Kids’ Healthy Eating Habits Start at Home

Kids’ Healthy Eating Habits Start at Home

Parents are the perfect resource when it comes to improving diet and activity levels at home. Starting good habits early can have positive long-term effects on kids’ health.

Changing Behaviors
Recently, the AAP released updated guidelines on preventing obesity. These guidelines encourage parents to help change kids' eating habits and levels of activity at home to create a healthy lifestyle that can last a lifetime.

What happens at home has a big effect on what kids eat and their level of activity. The AAP guidelines recommend some practical steps parents can take to help:

  • Keep unhealthy food out of your home. Kids won’t be tempted by sugary and other unhealthy foods if they aren't around. When treats are bought for a special occasion, get them right before the event. Keep them out of sight until the event, and get rid of them right afterward.
  • Put healthy foods front and center. Keeping water, fruits, vegetables and other healthy snacks out in the open will increase the chances that children will choose these healthy options. Kids should be encouraged to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Snoozefest. Children should sleep at least nine hours a night. Those who sleep less are more likely to be overweight or obese. Establish a good bedtime routine to help kids get the sleep they need for their overall health and well-being.
  • Cut screen time. Cut back on the amount of time spent on sedentary activities like sitting in front of the television or computer. Create a house rule that limits screen time to one to two hours a day. More importantly, enforce the rule. Parents need to be good role models and limit their own screen time to no more than two hours per day, too. If your kids see you following your own rules, they’re more likely to do the same. Parents may also want to consider having fewer TVs in the home. And keep electronic devices out of the kitchen and all bedrooms.
  • Fun Together. Have fun as a family while working toward the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity. Schedule active time each day. Bike, hike, swim, do outdoor chores or play in the park as a family. Team sports are another good choice. Choose times when you’re already together and everyone has a lot of energy. Provide toys that encourage movement, like bikes, balls and jump ropes.

In many cases, parents can help change kids’ behavior by being positive role models. And parents don’t have to be perfect role models. Kids can still learn by watching them make healthy choices.

Gather Round for Mealtime
What else can you do? Try a little family togetherness. Family meals are a great time to talk to each other. Research shows that families who eat together tend to eat more nutritious meals. Make eating together a priority. Try to have family meals at least two or three times a week.

But what about those non-stop days that last from sun up till the last soccer practice? Making sure your children eat well doesn’t have to take a lot of time. The best way to help kids eat well is to provide healthy options at every meal and snack. When they fill up on nutritious foods, they’ll have less room for unhealthy options.

Ditch the Drive-thru
Children consume extra, empty calories when they eat fast food. Try these fast, at-home meal ideas Instead of a drive-thru

  • Linger over leftovers. Double the recipe of soups, stews and casseroles and freeze the extras for a fast meal later.
  • Stir-fry a one-pot wonder of vegetables and a lean meat like chicken or shrimp. Use vegetable stock or a small amount of oil for flavor.
  • Blend up a smoothie. All you need is ice, milk or yogurt (fat-free or low-fat), and fruit. Bananas, berries and peaches are good fruits for smoothies.

Snack Attack On The Go
Stock your kitchen with these timesaving, easy options to make snack time a snap:

  • High-fiber, low-sugar cereal
  • Pre-packaged or pre-bagged fruit and veggies and low-fat dips like hummus
  • Dried fruit
  • Low-fat yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese
  • Nuts
  • Baked snack chips
  • Low-fat microwave or air-popped popcorn

Originally published September 17, 2015; Revised 2017