Logically, you want to keep your kids healthy and strong as they grow up. One key component of that? Helping them stay at a healthy weight.
As a parent, you’re tasked with keeping your children on track with developmental milestones. You need to make sure your kids are fueled up to take on each new day, and that they get plenty of sleep. You’re also responsible for sharing the basics about the birds and the bees and why it’s important not to smoke or use drugs.
All of these are important parts of parenting, because they help teach your kids habits that will stick with them as they get older.
But as Americans as a whole gain weight, it’s also important that you teach your children healthy lifestyle habits that will help them stay in a healthy weight range even as adults. Over the past few decades, people in the United States have become less physically active while eating a diet filled with added sugar, excess sodium and saturated fats.
That’s increased the number of Americans who are overweight or obese, which can increase the risk of serious health issues, such as heart disease and cancer.
The good news is—teaching your kids good habits today means they’re more likely to stick with them later. Read on for some tips from Sarah Jane Camper, DO, pediatrician with West Tennessee Medical Group, to help you get them on the right track.
The Parents’ Guide to Helping Kids Maintain a Healthy Weight
You want your kids to be healthy, so what’s the secret? It’s all about the habits. There are three key habits you need to help your kids build in childhood:
Master the Art of the Balanced Plate
No, this isn’t about juggling or balancing plates on top of each other! This is about learning how to eat in a healthy way—in other words, how to fill your plate.
The best way to encourage your kids to choose healthy foods is to model the behavior for them. As a family, you want to ensure that you’re making nutritious food choices the majority of the time.
At meals, half of the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables. On the other side of the plate, half should be filled with lean protein, such as chicken or fish, and half should be filled with a whole grain, such as brown rice.
Meals don’t need to be flavorless to be healthy, either. Flavor the food with a small amount of healthy fat, such as what’s found in olive oil or avocado, along with seasonings that pack in the flavor.
Teach your kids to reach for water instead of calorie-filled and sugar-filled beverages. Serve water or milk rather than juice or soda at meals and with snacks.
Speaking of snacks, don’t vilify them! Make them available, but make them healthy. Keep easy-to-grab options such as fruit or small portions of nuts or plain popcorn on the counter or in the cabinet.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. We’re not talking about a formal workout; this is simply about being active.
That can mean taking part in a sport, swinging on the playground, playing hopscotch, or any other activity that gets the heart beating a little faster.
Even more important than the actual activity? The act of simply not sitting. Kids today (and adults, too) spend way more time sitting than in the past. That has a lot to do with screen time and the ample opportunities to recline or sit and watch or engage with media.
Limit screen time for your kids to no more than two hours per day. Those boundaries may be tested by school requirements to use a computer or tablet, but you should still implement restrictions on how much non-educational time is spent using a device.
Now, turn that extra time into physically active time. Send your child outside to play, or encourage activity inside the house. Better yet, get active as a family. Go for a family walk or bike ride after dinner.
Prioritize Getting Enough Sleep
What does sleep have to do with a healthy weight? A lot, actually. Not getting enough quality sleep is associated with an increased risk of many different health issues, including obesity.
Sleep is especially important for kids as they’re growing and developing. While sleep needs vary by age, most school-aged children need at least nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health.
Not sure how much sleep your kids need? Check out this guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which shares the recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Based on how many hours of sleep your children need, you may need to adjust their bedtimes to ensure they get enough sleep before the time they need to wake up for school.
Another Important Note About a Healthy Weight
While it’s essential to help your kids build good habits and maintain a healthy weight, your approach is important. Put your focus on healthy habits, rather than on weight.
The odds are, you could use that shift in mindset even as an adult. It can be all-too-easy to slip into an unhealthy relationship with weight and body image—so it’s much better to focus on the things you can do to benefit your body rather than the number on the scale. In the long run, when you do that, you’re much more likely to stay at a healthy weight and in good overall health.
That’s a good lesson to teach your kids, too: Keep your eyes on what you can do each day to give your health a boost.