Children need a certain amount of calories to grow and develop. But if a child takes in more calories than he or she uses, the body stores these extra calories as fat. In children who are otherwise healthy, weight gain most often happens because a child takes in more calories than he or she uses. Why is it important for my child to learn good eating and exercise habits? Good nutrition and regular physical activity can help your child achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Teach your child good eating and exercise habits when he or she is young. Those good habits will continue to benefit your child as he or she grows into an adult. Severe obesity can cause liver problems and arthritis. A child who is overweight or obese also may be teased or bullied about his or her weight. He or she may feel bad about his or her body, or feel isolated and alone. These feelings can interfere with a child’s ability to learn, make friends, and interact with others.
It is important for parents to role model healthy behavior for their children. Be supportive as your child works to achieve a healthy weight. Use language that describes being healthy and strong. Avoid language that focuses on weight loss, dieting, and achieving a certain size. Most of all, be positive and encouraging. By teaching and encouraging healthy eating habits, you are giving your child important tools for a lifetime of healthy living. You can shape your child’s views on healthy eating by setting a good example. Be a good role model. Choose healthy foods and snacks for yourself. Have healthy snacks (for example, fruits like apples and bananas, and raw vegetables like carrots and celery) readily available in your home. Include plenty of low-fat proteins, vegetables, and whole grains in the meals you make. Be persistent in your efforts to introduce healthy food options. Children are not always open to new things right away.
If you continue to offer healthy choices, you will improve the chances that your child will develop healthy eating habits. Teach your child how to make healthy choices for school lunches. Avoid fast-food dining. If you do eat at a fast-food or sit-down restaurant, choose the healthiest options available. Forget the “clean plate rule.” Let your child stop eating when he or she feels full. How can I encourage my child to be more physically active? As a parent or primary caregiver, you have a lot of influence on your child. Although you may not realize it, what you do affects the choices he or she makes. If your child sees you being physically active on a regular basis, he or she will be more likely to be active, too. Make physical activity part of your family’s normal routine. For example, you might take the dog for a walk together each morning or play basketball before dinner every evening. Find physical activities that you enjoy doing together as a family.
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- Prevents serious health problems that can come with being overweight or obese
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- Be active together as a family
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends that all children participate in physical activity for at least an average of 30-60 minutes a day. The AAFP encourages parents and schools to make physical activity a priority. Prolonged periods of physical inactivity should also be discouraged in both the home and school. Limit your child’s screen time to no more than 1 to 2 hours a day. Screen time includes playing video or computer games, surfing the Internet, texting, and watching TV or DVDs. Set a good example by limiting your own screen time, too. Watch for any changes in your child’s usual eating or exercise habits. For example, does your child seem to be eating out of boredom, for comfort, or in response to other emotions? This is called “emotional eating.” Emotional eating can lead to weight gain. It may also be a sign that your child is struggling to deal with feelings like depression or stress. Pay attention to the warning signs of an eating disorder. These include being overly concerned about calories, having anxiety about body weight, not eating at all, binge eating, or exercising excessively. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are unusual in children, but they can occur. The risk increases as a child grows into a teen and young adult. If you have any concerns about your child’s behavior, be sure to talk to your family doctor. How much should my child be eating? How often should my child be eating? What are the correct portion sizes for my child? How often should my child exercise? My child is a picky eater. How can I get him or her to eat more? My teen says he or she is always hungry. Can that be true?
We keep fingernail polish on her nails because she doesn’t want to bite her polish, and we are praising any sign of nail growth. The joy on her face when she first reported that she had a “white part” of her nails again was priceless. From meal planning to cooking to exercise planning, get everyone involved. Everyone can play a part in their own age appropriate way, and being an active participant in planning allows each family member to feel invested in the healthy habit. Keep a positive attitude as you approach your healthy habits. Rather than saying, “We’ll never get half of our plate to be fruits and vegetables,” say, “I can get fruits and vegetables on each dinner plate” and go from there. At first, you may have three bites of broccoli and a half of a banana on the plate, but the portion sizes of those foods can grow in time. Communicate with your family as you work towards healthier habits. Do you need to revise or set new goals? Also, praise family members for their efforts at healthier living with healthier habits. Find a way to relax!
This can help you with resisting mindless eating or habits that are not healthy. If you and your family have reached a goal or at least made positive strides towards a goal, what can you do to celebrate? Everyone in the family can reach healthy habit success if the desire and willingness to make change is present. And if you are already embracing some or many healthy habits, your role modeling of these habits is helping your child to adopt healthy habits too. Taking small steps towards healthy habits is a way to make big changes become a part of everyday living. With the help of this incredible plate, your kids will learn what a balanced meal looks like. They’ll also learn how to eat a variety of healthy foods. The powerful visuals on this plate do most of the teaching for you. All you have to do is provide the food!