you love to do, have fun, and enjoy each other.

Cindy Saleeby Goulding, MS, LPC, NCC, CPT, CWC

Author of “Healthy Weight: It’s a Family Affair”

Categories: Healthy Families Expert Advice