What you can do: When kids are very young, you’re in charge of their routine. Make sure your child’s day includes plenty of time — at least 60 minutes — to be active, whether it’s climbing the jungle gym at the park, playing tag in the backyard, or jumping around in the living room. He doesn’t have to get his exercise all at once. Short bursts of activity throughout the day that add up to an hour are just fine.
At meal and snack times, offer him a variety of nutritious choices. Your child — and the whole family — can eat healthier with a few simple steps:
- Cut back on processed and fast foods. They tend to be higher in calories and fat. Instead, fill your child’s plate with fruits and vegetables, and trade white bread, rice, and pasta for their whole-grain versions. They have fiber, which can help your child feel full for longer. If your kid isn’t a fan of these changes at first, don’t give up. Research shows that children are more likely to eat something after they’ve seen it on their plates a few times.
- Don’t serve sugary drinks. Swap soda, juice, and sports drinks for water and skim or low-fat milk.
- Encourage good eating habits. Three meals and two snacks a day can keep your child from getting too hungry, which makes him less likely to overeat.
- Make small changes. Overhauling your family’s diet all at once can leave your child upset or confused. Start with a few changes each week. “Talk with your child about the choices you make,” says Mollie Greves Grow, MD, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Explain that some foods give him more energy to play.