• Creating a Healthy Lifestyle for Children: A Guide for Parents

    Image for kids and exercise article Children need guidance to make the right choices when it comes to what to eat and how to spend their time. The patterns you develop now will affect your child into adulthood. So it is so important to help your child develop a healthy lifestyle at a young age.
    What can parents do? As a parent, you have a huge influence over your child’s life. If you eat healthy foods and take time to exercise, you increase the chance that your child will adopt these habits.
    What if you are not sure how to help your child eat better or be more physically fit? No problem. Here are guidelines to promote a healthy and fit lifestyle.


    All children should take an active role in their own nutrition. Get them involved in all of the stages of healthy eating:

    Planning Meals

    MyPlate Kid's Place is a government initiative to encourage healthy eating. While planning meals with your child, use MyPlate Kid's Place as a guide to help you include the basic food groups:
    • Fruits—Whether it is a fresh banana, raisins, or a glass of 100% fruit juice, there is sure to be a fruit option that your child likes.
    • Vegetables—Does your child like raw carrots and celery? Or maybe string beans? There are many to choose from, so keep trying if your child has trouble finding a favorite.
    • Grains—Wheat, rice, and oats fall into this group. Set a daily goal to make half of your child's grains whole grains.
    • Protein—Chicken, black beans, peanut butter, and tuna are just a few healthy sources of protein for your child.
    • Dairy—Fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are great additions to your child’s diet.


    Have your child help you on your next trip to the grocery store. Use this as a chance to reinforce the MyPlate basics. For example, encourage your child to pick out new healthy foods to try. Make sure to include healthy snack choices for school.
    Teach your child how to read food labels and understand portion sizes. It's a good time to learn how to read and understand ingredients too. It will help your child sort out the good stuff from the bad.
    What about when your child is reaching for cookies to add to the cart? Try to highlight that it is okay to have special treats every so often. But there are better choices, like fruits, vegetables, or low-fat yogurt to have on a daily basis.

    Preparing Meals

    While preparing the meal, involve your child. Even young children can take part, whether it be putting lettuce in a bowl or putting bread on the table. Older children can take the lead in cooking the main dish.

    Eating Together

    Now that the meal is ready, sit down and enjoy it. Have a dining area away from the TV so that you can have some quality time with your family. Encourage your child to eat slowly and to taste each healthy bite.

    Physical Fitness

    Make fitness part of your family’s routine. Your child should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This should be a combination of aerobic exercise , muscle strengthening , and bone strengthening. To make physical activity fun, incorporate the activity into games. If you make exercise fun, your child will stick with it.
    You can emphasize the importance of fitness in your child’s life in many ways, for example:
    • Instead of watching TV after dinner, go for a bike ride or play in the park.
    • Plan an active weekend. Hiking trips and beach days are inexpensive and fun ways to exercise.
    • If your child has decided to join a sports team, be supportive and encouraging. Sport teams nurture social skills as well.
    • What if your child is not interested in team sports? There are many individual sports options, like dancing, yoga, or karate. Present your child with options to see if anything sparks an interest..
    By teaching your child about proper nutrition and exercise, you help to build the foundation for a healthy adulthood. Remember that you are a role model. If you eat right and are physically active, then this encourages your child to do the same.


    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov

    US Department of Agriculture Choose MyPlate http://www.choosemyplate.gov


    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

    Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca


    2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans. US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf. Accessed October 21, 2013.

    Aerobic, muscle- and bone strengthening: what counts? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/what%5Fcounts.html. Updated March 30, 2011. Accessed October 21, 2013.

    Be a healthy role model for children. US Department of Agriculture Choose MyPlate website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet12BeaHealthyRoleModel-BlkAndWht.pdf. Updated June 2012. Accessed October 21, 2013.

    Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf. Accessed October 21, 2013.

    Food groups US Department of Agriculture Choose MyPlate website. Available at: http://choosemyplate.gov/food-groups. Accessed October 21, 2013

    Help your child grow up healthy and strong. US Department of Education website. Available at: http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/health/growhealthy/growhealthy.pdf. Accessed October 21, 2013.

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