As you think about how to approach your family with a plan to eat better, increase physical activity, and reduce screen time, here are some suggestions worth considering:
- Be a good role model. Research shows that children and teens really do listen to their parents and model their behavior. If you eat well and move more, your children are more likely to follow.
- Involve younger children in the decisions. Young children love to try new things, even new foods or activities. Talk to your children about making smart food and physical activity choices. It will be easier if everyone can help support each other to eat well and move more. For example, every weekend have one or more of your children pick one physical activity for the whole family to do. Have your younger child come with you to the grocery store to pick out some healthy foods he or she would like to try. Try fresh fruits in season. Summer is a great time to try peaches and strawberries as snacks.
- Have older children make decisions. Older children might not be as open to you telling them what to do, so tailor your request to the child's age and temperament. For example, for teens who are learning to be more independent, you can explain that you want them to be more active. Then ask them what they want to do, rather than tell them what they should be doing. You also could let them know that you bought some healthier snacks for them to try and tell them you trust them to prepare something healthy when they're hungry.
- Make dietary changes slowly. If your family normally drinks whole milk, try buying two percent low-fat milk and see if they notice a difference. After a few weeks, try reducing the fat content again to one percent low-fat milk. Too drastic a change all at once may upset your family; it's best to introduce new foods gradually.
- Make the new health behavior easy for them. Put a bowl of washed fruit, such as grapes or apples, on the table. It's easy if they can just grab the fruit for a snack without thinking! Cut up broccoli, carrots and celery, and have a low fat dip available.
- Limit foods high in fat and sugar in the house. Use the Nutrition Facts label to find foods lower in calories, fat, and sugar. This will help everyone in the house eat fewer of these foods. Make available plenty of healthy foods for them to choose, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk products.
- Emphasize the benefits. The apparent benefits of making nutritious food choices and increasing physical activity will be different for you and your children. Children probably won't care that a nutritious diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables can help prevent certain diseases. Or, that being physically fit can reduce the risk of heart disease later in life. However, they are likely to care about growing tall and strong, being attractive, or being good at sports. Helping them make connections between their lifestyle choices and benefits that are meaningful to them may help them try new things.
- Create opportunities for active family time together. Plan fun things for your family to do together, such as play in the park, walk through the zoo, tour some local sites, hike, swim, or ride bikes.
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