1. Plan ahead and track your progress.
Key strategies for improving eating habits and increasing physical activity are planning ahead and tracking progress. Plan meals and snacks ahead of time and ask for your child’s input. Provide structured choices: Would you like broccoli or salad for your vegetable tonight? Ask your child to create a family dinner and physical activity calendar. Use a chart or graph to keep track of family meals and minutes spent being active (toward the goal of at least 60 minutes a day).
2. Make cooking a family event.
Designate at least one day each week to prepare a family meal. Involve your child with the prep work – from meal planning based on the five MyPlate food groups all the way through clean-up. Spend some quality time with your child while teaching her about healthy eating. Depending on your child’s skill level, try these fun and child-friendly tasks:
- Creating the menu based on MyPlate
- Searching for recipes
- Writing the shopping list
- Cleaning fruits and vegetables
- Measuring and adding ingredients
3. Rethink your drink.
Sugar-sweetened drinks are the top source of added sugar in children’s diets. Encourage your child to drink water instead of sugary drinks when she’s thirsty. Ask your child to guess how many teaspoons of sugar are in her favorite drinks. To build math skills, read the nutrition facts panel and help your child calculate how many teaspoons of sugar are in one serving of her favorite beverage, using the 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon conversion.
4. Chores count!
Chores to do? Involve your child in active chores around the house and make it fun. Indoor chores like sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming can also get your child’s heart pumping. Make it upbeat by cleaning the house to your child’s favorite music playlist. Be sure to count these activities toward your child’s goal of at least 60 minutes each day!
5. Visit a local farmer’s market.
Your local farmer’s market provides an engaging environment for your child to learn where her food comes from and how it’s grown. Start a conversation with a farmer and encourage your child to ask a question: How long does a pumpkin take to grow? What tools do you use to harvest potatoes? Do scarecrows really work? Practice math skills by letting your child estimate the cost of produce based on weight. Walk to the market for even more activity!
6. Choose to reuse.
Water is always convenient, and hydrating often can help children stay focused throughout the day. Using a reusable bottle is an environmentally-friendly and thrifty alternative to single-serve, disposable bottles. Pack a reusable water bottle whenever your child leaves the house to cut down on waste and save money. Take your child grocery shopping and have her write down the prices of her favorite drinks. Ask her to calculate how much money you can save each week by switching to tap water.
7. Grow an herb or vegetable garden.
Want your child to develop a love of gardening? Let healthy habits take root early. Growing and harvesting encourages even the pickiest of eaters to try new vegetables. Low on space? No problem! Grow herbs such as basil or cilantro in an old coffee mug or bowl near a sunny window. Lettuce, chard, and other greens thrive in pots. Start a salad bowl container garden by filling a well-draining pot with potting soil, moistening with water, and planting with your child’s favorite salad greens.
8. Hit the “off” button.
Hitting the “off” button on almost any electronic device is a surefire way for finding more family time for physical activity. Dance indoors, play catch outside, or do yoga after dinner. If your child doesn’t want to miss her favorite show, get up and moving while you watch! Have a contest and count how many jumping jacks she can do during the opening credits, a song or another scene.
9. Volunteer for a park clean-up day.
Enjoy the great outdoors and make friends with your fellow neighbors while sprucing up your community park. Volunteering your family for a park clean-up day is a great way to teach your children principles of civic engagement and environmental conservation – all while being physically active. Learning opportunities abound; volunteers may be invited to pick up and weigh trash, count and recycle water bottles, and weed and plant gardens.
10. Be a food detective.
A healthy meal starts with more vegetables and fruits and smaller portions of protein, grains, and dairy. Create an individualized meal plan for your child based on her age and activity level at choosemyplate.gov. Ask your child to estimate how many ounces of liquid fit in your glasses at home and how many cups of cereal fit in your bowls. If your usual dishes are leading to portion distortion, switch to smaller glasses, bowls and plates to help with portion control.