Helping Kids Make Healthy Choices

Healthy lifestyles do not happen overnight. They result from making the right choices in our diet and activity levels. Children have the opportunity to create a strong foundation for a lifetime of health. Good choices today will influence their decisions into adulthood.

Diet and exercise have never been more crucial in the lives of children. Childhood obesity has hit epidemic proportions. Obesity carries increased risk for disease, including type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and bone and joint disorder. There are also serious emotional issues that result from unhealthy weight, as our society becomes increasingly image-conscious. Healthy eating and regular exercise help reduce the risk of obesity.

Encourage healthy food choices

The easiest step in tackling the threat of obesity is to incorporate healthy diets in your family. Good eating benefits parents and children alike, and can provide a way for families to connect and unplug from their stressful days. A healthy breakfast with the whole family in the morning sets the day off on a positive start, while discussing the day’s events at dinner is a time-honored way to encourage sharing and communication.

The reason many turn to unhealthy foods is due to convenience and the perceived expense and trouble of healthy cooking. Although a healthy diet requires more effort than picking up takeout, it’s easier than most think. And while high-end organic groceries may exceed your grocery budget, most healthy foods are budget-friendly. Simple choices, such as avoiding added sugar, mean spending less at the grocery store.

You can also buy a few inexpensive gadgets to help your family make healthy choices and save money in the long run. For example, bagged popcorn isn’t the healthiest snack option, but by picking up a popper that fits in the microwave and makes portion-controlled servings of plain kernels, you can enjoy a guilt-free snack (don’t forget to top it off with homemade seasoning!). Similarly, have pizza supplies on hand to make your own. A pizza baking stone will give you crispy crust in your own oven, and you’ll be in control of everything that goes on it. Remember, calorie for calorie, fast food is a rip-off. Replacing convenience meals with healthy nutrition is easy once you adopt a plan.

Planning a healthy week of food

Each week, discuss the upcoming schedule and what foods your children would like to try. If, like many families, your schedule is packed with activities, consider planning and preparing meals over the weekend. Save kitchen time by cooking several meals at once, portioning them out into freeze-proof containers. Get the kids to help you, too. Make extra so you can have some for work lunches to really stretch your food dollar.

Add vitamins at every turn

If your kids like spaghetti and meatballs, make less pasta and bulk up the sauce with veggies. Add sauteed spinach or kale to meatballs for stealthy servings of greens -- a trick that can be added to stews and rice dishes as well. Experiment with different vegetables, and focus on them as the star of the plate, not a weak sidekick. Some ideas for cheap and delicious vegetable dishes include:
  • Roasted carrot “fries” -- Cut carrots in long strips, toss in olive oil and garlic, and roast in the oven until nicely browned.
  • Cauliflower “rice” -- Mince a whole head of cauliflower and use the crumbled pieces to make mock rice grains. A quick sautee is all that is needed to bring the dish to the table.
  • Mashed butternut squash -- Replace butter and cream with a splash of vegetable stock and pureed roasted onion or shallot.
  • Stir-fried brussels sprouts -- Instead of steaming or roasting them whole, shave the sprouts into a slaw, then quick-fry them in a small amount of oil. Season and serve as a bright-green superfood side dish.
Work off some calories together

Encourage family exercise after eating. Go for a walk, a bike ride, or a simple jog. Play sports as a family, such as a game of basketball or doubles tennis. By adding exercise and the outdoors, you will establish good habits that will increase brain health, too.

Healthy family choices will influence your children for life. Help them, and their future children, by setting a good example today.

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