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Combining a healthy diet with regular physical activity is the key to a healthy lifestyle – for adults and children. For your child’s growth and good health, do your best to make sure he or she is eating the recommended number of serving sizes a day for each food group.

Eating a nutritiously balanced meal does not mean you have to measure every piece of food you eat. Instead, you can simply divide your plate into sections and follow the “MyPlate” guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

MyPlate guidelines, which replaced the food pyramid you likely grew up with, recommends filling at least half of your plate with fruits and vegetables; one quarter with lean protein; one quarter with grains; and adding a low-fat dairy product.

Healthy eating begins in your food cupboards, the refrigerator and freezer. Start by removing foods high in added sugars (for example, corn syrup, sucrose, glucose or malt syrup) and fat (total and saturated). Also get rid of foods with partially hydrogenated oils, which contain trans fat. Replace these foods with healthier choices to make a difference in regularly eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet.

Family meals are making a comeback

It can be a challenge to find the time to plan, prepare and share family meals. Try these three steps to schedule family meals and make them enjoyable for everyone who pulls up a chair.

  • Plan. Get the family together to plan meals. Different tastes help keep meals varied and enjoyable. When children are involved in planning, they are more likely to eat what is prepared. If weeknights are busy, try doing some of the prep work ahead of time or making meals that can be frozen on the weekend. Fresh produce can take longer to prepare or may not be in season; simplify by using frozen or canned vegetables and fruits.
  • Prepare. Once you have all your supplies on hand, involve the kids in the preparation. Have them help with tasks appropriate for their age. Younger kids can help toss the salad or set the table; teens can be assigned a night to cook the entire meal. Keep the atmosphere upbeat and positive to show them the task can be enjoyable.
  • Enjoy. Make your time at the table pleasant and a chance to enjoy being together as a family. Keep the interactions positive and let the conversation flow. Family meals are a good time to teach civilized behavior that kids also can use at restaurants and others’ houses, so establish rules about staying seated, passing items and not talking with your mouth full.

Get kids active

Being active is a key component of good health for all school-age kids. It will strengthen their muscles and bones, control their weight and decrease their risk of chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Children need 60 minutes of physical activity each day, which can seem daunting. When most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out on a treadmill or lifting weights. But for kids, exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, soccer practice or dance class. They’re also exercising when they’re at recess, riding bikes or playing tag.

Making sure your kids are active enough might mean limiting other activities. The average kids spends 5½ hours on screen media (TV, computer, video games) each day. One of the best ways to get kids to be more active is to limit the amount of time spent in sedentary activities, especially watching TV or playing video games. Try to limit your kids’ screen time to less than two hours a day to free up time for physical activity.”

Expose younger school-age kids to a variety of activities, games and sports where the focus is on fun. At this age, kids are still mastering fundamental physical skills, such as jumping, throwing, kicking and catching. A mix of activities at home and school is often ideal, and be sure to include some free time for kids to make their own decisions about what to do.

Older school-age kids usually have mastered basic skills and can start enjoying the benefits of being more coordinated. They’re also better able to understand the rules. Parents of kids involved in team sports might want to talk about handling setbacks and losses, and remind kids that sports should still be fun even as competition heats up.

The best way to create healthy habits is to do them together. Making nutritious choices and doing physical activity as a family can lead to better health, better relationships and more fun each day. With your help, your child will develop good habits that can last a lifetime.