Top 10 Key Elements to Raising Healthy Children

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As a pediatrician and expert in childhood obesity, people often ask me: What are key elements to raising healthy children? I was brainstorming and decided to answer that question with a top 10 list:

  1. 1. Enjoy family meals. When children participate in family meal times, they are more likely to eat healthier foods. Routine meals together also give children a sense of stability and belonging. Focus table talk on making children feel loved for who they are as individuals and not if they are eating certain foods or how much. Use meal times as a base camp to nourish each other with love and food. Children can also help with skills such as food preparation, cooking, and cleaning up.
  1. 2. Serve water and white milk only. In my practice, it is evident that sugary drinks are likely the biggest culprit contributing to obesity, cavities, pre-diabetes, and many more health conditions. Even 100% fruit juice is not recommended. Sports drinks, sodas, lemonade, yogurt drinks, chocolate milk, and fruit juices should not be kept in your refrigerator. While these sugary drinks may trickle in at parties or when out at restaurants, keep them out of the house at all times.
  1. 3. Offer a fruit and or vegetable at all meals and snacks.  Add carrots and an apple with meals but do not pressure children to eat them. Pressuring does not work and usually backfires. Refrain from lecturing them on the benefits. Let your child make the decision to eat that apple or broccoli and they will find that they actually enjoy the taste as well as the healthy feeling of eating right.
  1. 4. Control technology/screen time. Technology includes iPads, cell phones, TV, video games, and computers. Keep the use of these electronic devices down to one hour a day at most, or none at all. Keep technology out of bedrooms. Avoid television shows with commercials when possible as well. And there should be a strictly-enforced rule of no technology at the dinner table.
  1. 5. Read to your children every day. Reading helps children develop their vocabulary, and the earlier you start the better. It’s a great idea to begin reading to your child when they are an infant and never stop. Reading is a great opportunity for bonding and it will help children do better in school. Reading before bedtime is a wonderful way to develop a sleeping ritual that allows your child to get the appropriate rest that they need.
  1. 6. Don’t buy or serve processed grains or grains with added sugar. Processed grains include white rice, white bread, bagels, tortillas, crackers, pasta, instant oatmeal, and white flour. While boxed cereal may be convenient, unfortunately about 98% of them are either processed or sweetened, so avoid them. Look for 100% whole grains that are unsweetened when buying breads, pasta, rice, crackers, cereal, rice etc. Quinoa is also a great choice when it comes to whole grains.
  1. 7. Use good psychology when feeding children. The unhealthiest place a parent can be is between a child’s plate and mouth. Feel secure when you serve a healthy meal and try not to take note of every bite they eat and what they do not eat. When you give your child space to make their own choices, the results could surprise you.
  1. 8. Be active as a family. Take walks after dinner, go to parks regularly, ride bikes, swim together, and incorporate activity into holiday customs. There are family gyms that offer childcare so the kids can play while the parents get a workout in. When the weather is bad or cold, indulge in craft time or play some indoor games like Hide and Go Seek and Twister. Most importantly of all, have fun together as a family!
  1. 9. Be a healthy example for your children. Follow the food guidelines above, exercise daily, and manage your own stress. In order to prepare and encourage your child for a healthy future, you must first make sure that you are an example of what you are teaching them. They look up to you and want to mirror your actions, so do what you need to do to make yourself the best you can be. Visualizations are a powerful tool to help get you in the right direction.
  1. 10. Let perfection go. Junk food will make its way into your home at times, but try not to make it a big deal.  Every day will not be the perfect picture of health. Remind yourself and your family how far you have come in your healthy journey together. Instead of worrying about that cake that was devoured yesterday, focus on now and what you can control today.

Dr.-Riba's-Bio

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