By: Jenna Birch
Kids start their lives with wonderfully blank slates. They don’t have years of experience dodging chocolate cravings and morning lethargy that keep them from daily exercise.
“Routines are absolutely essential,” says pediatrician Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson. “What we do now can help our children turn habits into practices that they will do without thinking. These habits will last a lifetime.”
Here are habits your little one can work on — with you leading the charge — that lay the foundation for years of healthy living in the future.
1. Eating Breakfast
Experts harp on this for a reason: Breakfast is the most important meal and gives your children fuel for the day.
Get your kids up early enough to have time to nosh before school.
“Healthy kids eat breakfast regularly and consume more calcium in the form of milk,” says physician nutrition specialist Dr. Melina Jampolis. Choose oatmeal with a glass of milk or whole-grain cereal for a perfect start each morning.
2. Keeping a Sound Diet
Healthy kids reach for the right things when they eat, which means less refined sugar and more fresh, colorful foods.
“Just like adults, kids should be eating more fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy,” says Jampolis. “They should have less fast food; less high-fat, dry, salty snacks; less packaged baked goods and less foods with added sugar.”
3. Listen to That Tummy
While eating, teach your kids to listen to their hunger pangs. If they can learn to be in tune with their tummies, they won’t be tempted to overeat and overindulge.
“A child's job is to eat when hungry and stop when [he or she is] full,” says Swanson. “Parents decide what food is offered. If good choices are provided, and children eat with family and parents who model great eating, the rest will follow.”
4. Brushing Teeth
Most hygiene habits won’t necessarily cause health problems if they’re not followed, according to Swanson, but oral upkeep is absolutely essential.
“Children need to brush with fluoride-containing toothpaste starting at 12 months of age,” Swanson says. “They need to brush twice [per day] and get help until they are in about second grade.”
If you make sure they’re brushing their teeth well until 7 or 8 years old, they’ll follow the routine for life.
5. Getting Check Ups
Children need to see the doctor regularly to make sure they’re developing healthy bodies and to get the appropriate immunizations.
“Go yearly for kids in child care, as well school-age children,” Swanson says.
“The recommendations for immunizations are updated yearly, so check in. Rules for ‘booster’ shots change sometimes, so many families will believe a child is up to date when, in reality, they are not. Further, we now recommend flu shots for every child over 6 months of age, annually. So, come October, each child should be updated.”
Schedule a checkup at the beginning of school every year, and they’ll be good to go.
6. Limiting Screen Time
With everything from TVs to tablets, kids have access to screens nearly 24/7 these days, but healthy kids just don’t sit in front of them constantly.
“Provide them with great interaction and undistracted attention from the very beginning of their life,” Swanson says. “Limit the time they spend in front of screens to less than two hours a day.”
7. Staying Active
Ditch the tech toys and get going. Healthy kids avoid screens by staying active with extracurricular, especially sports.
“Healthy kids are generally more active, and will probably play on sports teams in and out of school, so there is more scheduled, fun physical activity built into their day,” Jampolis says.
Sign them up for tee ball or soccer — keep them as active as you can.