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Good habits for a healthier, happier life.

By: Dr. Lisa Bailey-Davis, associate director of Geisinger’s obesity research institute

As a parent, you’re your child’s role model and teacher.

By modeling healthy lifestyle habits — like eating a balanced diet, moving your body and getting adequate rest — your child is more likely to build those positive habits, too.

And the benefits are obvious. Healthy habits help your child maintain a healthy weight, build positive mental health and reduce their risk for future health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Start building healthy habits today

Developing healthy habits when your child is young makes it easier for them to stick with them. But if you haven’t already, or you’re ready to make a change, there’s no better time to start than now.

Try working these habits into your lives — and enjoy the lifelong benefits:

1. Eat colorful fruits and vegetables.

Make eating fun (and healthy) by working in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks, especially those that are dark green, orange, yellow and red.

As a rule of thumb, try to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at meals. Cut up fruits and vegetables also make an easy snack for your child to grab on-the-go.

Whether you choose fresh, canned or frozen — all are healthy choices.

2. Drink water — and limit sugary drinks.

Soda, fruit juice and other sugary drinks are full of empty calories and they’re harmful to your child’s teeth. Instead, encourage them to drink water or fat-free and low-fat dairy products most of the time.

Water too bland? Try adding lemon, lime or cucumber slices to add some refreshing flavor.

3. Enjoy family meals together.

With hectic schedules, it can be hard to sit down and enjoy a meal together every night. But it’s worth the effort. Not only does it give your family some much-needed quality time together, but it can also help you eat more nutritious meals.

Try planning your meals ahead of time and involve your child in menu selection, food shopping and preparation. And focus on establishing a routine for meals with a calm environment — this helps everyone de-stress and eat mindfully.

4. Don’t skip breakfast.

Eating breakfast gives the body the energy it needs to perform at its best. It’s also been shown to help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

When choosing breakfast foods, choose whole foods over processed foods that have extra sugar. Here are some of my favorites:

•    Greek yogurt with strawberries and granola
•    Whole grain toast and nut butter
•    Hard-boiled eggs with whole grain toast and melon 
•    Oatmeal with milk and berries

5. Keep trips to the drive-thru few and far between.

While fast food may be convenient in a pinch, try not to eat it too often. Fast food is packed with sodium, saturated fats and high calories, which can cause weight gain and other health concerns.

If fast food is the only option, try looking for healthier options on the menu. Look for options with lean proteins and vegetables, choose fruits over fries and shy away from those supersized portions.

6. Reward good behavior without food.

Ever offer your child a tasty treat in return for doing something they'd prefer to delay, like cleaning their room? It might seem like a good tradeoff, but it can lead to a habit of eating unhealthy foods as a reward.

Instead, try rewarding your child's good behavior with non-food items, like a new book, toy or play date with a friend. And as a plus, rewarding with non-food items helps establish a healthy relationship with food.

7. Limit screen time.

While technology can enhance our lives with thoughtful use, it’s best to set limits for your child — experts recommend a maximum of just 2 hours per day. And for younger children, those ages 2 to 5, just 1 hour per day.

Instead of screen time, encourage more in-person social interactions (being mindful of COVID-19 precautions), family time, play and exercise.

8. Establish a bedtime routine.

Having a nighttime routine will help your child wind down and get the adequate sleep they need to grow well. Here’s a sample routine: Brush teeth, put on pajamas, turn off televisions and screens, relax and read a book until bedtime. It can be that simple.

Good sleep is essential for everyone, especially your child. School-age children need around 9 to 12 hours of sleep each day, while teens need around 8 to 10 hours.

9. Make physical activity a priority.

Experts recommend that children get at least 1 hour of physical activity each day. Some kids may get this in during recess at school, but if not, try designating time after school for exercise.

Whether it’s going for a walk, riding a bike, playing sports or even dancing in your living room — the focus should be on getting your child moving.

10. Build a positive mindset.

Help your child develop resiliency and healthy self-esteem by praising their good efforts and strengths. And remind them that they’re lovable, capable and important no matter what challenges they face. Good mental health is just as important as physical health.

 

Next steps:

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