Tips for Healthy Children and Families




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Eating Better

For Children and Families

  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast. It refuels your body and gives you energy for the day.
  • Let kids help plan one meal each week and eat together as often as possible.
  • Eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full.
  • Eat more vegetables and fresh fruits. Aim for a total of 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day.
  • Eat more whole grains (e.g., oats, brown rice, rye, crackers, whole-wheat pasta). Try to eat at least 3 ounces of whole grains every day.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Choose water, low-fat or nonfat milk and low calorie or diet beverages.
  • Serve a variety of foods.

For Parents

  • Reward children with praise rather than with food.
  • Serve food in smaller portions. Do not demand or reward “a clean plate.” Let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry.
  • Read nutrition labels for serving size and calorie information. The information on the labels can help you select foods that best fit into your family’s meal and snack plans.
  • Bake, broil or grill foods to reduce fat. Rather than cooking with butter or vegetable oil, try healthier versions like olive, canola or sunflower oil.
  • Snacks should provide nutrients and energy, which are essential for active, growing children.
  • Do not give your child vitamin supplements unless they are recommended by your doctor.
  • Children imitate their parents, so set a good example by eating healthy foods.
  • Keep a variety of snacks in the house, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, whole-grain cereals and crackers. Try lower calorie or lower fat foods, like baked chips, reduced-sugar cereals or low-fat dressings.

Being More Active

For Children and Families

  • Move more. Try to get between 30 and 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Several 10 to 15 minute sessions of moderate activity each day add up.
  • Include regular physical activity into your daily routine. Walk as a family before or after meals.
  • Limit TV, computer and video game time to a total of one to two hours per day. Encourage physical activity instead.
  • Balance energy calories with activity calories. The energy you get from foods and beverages should equal the calories you burn in activity every day. Read our handout on daily calorie needs for more information.
  • Increase household activities (e.g., walking the dog, dusting, vacuuming, gardening). These activities are good ways to burn calories.
  • Include an activity like hiking or bike riding when you go on vacation.
  • Make playtime with your family more active by shooting hoops or walking to the park.

For Parents

  • Move more. Walking is an easy way to be more active every day.
  • Park the car in a spot farther away from the store or your office and walk.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
  • Use an exercise machine or lift weights while watching television.
  • Walk to do errands.
  • Be a role model for your children. Do something active every day.

How Active Are You?

Moderate Physical Activity Vigorous Activity More Vigorous Activity
Walking Jogging Running
Treading water Swimming laps (light effort) Swimming laps (vigorous effort)
Bicycling (10 mph) Bicycling (12 mph) Bicycling (more than 14 mph)
Dancing Low impact aerobics Step aerobics
Doing yard work/gardening Mowing lawn with hand mower Digging a ditch
Hiking Playing doubles tennis Playing singles tennis
Vacuuming Moving furniture

Playing basketball or soccer

Playing with children Weight lifting In-line skating

Healthy Habits for Life

  • Write down what you eat: how much, when and why. For example, what do you eat when you're stressed out? Learn more about keeping a food diary here.
  • Record your physical activity: how long, how often and how hard do you work out?
  • Eat only at the kitchen table. Don't drive, watch television or talk on the phone while you eat. This helps you focus on how much you are eating, which can prevent overeating.
  • Put out your exercise clothes the night before as a reminder to walk or work out in the morning.
  • Set goals you can achieve. For example, aim for eating more vegetables and fewer high-calorie foods.
  • Don't "up size" your favorite drink – 32 oz. of regular soda has up to 400 calories! Choose water or a diet drink instead.
  • Eat only until you're not hungry and push the plate away. Don't stuff yourself.
  • Eat only because you're hungry, not because you're bored, tired or stressed. Use alternatives to eating when you're not hungry: take a walk, play a game, read a book or call a friend.
  • Do your grocery shopping on a full stomach. This will help you make healthier food choices, rather than grabbing over-processed high-calorie foods, which can be hard to resist when your stomach is empty.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 12/10
Created: 11/05

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