The rate of childhood obesity in the United States has skyrocketed over the last decade. More than 3 million kids under the age of 18 — that’s one in five — are overweight or obese. This isn’t just a cause for caution in childhood, but it is an alarming risk for health issues as an adult as well. Childhood obesity means an increased chance of being obese in adulthood, along with a slew of health concerns in the here and now, like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Encouraging your child to make healthy food choices will prevent them from becoming a statistic. In our fast-paced, fast-food world, we’re bombarded by countless unhealthy eating options. Here are a few ways to help empower your kids to make healthier choices when it comes to food, exercise, and refusing drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.

Plan Ahead

From sunup to sundown, both kids and parents are facing packed schedules. It’s no wonder we often choose convenience over nutrition when it’s time to enjoy a meal. We can teach our kids healthy eating habits while also teaching time management by getting the entire family to plan ahead. Toss out chips and candy and make snack packets ahead of time with fruits and vegetables, like grapes with cheese and crackers. 

As a parent, you can only do so much when your kids are out on their own. Planning ahead isn’t just for meals; it’s to help kids make healthy choices when they are faced with challenging social situations as well. Have practice conversations with your kids on ways they can smoothly and coolly say no to drugs and alcohol at school or parties. The more prepared they are, the more comfortable they will be with stepping away from peer pressure to try smoking or drinking.

Create a Budget

While organic fruits, vegetables, and meats do cost more, eating healthy doesn’t have to break the bank. With a little planning, you can fit healthy foods into your shopping budget.

Here are a few ways to eat healthy on a budget:

  • Grow your own fruits and vegetables with a backyard garden.
  • Purchase fruits, vegetables and organic meats for less at your local farmers market.
  • Start doing “Meatless Mondays,” which not only let you eat healthier by exploring vegetarian options but also save money by cutting out meat.
  • Take advantage of sales and specials in one or even several stores.

By choosing fruits and vegetables that are in season, you’re not only saving money, but you’re also teaching your kids an important lesson in sustainability. Purchasing blueberries when they are in season is much less taxing on your wallet — and on the environment — than purchasing ones that have been imported.

Focus on Portion Control

How much you eat can influence how much your kids eat, and consuming large quantities of healthy food isn’t necessarily a healthy choice. Set an example for your children by controlling your food portions. A kitchen scale can come in handy for this by accurately weighing your food. Many modern scales also include useful features, such as a splash guard for spills and a low-battery indicator to prevent inaccurate readings. 

Don’t Rule Out Multivitamins

Although you can try to keep your child’s diet rich in nutrients and vitamins, sometimes this strategy doesn’t always unfold as you’d planned. So, if you believe that your son or daughter is falling short of his or her nutritional goals, don’t hesitate to introduce them to a multivitamin. This is especially true if your child has a problem digesting dairy products; a good multivitamin can help them get the nutrients they might not otherwise receive.

Set Family Goals

Eating healthy shouldn’t be a “do as I say, not as I do” lesson. If you want your kids to exercise and eat healthier, you have to exercise and eat healthier. One way to achieve that is to work toward communal goals, like replacing two dinners with salads each week, picking out healthy recipes together, and exercising as a family.

Kids are often motivated by games, so you can make eating healthy fun by:

  • Choosing a letter for the week and eating healthy foods that start with that letter.
  • Going for a run and seeing who can sprint the fastest.
  • Planning a special route for a weekend bike ride.
  • Visiting a pick-your-own farm and having a friendly competition of who can get the most fruits or vegetables, or best variety.
  • Planning meals with a virtual meal planning game.
  • Making a game of eating five fruits and vegetables a day.

Exercise can help both you and your children with improved confidence. Motivating your children to make healthy eating and exercise choices isn’t just a lifestyle change for them, but also for you. When you get the whole family involved, you encourage and support each other in ways that can last for years — or even longer. 

While you’re at it, you can set a good example by making appointments with your family dentist — and then actually sticking to those appointments! Teach your children the importance of getting checkups, and explain that healthy eating habits will help prevent cavities and tooth decay, both of which are associated with unhealthy foods. If you don’t have a dentist, you can use online resources and tools to find one in your area.

Choosing healthier options teaches more than just nutrition; it teaches kids how to make decisions that prioritize long-term benefits over instant gratification. In a world where processed food is often more accessible than healthy foods, teaching them to make better choices now will empower them to make better choices for the rest of their lives.

by guest writer Emily Graham

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