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Teach your toddler healthy habits

Studies show that healthy habits learned in childhood are likely to carry over into adulthood.

The toddler years are a great time to teach the early lessons of life—from learning the alphabet, to counting to 10, to looking both ways before crossing the street. You should also start teaching your child habits for a healthy way of life.

Among other things, healthy habits—such as eating right and being active—can help your child stay at a healthy weight. That's important given that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers childhood obesity an epidemic.

The health effects of childhood obesity can last a lifetime. Overweight kids often become overweight adults. Being overweight carries a higher risk for serious health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Fortunately, the effects of healthy habits learned in childhood can also carry over into the adult years. So set your child on the path to good health. Teach him or her healthy lifestyle habits now.

Healthy eating

To help your child develop healthy eating patterns, the AAP says you can:

  • Gradually reduce the amount of fat, especially saturated fat, your child consumes once they turn 2.
  • Encourage your child to eat plenty of whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, dairy foods (low fat or nonfat once they turn 2), lean meats, poultry, fish and cooked dry beans.
  • Serve proper portions. A child-size serving is about 1/4 the size of an adult portion.
  • Offer a variety of foods. Be flexible too: What your child eats over a few days is more important than what he or she eats in one day.
  • Don't force your child to eat certain foods. Just make sure you offer him or her wise food choices from all the food groups.
  • Don't forbid foods. Banning a food may make your child want it more. Sweets and higher-fat snack foods are OK from time to time in proper amounts.
  • Offer snacks. Young kids have small stomachs. They can't eat enough at meal times to meet their energy needs. So offer two or three healthy snacks a day between meals. Fruit, raw vegetables, pretzels, breadsticks, bagels, string cheese and low-fat yogurt are all good snack options.

If you're not sure what your child should eat or are thinking about making big changes to your child's eating plan, check with his or her doctor.

Physical activity

The youth of today are less active than previous generations, according to the AAP. They spend much more time in front of computers, video games and TV. This means they spend less time exercising too.

Exercise is important. It helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints. It also helps control weight and reduces the risk of health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, later in life.

To help kids spend more time being active, the AAP says you can:

  • Help your child find an activity he or she enjoys. Look for things the whole family can do together.
  • Match activities to ages. Soccer, bicycle (or tricycle) riding and swimming are all good starter activities for kids.
  • Make sure your child has a convenient time and place to be active.
  • Provide a safe place and proper gear for activities.
  • Give your child active toys, such as balls.
  • Limit TV, video games and computer time. Toddlers should not have more than one hour of total screen time a day, experts advise.
  • Don't overdo it. If your child is tired or hurt, it's time to stop.

Set the right example

Remember, kids learn more from your actions than from your words. So make sure to set a good example. Practice healthy lifestyle habits yourself, and your kids will notice.

Reviewed 6/2/2021

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