Raising healthy kids sounds pretty simple: Provide good nutrition and 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Do that, and you'll reduce your child's risk for obesity, diabetes, and other chronic disease. But you're up against a host of unhealthy temptations including advertising, peer pressure, and an abundance of junk food in shiny packaging.
The first and most important step you have to take for your child's health is modeling healthy habits in front of them. Make a healthy lifestyle a family affair. Keep things simple. And don't give up when kids get picky. The tips and resources provided below will keep you on track.
KEEP KIDS IN MOTION. Once kids return to school, they are sedentary for the better part of the day. Outside of school, make sure your kids have opportunities to stretch, strengthen, and build endurance for 60 minutes daily. Make time for creative play at the park where children can engage all the major muscle groups. Provide opportunities for trying new sports or creative movement classes. Get the whole family involved with obstacle courses, biking, or hiking. When the weather outside is frightful, visit an indoor pool, playscape, climbing gym, or bounce-house facility.
LIMIT SCREEN TIME. With more schools incorporating digital devices into curricula, it's important to monitor your child's free time on the screen. For younger children, set a daily limit of 60 minutes, and for older children, set a limit of 120 minutes for all media- TV, movies, and games.
Consider having a "digital-free zone" in your home: one room designated just for reading, games, and music sans the headphones. Also, make one day a week (e.g., Sunday) a "device-free day" for all family members. Play games or get physically active, together.
A BALANCED DIET, NOT A FOOD FIGHT. No matter their age, kids can be picky eaters. Offer your child choices at meals that are acceptable to you, health promoting, and palatable. Model the healthy eating habits you want your child to have whether they are at home or out with friends.
When it comes to getting kids to try new foods, get creative: Blend veggies into homemade smoothies. Serve raw veggies with hummus. Make zucchini-based brownies. Add fresh berries and dark chocolate nibs to a small serving of frozen yogurt. For the youngest kids, try renaming foods- steamed broccoli with cheese becomes "Hot-lava-covered trees." Kids' palates change as they age; what they like or don't like at age 3 is likely to be different at 13 and even 23!
Introduce and reintroduce healthy selections at all meal and snack times. And don't fight about food... that only creates a lousy mood for everyone at mealtimes. Sometimes, it really is okay to skip the asparagus and still have dessert.
TAME THE SWEET TOOTH. Sugar intake for children is recommended to 3-4 teaspoons a day. Cutting back on soda, candy, and cookies is only the first step. Read labels to identify added sugar that can be hidden in foods including bread, condiments such as ketchup, and canned and frozen foods. Make your own frozen treats from fresh fruit, and cut down on packaged foods.
SLEEP WELL. During sleep, children's bodies generate hormones important to healthy growth and development. A good night of rest allows children to wake energized for the following day. Research has shown that sleep plays a role in maintaining a healthy weight and promoting a positive mood. Try to keep kids to a daily sleep-wake routine, especially during the school week.
While fresh, whole forms of produce are often best for our bodies, there are times when you might not be able to chow down on mixed veggies. For example, during times of illness or stress, appetite and digestive patterns can change, rendering our bodies less efficient at digesting and absorbing nutrients. That makes juicing an ideal way to nourish your body with the important nutrients found in nature's bounty.
Juicing extracts the juice from fresh fruits or vegetables. The resulting liquid contains most of the vitamins, minerals, and plant chemicals (phytonutrients) found in the whole fruit. However, whole fruits and vegetables also have healthy fiber, which can be lost in the process of liquefying, especially if you remove the skins from fruits and vegetables.
Juicing can provide a healthy quick fix for busy mornings or eating on the run. When it comes to kids, juicing can be a fun and tasty way to get them to eat foods they tend to push off the plate. For all ages, juicing is an alternative to taking a multivitamin, provided there is variety in your selection of fruits and vegetables. As always, try to use organic products.
You can find many juicing recipes online and in books. Or, experiment with mixing up your own combinations of fruits and vegetables to suit your taste.
Many juicing recipes use only fruits and/or recommend adding additional forms of sugar- be it honey or agave. It may be best to first taste your juice for sweetness and avoid any extra sweeteners.
Many prepared juices and juice smoothies may contain more sugar and calories than you realize; these extra calories can contribute to weight gain. Read labels.
RECIPE: GREEN "SUPER HERO" JUICE
If you are having trouble getting your kids to even look at a glass of green juice (never mind drinking it), what you call it can make all the difference in the world. A few examples: Ninja Turtle Power Juice, Green Lantern Super Juice, or use the name of any green-colored character that happens to be your child’s favorite. You can also freeze juice as ice pops.
- 5 cups organic spinach
- 1 bunch organic kale (~8 stalks)
- 6 medium organic carrots
- 1 organic apples
- 1 organic lemon (peeled)
- 3 slices of organic golden honeydew (could substitute cantaloupe or pineapple chunks)
Rinse all produce, even if using organic items. Use a juicer to juice all the ingredients. Yields 42 oz.
PINK GLOW JUICE
The name might tickle little girls pink, but for boys, renaming this one Red Rocket Fuel is sure to get them fired up!
- 10 medium-sized organic oranges, segmented
- 8 medium-sized organic carrots, roughly chopped
- 1 medium-sized organic beetroot, roughly chopped
- 15 organic strawberries (seasonal)
- 1 cup crushed ice for serving
Combine all the ingredients together and juice. Place ¼ cup of ice in 4 individual glasses and pour equal quantities of the juice over it. Serve immediately.
VITAMIN & MINERAL SUPPLEMENT TIPS FOR CHILDREN
Ideally, kids acquire all the nutritional fuel they need from a healthy, balanced, organic, and GMO-free diet. But even with such a diet, there can still be nutrient deficiencies due to exposure to environmental toxins, illness, or poor health habits and lifestyle choices. Or, if your child is following a special diet or is vegan, they may be missing essential nutrients that come from a more varied diet.
Just like adults, children can benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements. However, children’s metabolism and their immune, digestive, and central nervous systems are still maturing, so the effects and side effects of supplements can differ from those seen in adults. This is especially true for infants and young children. When considering nutritional supplements for youngsters, it’s important to seek a trusted source to increase the likelihood that the product has been properly formulated, labeled, and has gone through quality assurance testing. Before giving your children supplements, seek a qualified health practitioner to evaluate your child and test for any vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
A BASIC SUPPLEMENT REGIMEN FOR CHILDREN INCLUDES
MULTIVITAMIN: Look for one derived from whole foods, or if that is not available, a standard formulation. Check labels to be sure the product is free from fillers, toxins, and added sugar.
MULTI-MINERAL: A good quality multi-mineral includes an array of trace minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and calcium.
OMEGA 3s: Look for omega-3 fish oil supplements that have been independently tested for heavy metals and PCB (a man-made manufacturing substance and known cancer-causing agent banned in 1979 that may still be present in some manufacturing processes).
PROBIOTICS: Ideally contain 10 billion, multi-strand organisms from a reputable source.
VITAMIN D: Current guidelines suggest 600 IU; test levels first.
Based on individual health needs, there may be times when a specific supplement regimen or higher amounts of a supplement may be needed- a decision best made with your holistic practitioner.
KID-SAFE HERBALS FOR HEALTH
Herbs not only enhance the flavor of foods, they provide a gentle, powerful, and natural approach to wellness. There are many kid-safe herbs that can be used as a tonic to support overall health, to support immune function, and to soothe common complaints such as a tummy ache or sore throat. Herbal remedies for children are commonly prepared as tinctures, infusions, or teas.
A tincture is a liquid preparation of an herbal extract (the medicinal parts of the herb). Tinctures are usually administered by mouth. For children, be sure the tincture is not prepared in alcohol. Look for tinctures extracted in vegetable glycerine or apple cider vinegar- these will be sweet and safe for kids.
Infusions, while prepared similarly to tea, do not contain leaves from the tea plant Camellia sinensis (e.g., black, white, and green tea). Infusions are prepared from the delicate leaves and flowers of herbs. A steeping process extracts the beneficial components of the herb: Place the plant parts in a jar and cover them with boiling water. Allow the liquid to sit for as long as you'd like, unless otherwise instructed. The longer the steeping process, the more potent the infusion will be. Infusions can be added to hot or iced beverages, and in cooking.
Herbal teas are made using water and are the easiest to prepare- but tend to be the least concentrated way of using herbs. You often have to drink larger quantities to achieve the same medicinal benefit than if you were using a tincture or infusion. But don't discount its health benefits: An herbal tea is a real delight when you are nursing a cold. Check labels when buying packaged herbal teas- some will contain Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) and may contain caffeine.
A wide variety of recipes exist for herbal beverages. Follow herb preparation instructions carefully- especially boiling time and steeping time. Otherwise, the medicinal properties of the tea may be too strong or weak, bitter, or flavorless.
HERBAL BEVERAGES, HOT OR ICED, CHILDREN MAY ENJOY
Fall: Astragalus, black elderberry, raw honey (immunity booster, cold remedy)
Winter: Ginger, cinnamon, lemon balm, hibiscus, raw honey (warming, good for colds)
Spring: Stinging nettles, rosehips, milky oat seed, raw honey (allergen fighter, especially at change of seasons)
Summer: Chamomile, lemon balm, rose hips, raw honey (calming, cooling)
IT'S TIME TO PLAY!
With so much of life being planned around work, school, and organized sports, it's increasingly important for kids to have unstructured time for play. When we gather to play a game, we open doors to having fun with others while also developing social connections, enhancing creativity, flexing problem-solving muscles, and nurturing emotional well-being. Through play, families can deepen their understanding of each other's point of view, spark new interests, and strengthen cooperation.
When playing with children, especially younger children, it's important for adults to take a step back to give youngsters a chance to create rules or make up games. Seeing their parents get silly and follow their rules can be both empowering and entertaining for children. Try these creative ways to bring more playtime into your family life:
TREASURE HUNT. Create a themed scavenger hunt around your house or at a local playground. Try Letterboxing, which involves parks, hiking trails, and treasure!
ULTIMATE PLAYGROUND CHALLENGE. Number the stations at a local playground and have kids try to finish the stations in their personal best time. Older kids might want to compete against each other or a parent.
GREAT OUTDOORS. State parks offer hiking/biking trails, fishing, kayaking, canoeing (rent or bring your own), and guided nature talks. Also, try gardening or help clean up a local park.
BOARD GAMES. From Jenga to Twister to Clue, board games and role-playing games are great for families. Make this a community service outing by visiting an assisted living center to play games with residents who often don't have family of their own to visit them.
GET CRAFTY. Build with Legos or blocks. Scrapbook. Visit a make-your-own pottery store. Check class schedules at your local craft store.
NO SCOREKEEPER. Play for the fun of it! Don't keep score- or choose activities that don't require a scorecard: kite flying, Frisbee/Frisbee golf, dancing, hide-and-seek, yoga.
- American Heart Association. “Activities for Kids & Families.”
- Kids Health. “It’s Time to Play.”
- Ginsburg, K. R., et al. “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.” Pediatrics 119, no. 1 (January 1, 2007): 182 -191.
- Institute of Play.
- Isenberg, J.P., and M.R. Jalongo. “Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development.” Excerpt from Creative Thinking and Arts-Based Learning Preschool Through Fourth Grade (Merrill, 2006 edition, p. 53-55).
The information offered by this newsletter is presented for educational purposes. Nothing contained within should be construed as nor is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. This information should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider. Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before embarking on a new treatment, diet or fitness program. You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information contained within this newsletter.