When I took my toddler to his last check up with his pediatrician, I was in for a surprise. He’s always been a little guy, never quite reaching that first line on the growth chart. This time it was a different story. He jumped from “below the chart” to the 72nd percentile for weight in a matter of months. As far as height goes, he stayed way, way down at the bottom. Technically that puts him in the “at risk for overweight” category (they don’t like to outright say kids are fat).
At his current age this really isn’t a big deal. He has an avid appetite and eats nutritious foods and has a couple other health issues that could have been related to his sudden jump in weight. The important takeaway from this appointment was that even though I had a tiny child, it doesn’t mean I always will. I can’t slack on exercise as he grows into a preschooler, a kindergartner, and beyond.
One of the best ways to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle in kids is to model it for them. Kids love to be little copycats. No age is too young to start incorporating fitness and good nutrition into a child’s life. If they get used to fitness as a part of their daily routine, it won’t seem like a chore or a drag down the road.
Here are 6 easy ways to start eating healthy and getting fit with your kids:
1. Eat more veggies
Fruits tend to be pretty easy for kids. They’re sweet, refreshing, and often need no preparation besides a quick rinse. Veggies can be a little bit harder. Aim to serve at least one vegetable with every meal. If you have a veggie-hater, instead of forcing them to down their greens, try offering options. Prepare two veggies for dinner and ask them which one they’d like — not if they want one. You can always use leftovers for lunch the next day.
2. Take the stairs
We don’t walk as much as we used to. It’s just too easy to hop in the car. When you’re out and about, maximize your energy burn by skipping the elevator and hitting the stairs. Make it a game to see who can get to the top the fastest.
3. Get a better night’s sleep
I’m usually up between 4 and 5 AM. My son is the definition of the phrase “early-riser.” But despite getting up before the crack of dawn, I’m usually not dragging in the morning. (Usually!) Why? Because I go to bed at the same time every night. So does my son. Creating a routine bed time and wake up time helps tune your natural circadian rhythm, meaning you sleep better and you’re more well-rested. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the low-effort ways to help fight obesity. Plus research shows kids that have a consistent bedtime perform better in school.
4. Eat less fast food
It’s hard to beat the convenience of fast food, especially when you’re juggling kids and a busy schedule, but fast food is full of processed junk and usually lacking in nutrients. Try freezing a bunch of meals ahead of time so all you have to do is pop something in the oven or microwave. Pre-packing lunches in reusable containers helps cut down on prep time in the morning and gives your kids a healthy meal at school. If you have to eat fast food, look to see if you can find the nutrition information listed in the restaurant or online to help you choose the best options for you and your kids.
5. Drink more water
So many kids get a majority of their calories from juice and soda. While juice seems innocent because it’s made of fruit, it still contains a whopping amount of sugar that hits your kids’ bloodstream quickly. Instead focus on drinking water, especially between meals. If plain water is too boring, try adding sliced fruit to your bottle or pitcher. Let kids pick what fruit they want in that day’s water so they feel in control and included.
6. Run or walk a race
More and more places are offering race opportunities that are kid-friendly. Some are for charity, some are for fun, and some get pretty crazy — from colored dust and mud, to zombies and Christmas lights. Include your kids in your training, and not only do you get them exercising, you get to spend quality time with them. You don’t have to be fast; you just have to participate!
Remember, showing kids is a much more effective way to get them to do things than telling, yelling, or nagging them to do so. Plus, you’ll reap all the benefits of health and fitness as well. Time to get fit!