Today is National Child Health Day! It's a great time to make a few easy changes that can help kids -- and families -- get healthier and stay that way.
Here are five tips for healthy choices you can make today, or any day, to support your family’s best health:
1. Take a walk together.
Walking is the easiest way to get lasting health benefits. Even a short walk around the block gets your circulation going, gives you a breath of fresh air and offers a little shared time for you and your child to talk—which is incredibly important to your child’s overall well-being. If your kids are up for it, add some skipping for fun, or make it a bike-ride instead.
2. Trade screen time for face-to-face time.
Limiting total screen time (including computer, hand-held devices, and television) to an hour or less per day is essential to fighting obesity and building good health. But when it’s time to shut down the screen, it’s good to offer alternatives. Have a plan ready, and offer your kids choices they enjoy. Also, don’t hesitate to get personally involved. Encourage them to play a board game with you, join you for a visit to the playground or play with a favorite toy together. It’s also fine to let them figure it out on their own. Boredom is where creativity begins.
3. Read a book together.
For young children, few things are as delightful as having a parent or caregiver snuggle in to read them a book aloud. Establishing reading time together has a profound impact on children’s health and future learning abilities. It also tells them that they’re important and that it’s meaningful to spend time together. As kids get older, reading side by side continues to be beneficial, and is a great way to relax together.
4. Serve veggies first at mealtime.
Think of it as an experiment. Before dinner, set out a plate of any sliced vegetables – raw carrot sticks, cucumbers, jicama, zucchini, red bell peppers, sugar snap peas or green beans, maybe with some hummus for dipping—and see how many disappear. Kids are often hungry before mealtime, so it’s a great time to offer the healthiest snacks. They also develop a taste for what they eat first when they’re hungry, so be sure to take advantage of that opportunity.
5. Skip the soda.
If there’s one item in your child’s diet to eliminate, it’s sugared soda. Every 12-ounce can of soda has about 40 grams of sugar. That’s about a dozen sugar cubes. Being ready with a tasty alternative is important. Offer your kids bubbly water mixed with a splash of juice or a squeeze of fresh citrus. Teach them how to make their own bubbly lemonade and they’ll enjoy it even more.
Creating healthy habits for your kids may take a little planning, but it can also be spontaneous. Be sure to keep it fun and encouraging. The more kids associate healthy choices with feeling good, the more likely they are to make those choices again and again. And since kids learn so much about choices from their parents, the more involved you are, the better.
Here’s to your health!
Lisa Chamberlain, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, medical director of Stanford's Pediatric Advocacy Program and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine.