Kids’ Healthy Eating Habits Start at Home

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.

Wondering where to start? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers guidelines leaving site icon to help parents take real steps to prevent obesity. These guidelines encourage parents to help change kids' eating habits and levels of activity at home. By doing so, they help create a healthy lifestyle that can last a lifetime.

Change Starts at Home

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 snacks and other unhealthy foods if they aren't around. When your family enjoys treats for a special occasion, buy or make 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 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.
  • Cut screen time. Limit the amount of time kids spend sitting in front of the television or computer. Create a house rule that limits screen time to one or two hours a day. More importantly, enforce the rule. Parents need to be good role models and limit their own screen time, 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. Keep electronic devices out of the kitchen and all bedrooms.
  • Get enough sleep. Children should sleep at least nine hours a night. leaving site icon 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.
  • Try fun group activities. Have fun as a family while working toward the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity. leaving site icon 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. Bikes, balls and jump ropes are all good choices.
Mealtime Is Family Time

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.

What about those non-stop days that last from sun up till the last soccer practice? Eating well doesn’t have to take a lot of time. The best way to help kids fuel up on good foods 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. Instead of hitting the drive-through, try these fast, at-home meal ideas.

  • 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.
  • Soups, stews and casseroles make great leftovers. Double the recipe and freeze the extras for a fast meal later.
  • Whip up a one-pan stir-fry with lots of vegetables and a lean meat like chicken or shrimp. Use vegetable stock or a small amount of oil for flavor.
Grab-and-Go Healthy Snacks

Stock your kitchen with these timesaving, kid-pleasing options to make snack time a snap:

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

Remember, parents can help change kids’ behavior by being positive role models. Kids learn by watching parents make healthy choices.

Sources: Obesity Prevention, AAP Policy Explained, leaving site icon American Academy of Pediatrics, 2019; Children and Sleep, leaving site icon Sleep Foundation, 2021; How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020.

Originally published 9/17/2015; Revised 2017, 2021

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