Developing Healthy Habits in Toddlers
Obesity in children between the ages of two and five have doubled over the past three decades. And for children over the age of six, there are nine million kids who are considered obese in the United States today. The former Surgeon General Richard Carmona said that today's generation may be the first to be less healthy and have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Those are terrifying thoughts for our kids' futures. To put it in perspective, one in three kids and teens are either overweight or obese.
With all of the fast food restaurants and television commercials and other temptations out there, what can we do to make sure our kids aren't one of those statistics? While the situation is serious, it's not hopeless. Especially if we can start out with the kids as toddlers, we can change their future to be one that is healthy and long.
From the Beginning
It's never too early to start kids on the right path to healthy eating. Make sure their first foods are healthy and natural. It's amazing how many parents feed their one year olds french fries from their fast food meals. Read up on nutrition if you aren't sure what to feed kids and find creative ways to fit it into their meals. Smoothies are one of the most popular ways to get kids to eat their fruit. Casseroles are a great way to sneak in the vegetables.
Here are some tips to promote healthy living in kids:
1. Teach them to recognize when they are full by listening to them when they don't want to eat. Parents often fret because their toddler didn't eat but a couple of bites at dinner. Assuming they are healthy, they will regulate themselves. Offer them different choices but then respect it if they choose not to eat. When they are hungry, they will eat. As they get a little older and are feeding themselves, be careful not to try to force them to eat more than they want. Most of us were raised to "clean our plate". While it's important to not be wasteful, we also have to be careful not to teach them to overeat. This lesson will follow them throughout their life.
2. Teach them to be active. Being active is normal for toddlers but as they get older, they can become sedentary by watching tv or playing video games. Lack of exercise is another cause of kids becoming overweight. They may not exercise in the way we think of exercise but they can do activities that will help them burn calories, like playing on the jungle gym or hide and seek. If we take the time to play with them, it will help them to get more activity in and teach them the importance of getting up and moving.
3. Set a good example. Review your eating and exercise habits. Do you eat several servings of fruits and vegetables a day? Do you try to eat mostly whole grain breads and cereals and limit your sodas? Children learn more from what we do than what we say, especially if the two are not in agreement. If they see a parent who has a healthy approach to food, they will develop that same approach. Toddlers love to eat what they see Mom or Dad eating so you can teach them to try healthy new foods by eating them yourself.
The same goes with exercise. They will watch you run on the treadmill or ride a bike, but they'll also notice if you play games with them and take them for walks. Being active is more than fitting in time at the gym; it's about how we live our lives. Active parents create active kids. Kids who are less apt to be overweight.
You Can Make a Difference
Parents are the greatest influence in a toddler's world and that can work to your advantage if you are providing positive messages to them. We can stop this scary and deadly trend of obesity and raise healthy children, but we have to start when they are babies and toddlers.
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