Soon after the holidays ended, our shopping centers quickly shifted from Christmas and New Year’s decor to Valentine’s Day chocolates, hearts, and frills. With these symbols of love surrounding us as we run our errands, now is the perfect time to talk to our kids about the value of loving and taking care of themselves.
For those of us who are lucky enough to have healthy kids, we want to do all we can to keep them healthy and active in the years ahead. One of the most important ways to instill a lifelong commitment to health and wellness is to begin early. As a parent of a young child, you can set an example for smart lifestyle choices that go well beyond a mere New Year’s resolution.
At Pediatrics East, we know that many factors can affect your child’s overall health and well being. As stewards of your child’s emotional and physical health, our staff is here to help you discuss and improve your child’s health for the long run. This Valentine’s Day, let’s discuss the following topics with our kids so they will have healthy hearts for years to come!
Food As Fuel
Establishing a healthy relationship with food from an early age can prevent many heart and health problems as your children grow. By understanding that food becomes energy, your child will learn that healthy foods can help them play longer, learn more, and be more alert all day long.
Unfortunately, many of our children associate their favorite foods and drinks with items that are higher in sugar and fats. Since these foods are often packaged to appeal to kids or are presented to kids as rewards, kids begin to associate “junk” food as their comfort foods.
In a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five school-aged kids are obese. This number has more than tripled since the 1970s, and the major source of the problem is an unbalanced output of energy for the amount of energy (or food) consumed.
Of course, many of our families deal with obesity and know it is on the rise; but busy schedules, picky eaters, and budget constraints often play a larger role in the food that our kids eat and enjoy. So how do you balance all of this, while ensuring your child is staying healthy? Here are a few of our tips that work for many parents:
Follow the “My Plate” Diagram
Although many of us grew up with the “food pyramid” to learn how much we should eat of which foods, the pyramid was not the most practical guide. While it gave the idea of proportions, the pyramid did not show us how to put these proportions into practice.
As many of you know, the updated “My Plate” method gives an actual, on-plate guide of how each type of food should break down. On the plate, you can see that meals should be broken down into fruits, grains, vegetables, protein, and dairy.
Depending on your child’s age and gender, the amount of each food can vary. With a guide like this, meal planning can become a bit more manageable.
Track Progress With A Food Log
Known to be a good practice for those trying to count calories and lose weight, a food log can be just as effective in instructing your child about their food choices and outcomes.
For instance, after a balanced breakfast as your child begins their day, you can take a small moment of reflection over what they ate. It can be as simple as asking how their breakfast made them feel, or what part of their breakfast makes them feel strong and ready to take on the day.
Additionally, a food log can be an incentive for picky eaters to try new things. By writing down what your child finished, and adding a star or smiley face sticker for their good effort, your child will come to have a positive association to trying new foods.
Make Simple Swaps
With obesity on the rise, more parents are looking for simple swaps to increase kids’ fruit and vegetable intake. By adding a fruit puree into a baked good, or spiralizing a root vegetable in place of serving a pasta, you can easily add healthy foods without your child ever knowing!
Wondering how you can do this? Here are some of our favorite recipes:
Cook And Meal Plan Together
Take time out of your schedule to plan meals and make a grocery list for the week. By doing this, you can create healthy meals at home and also keep yourself organized. Also, meal planning with your kids not only makes them feel involved in the process (and more likely to eat what you cook), but it also shows them the responsibility of making a list, going shopping, and preparing a meal.
For older kids, cooking together can often be fun and rewarding. One way to do this is to lend your child a healthy cookbook and ask them to pick a recipe they would like to help make for dinner that week. Under your supervision, they can then get hands-on experience in the kitchen, making them feel confident and more likely to cook for themselves as they get older.
Another tool for meal planning, especially for kids’ lunches, is to purchase a bento box. These boxes ease the burden of knowing what to pack. By filling the portioned sections with healthy foods, lunches become much easier to assemble and can be made ahead of time to reduce stress through the week.
Of course, every child is different; our pediatricians will help you find the ways to feed your child best, whether they need to cut back or if they are lacking key nutrients to grow. If you feel concerned, discuss your child’s eating habits with your doctor today.
Heart Healthy Exercise
While diet is one piece of the healthy lifestyle puzzle, exercise is another huge component. If your child is not exerting energy in a balanced way, your efforts for building a good diet are diminished.
Sometimes, creating room in your schedule for additional exercise can be tough. With many schools reducing time for recess and with more kids staying seated through the day (and into the night for homework), the time for exercise that is simply fun becomes limited. Sports offer a good outlet for kids, but many kids lose interest or feel pressure to perform well in sports. What about exercise that benefits the physical and emotional health of your child?
Here are some of our favorite exercise tips:
Dedicated Family Exercise Time
The family that exercises together stays together, right? By finding a family activity that you and your child can do together, you can create memories, traditions, and quality time for years to come. Dedicate a time, day, and place to establish a routine. For example, go for a walk around your neighborhood each night before dinner.
Or, keep exercise interesting by trying out new places for your favorite activities. Memphis is continuing to offer more spaces to enjoy the great outdoors. With spring just around the corner, now is the time to get ready to explore! Take your family to the Greenline, around the newly expanded lake at Shelby Farms, to the Big River Crossing bridge downtown, to the RiverFit facilities along the Mississippi River, or discover the many parks, museums, and other outdoor spaces together.
Exercise With Games
Many kids unwind with video or computer games. To keep their blood flowing, encourage mini exercise breaks. For instance, have a timer nearby; every 15 minutes, have your kid get up and do jumping jacks, run in place, or dance for one minute! Or offer games that your kids sneak in exercise. Wii bowling or tennis are good options, or dancing video games can do the trick.
If your family enjoys regular game nights, use this opportunity to choose a game that involves more movement, such as getting twisted up with Twister, acting out words with charades or Pictionary, or playing a game of tag or another sport outside.
Much like dietary choices, exercise habits are a lifestyle. By taking time to teach your child about how exercise impacts their health, you are showing him or her how to listen to their body’s needs, and how their body responds to certain activities.
Through exercise, you can create teaching moments about heart rate and blood pressure, and have a greater conversation about heart health. Remind your child that heart health impacts the rest of their body, allowing blood to flow and for other organs to work together.
Loving Your Heart
Valentine’s Day is centered around the idea of love and feelings. While we have noted ways to care for the physical heart of your child, we would be remiss if we did not touch on their emotional health, too.
As your child makes Valentine’s cards for their classmates, they are showing an outward example of friendship to others. Take this time to also ask them about love – what do they love about others? What do they love about themselves? What makes their heart happy?
By making exercise and diet a priority, you can teach your child that self-care is an example of love. If you love your health and love yourself, you can spread more love to others!
Pediatricians For Heart-Healthy, Happy Kids
Pediatrics East staff is your resource for raising kids who are are healthy in mind and body. Your pediatrician is your resource for how to best care for your child. Whether you are implementing new exercise routines for your child, want to supplement their diet with extra nutrients, or need help determining any emotional troubles, your pediatrician is here for you.
To schedule an appointment today, click here. If you are new to the Memphis area or if you are looking for a new pediatrician, meet our doctors today.
We look forward to seeing you and your heart-healthy kids in our offices soon!