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Nine Tips for Parents: How to Grow Healthy Kids
By Jean Lam

Don't want your child to turn into a couch potato? The bad news is that childhood obesity can lead to significant health problems for children and the adults they become. The good news is that as a parent, you can do a lot to influence your child's tastes, habits and health awareness early on. Here are a few tips for helping your child develop healthy eating and exercise habits they're likely to carry with them into adulthood.

Make healthy meals a habit. It's crucial to start kids eating healthy from an early age so they develop a taste for healthy foods. Many families, however, are too busy to cook healthy foods and often resort to less healthy options in the interests of time. To prevent this from happening to you, find easy, quick recipes that rely on healthy, non-processed ingredients and use these as your speedy staples. Buy organic and local foods when you can, and avoid canned, dehydrated, frozen and sugary foods.

Get active together. Developing an interest in physical activity starts early, and if you make exercise fun, you can encourage your kids to develop active interests they are likely to carry with them into adulthood. Find activities the whole family can enjoy-whether they include bike riding, skiing, nature hikes, horseback riding, or games of catch and tag in the back yard.

Demonstrate healthy habits. You can't expect your kids to become healthy, active adults if you spend all day in front of the television. Raising a healthy family starts with improving your own habits. Cultivate an active lifestyle. Always take the stairs instead of elevators and escalators. Park in the farthest parking spot. Go for walks, bike rides, and jogs. Join a gym and develop a taste for healthy snacks. Young children learn by example-and if they see you doing it, they're more likely to do it as well.

Make activity a reward in itself. Let kids play outside for an hour before they have to start their homework-that way they'll be asking for more play time to put their homework off! Offer incentives like a family bike ride, a fun hike, or a ski trip to kids for goals like good grades, finished projects, and completed chores. If kids start to see sports as a reward, they'll want to do more.

Know your kids' interests. Not all kids are star athletes. Some are shy or don't enjoy the competitive environments of team sports, and bad experiences in gym class can turn kids off group sports for life. But all kids enjoy activity of one kind or another. If your child doesn't like organized sports, don't push him to join. Instead, help him find an activity he'll like. Encourage it, offer to buy the equipment, and give him plenty of time to pursue it-whether it's skateboarding, rock climbing, or downhill skiing

Don't stress "exercise." Some kids love to go to the gym and develop an interest in body building from an early age, but this isn't common. Most young kids don't enjoy jogging three miles every day before school or working out in the afternoons. Instead of forcing kids to exercise, help them develop their interests by exploring different activities as a family and encouraging kids to further pursue the ones they like best as they get older.

Know your kids' tastes. When promoting healthy eating, make sure you substitute unhealthy foods with healthy ones your children like. If you try to get your kids to eat foods they dislike because they're healthy, you're fighting a losing battle-not only will kids resist, but they're likely to associate healthy eating with foods they dislike and cultivate unhealthy habits as an adult. Talk to your children about the healthy foods they enjoy. Keep a supply of their favorite fruits on hand for sweet snacks as a replacement for candy and cookies. Make meals that substitute low-fat versions and healthy ingredients for fats and sugars. Work with your child's tastes, not against them.

Limit television access. It's important to make sure your kids don't develop a reliance on television to have fun. Avoid using it as a babysitting tool. Don't put a television in each child's bedroom. Instead, keep a single television in the family room and let each child choose a handful of favorite shows they can watch throughout the week. Limit television viewing time to one hour a night on weekdays and a few hours on weekends.

Keep it positive. Avoid developing negative associations with healthy eating and exercise. Don't criticize your child's weight or nag them to do a physical activity they don't like. Instead, keep physical activity fun and family oriented, demonstrate healthy habits yourself, and let your child choose their favorite activities and encourage their choices. Work with their tastes to design a healthy menu they'll stick to.

Kids develop lifelong habits early on. Bad ones are tough to break, but the right habits can lead to a lifetime of healthy living. From a young age, be sure to keep associations with physical activity positive and allow kids to explore their own interests, whether or not they're related to organized school sports. Let kids take an active role in designing healthy menus and picking healthy snacks you can keep on hand. Most importantly, demonstrate healthy habits in your own life-if you don't practice what you preach, kids will notice. Follow these tips, and your kids are likely to grow into healthy adults.

About the author

Jean Lam is the webmaster of Body Building Resource which provides articles on weight training, nutrition and fitness, body building book and DVDs.

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