We all know how important it is for our children to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, there seem to be so many obstacles in the way — picky eating habits, busy family schedules, financial constraints and more.
Through the NEW (Nutrition Exercise and Weight Management) Kids Program at Children's Wisconsin, we help teach children and families simple strategies for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including healthy eating choices and exercise. Though we primarily see kids who are at risk for health conditions related to gaining weight too quickly, these strategies are helpful tips for any parents trying to instill healthy habits in their children. And they're easily remembered with a 4-3-2-1-0 number scale.
We use the 4-3-2-1-0 framework to help families understand the five most impactful, evidence-based habits you can do at home to help you and your family live healthier. We see the most success with these habits when families try them together — so as you try them, get the whole family involved!
Eating together is one of the most important things you can do for your family’s health. Family meals help kids do better in school, feel better about themselves and develop better social skills.
Make eating together a priority by planning set days and times on the calendar to eat meals as a family. Gather whoever is at home during mealtimes and eat together in the same room, facing each other at a table (if possible). Remove any distractions (turn off screens, put away phones and tablets) and use this time to catch up with one another as you eat.
Our bodies need energy and nutrition throughout the day. Skipping meals can make kids tired and get in the way of concentrating at school or during activities. It can also be hard to get all the nutrients our bodies need to grow and thrive when we miss a meal.
Aim to have your child eat within 1 hour of waking and every 3 to 4 hours after that. It's okay for kids to have planned snacks if they tend to get hungry between mealtimes, but go for healthy choices like fruit, crackers, cheese, lean meats or nuts.
Screen time can include anything from watching TV, using a computer (not including school work), playing video games, or using smartphones and tablets. Too much screen time can interfere with getting enough physical activity, doing school work and spending time with friends and family.
If your child currently engages in more than two hours of screen time per day, start by cutting back 30 minutes each day. You can help set boundaries by setting time limits on the device or scheduling a family downtime.
Regardless of how much screen time your child is getting, it's important to power screens down at least one hour before bedtime to help promote a restful sleep.
With regular physical activity, kids are more likely to develop a stronger body and mind. Physical activity doesn't need to be overly strenuous — it simply means moving your body in a way that you enjoy. Sometimes physical activity might mean breathing harder and having your heart beat faster, yet other times it might mean making your muscles stronger or stretching and relaxing your body.
Kids are much more likely to be active when adults in their home are active with them. Try finding fun physical activities to do as a family like visiting local parks and signing up for classes and family activities through your local recreation department.
If you or your child aren't very active yet, start slow. Begin with one to two days per week and continue to increase the amount of time or number of days you engage in activity as your body grows stronger.
The goal is to eat nutrient-dense foods, not drink empty calories. Water and white milk are the best choices for daily beverages. Choose drinks with less than 3 grams of sugar per serving (white milk is an exception because it has other important minerals like calcium and vitamin D) and try to avoid sugary drinks like soda, juice (even 100 percent fruit juice), lemonade, sweetened coffees, chocolate milk and sports drinks.
When adopting healthy habits as a family, it's important to focus on one or two small changes at a time. Don't try to take it all on at once. Even one small dietary change can make a big impact on a child's health and development.
If you'd like more resources on how to engage children in healthy eating habits, visit our Healthy Eating, Active Living webpage.