March is National Nutrition Month and the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association is working to help kids and families live heart-healthy lives by setting healthier diet goals. About one in three American kids and teens are overweight or obese, which can lead to a broad range of health problems, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. Further, overweight and obesity are risk factors for heart disease and stroke, the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 killers. You can help your child develop healthy habits early in life that will bring lifelong benefits.
Here are 10 simple tips to help you and your family on the right path to good health.
- Make it fun for kids to try new fruits and vegetables. Let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable in the grocery store each week, and figure out together how to cook or prepare it in a healthy way.
- Whole grains are a good option. Choose whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat bread, rye bread, brown rice, popcorn, oatmeal and whole-grain cereal.
- Cook at home more than eating out. When you cook at home you have more control over ingredients and portion sizes. Get great recipes and tips at heart.org/simplecooking.
- Limit sodium. Ninety percent of kids eat too much sodium. Using fresh herbs can wake up any recipe, along with your taste buds, with fresh and bold flavor, without adding salt. Go to heart.org/sodium and take the pledge and learn how to reduce the sodium your family eats.
- Watch out for added sugars. They add extra calories but no helpful nutrients. Sugar-sweetened beverages and soft drinks are the number one source of added sugars for most of us. Try sparkling water, unsweetened tea or sugar-free beverages instead of sugar-sweetened soda or tea. Add lemon, lime or berries to beverages for extra flavor.
- Plan healthy meals. Keep your recipes, grocery list and coupons in the same place to make planning and budgeting easier. This will keep you from calling for take-out which can be high in calories and sodium.
- Enjoy fruit for dessert most days. Try a delicious smoothie, a mixed berry and yogurt parfait, or a baked spiced apple or pear! Limit traditional desserts to special occasions.
- Get your kids in the kitchen! They’ll be more excited about eating healthy foods when they’ve been involved. Give them age-appropriate tasks and keep a step-stool handy.
- Chicken, fish and beans are good choices for protein. Remove skin and visible fat from poultry. If you do eat red meat, limit it to once in a while, keep portion size small and choose the leanest cuts.
- Make a game of reading food labels. The whole family will learn what’s good for their health and be more conscious of what they eat. It’s a habit that helps change behavior for a lifetime.
The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association offers more resources to help your kids live a longer, stronger life. For information and tips on healthier kids including weight management, physical activity and nutrition go to heart.org/healthierkids.
Our mission is to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. For nearly 100 years, we’ve been fighting heart disease and stroke, striving to save and improve lives. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer worldwide, and stroke ranks second globally. Even when those conditions don’t result in death, they cause disability and diminish quality of life. We want to see a world free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.