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First things first, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Research shows students who skip breakfast have shorted attention spans and don’t do as well on test. Make sure your child gets up on time to have a nutritious breakfast either at home or at school. Tip: If he’s having trouble waking up early enough, move his bedtime back.
Another thing to keep in mind is that children will eat whatever is in the house, so shop with that in mind. A good rule of thumb is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store first. The outer aisles are where you’ll usually find fresh produce, healthy dairy products (fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese), and fresh meats, chicken and fish. Fill your cart mostly with those items, and then get what you need from the middle of the store. Planning what you are going to eat, and making a list of ingredients needed before heading out to the grocery store will make it less likely that you will buy extra items that are not on your list. At certain times of the year, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables may be less expensive than fresh. For canned items choose fruit canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables with “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label.
Use smaller plates, bowls, and glasses to help keep portions under control. Get out the measuring cups and see how close your portions are to the recommended serving size. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and the other half with whole grains, lean meat, poultry, seafood, or beans. To complete the meal, add a serving of fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt. Get interesting fruits and vegetables in different colors. Buy mango or peach salsa, and let your child dip in veggie sticks (carrot, celery, pepper, cucumber). Try hummus with those vegetables. There is surely a flavor of humus for everyone to enjoy. Buy popcorn to air pop rather than getting less healthy microwave popcorn. Let your youngster get creative in the kitchen. They can make kababs by threading fruit (grapes, melon chunks) and low-fat cheese cubes onto toothpicks. Put out cookie cutters out for them to cut sandwiches into fun shapes. Try spreading low-fat cream cheese on rice cakes or apple slices, and decorate them with raisins or dried cranberries. Ants on a log is a classic. Take celery and spread a little peanut butter on top and add raisins. Eliminating fruit juice and pop is also a small change that can cut out empty calories with little or no nutrition. A 12 ounce glass of apple juice can contain 10 teaspoons of sugar- the same as in a can of cola. Try to limit juice to a glass a day if they have to have it. Try choosing varieties marked 100% juice and stay away from those labeled “fruit drink” or “fruit cocktail.” The best bets are orange or grapefruit juice since they have more natural vitamin C and less sugar.
Regular physical activity has so many health benefits. Start by doing what exercise you can for at least ten minutes at a time. Children and teens should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity per day, and adults should get 2 hours and 30 minutes per week. You don’t have to hit the gym- take a walk after dinner or play a game of catch or basketball. When children are young, exercise isn’t exercise- it’s just plain fun! Try these simple ideas to add some physical activity to their day- jump rope, hula hoop, play tag, ride a bicycle, try tennis or kickball, play freeze dance- when you stop the music everyone freezes. You can even merge math and fitness and they will still have a great time. For example, say “Do 2 + 2 jumping jacks” or “Do 11 – 2 cartwheels.” A big part of getting more physical activity is limiting hours of screen time. This means TV, computers, and cell phones need to be limited to an hour or less a day. Promote these devices as part of their physical activity plan. You can download a fitness app on your child’s phone so they can start keeping track of their physical activity. Pick up a pedometer and get them excited about keeping track of how many steps they have taken today and keep improving that number. If they are watching TV have them jog in place or do jumping jacks during the commercials. See who can hold plank position or chair squat the longest during commercials. Have them try an exercise video. Use the computer to look up a new exercise or game to try. Physical activity does not have to be weather permitting or seasonal. It just takes some creativity.