By Cherie Chu, MD DipABLM
Take the time to teach your kids healthy habits now, and you will set them up for success for a lifetime of wellness. It may take a little extra work on the front end, but here is just one reason why it is worth the effort. Studies show that these five habits can help prevent common health issues down the road, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Learn more about the Top 5 Healthy Habits you can teach your kids, followed by ideas to implement them for yourself and your kids.
#1 ESTABLISH HEALTHFUL EATING HABITS
- Teach your baby a variety of flavors and textures as soon as they begin eating solids.
- Incorporate whole and plant-based foods as a foundation to your meals; includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans.
- Choose fruits and vegetables instead of packaged food for snacks.
- Eat together as a family. Talk and make it a social event.
- Teach kids to be mindful when eating. Be present and avoid turning on the TV or looking at your phone during meals.
- Drink water instead of juice.
- Help kids become intuitive eaters, eating to satisfy hunger. Avoid using food as a distraction when bored or as a reward for good behavior.
- Make it fun! Play games like eating all colors of the rainbow to get your child to eat fruits and vegetables. For more fun and Eat the Rainbow tips, visit Dr. Chu's website.
#2 PRIORITIZE SLEEP
- Set a sleep schedule and prioritize bedtime - even if it means leaving an event early.
- Give your child adequate time to sleep. See below for age-specific sleep amounts!
- Set their body clock by spending time outdoors in the daytime and turning off screens 1-2 hours before bed.
- Prioritize your sleep. Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
#3 MOVE OFTEN
- Get your child moving daily. Aim for your child to be physically active for at least 60 minutes (ages 6 and older) or 180 minutes (toddlers and preschoolers) per day. In young children, physical activity is routine play!
- Incorporate various types of physical activities - including aerobic (dancing), bone-strengthening (jumping rope), and muscle-strengthening (monkey bars).
- The best type of exercise is exercise you find enjoyable. Ask your child what they enjoy and make time to do it.
- Go for walks as a family.
- Have your child create a family obstacle course.
- Model exercise by scheduling time for yourself to be active.
- Teach kids breathing exercises so they have a tool they can use when they feel upset.
- Spend time in nature
- Avoid screen time until 18 months, preferably 2 years.
- Schedule routine time for yourself to recharge, even if it is just for 5 minutes to take a quick walk. You will be a better parent for it.
#5 CONNECT WITH LOVED ONES
- Stay connected with friends and family even if you are only able to do so virtually.
- Schedule virtual playdates or lunch dates for your kids and their friends until they can see each other in person again. It helps to choose a recurring time during the week, so both parties make it a priority.
- Make tech-free times a routine for the whole family.
- Family game nights are not only fun but are a great way to connect as a family.
If you are ready for a jumpstart in your family’s wellness, check out Dr. Chu’s FAMILY WELLNESS TOOLKIT at Wellness Pediatrician for more tips and tricks.
Cherie Chu, MD DipABLM, is a board-certified pediatrician and a certified diplomate of lifestyle medicine. She is passionate about helping children learn healthy lifestyle habits because of the immeasurable benefits of doing so in childhood and beyond.
Dr. Chu is the founder of Wellness Pediatrician, an educational website dedicated to wellness in children through lifestyle medicine. She currently practices outpatient general pediatrics in San Diego where she incorporates her knowledge of lifestyle medicine into her daily interactions with her pediatric patients and their families. She is also the mother of twins and credits her children as being her greatest teachers.