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Healthy Kids

5 Habits for Healthier Kids (They Work for Parents Too!)
By Cleveland Clinic Wellness Editors 
Published 7/29/2010 
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Grab a seat: Eat together as a family

The family that eats together stays slim together, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics. The catch, of course, is that the meals should be home-cooked and include plenty of vegetables. Processed food like Tater Tots don’t count. Children of families that regularly have sit-down family meals had lower body mass indexes, smaller waistlines and less body fat than those who did not eat home-cooked meals together. Family meals are also linked with better school performance and fewer behavioral problems..

Brown bag it: Get kids involved in making good lunch choices

Kids who eat school lunches have higher cholesterol and consume twice as many processed meats and sugary drinks, according to a University of Michigan study. No wonder there’s so much support for changing what kids are served in schools nationwide, specifically by increasing the number of high-fiber, nutrient-rich, low-fat vegetarian lunch options. What can you do now to help your kids eat healthier at school? Review the lunch menu together and discuss healthy choices. Try to balance school-bought lunches with bagged lunches. Instead of white bread and processed deli meats, choose whole-grain breads (wheat, oat,) and tortilla wraps, and unprocessed meats, such as turkey breast slices. Instead of chips and sugary snacks, pack air-popped popcorn, soy crisps, veggies and dip, homemade trail mix, or fresh fruit. The more you involve your kids, the better — not only will they respond to the trust you place in them and appreciate having control over what they eat, you’ll be helping them learn healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Beware the –oses: Watch out for hidden sugars

Sugar is found naturally in many foods, including fruit, dairy products and grains, and eating it in these foods is actually good for you. After all, sugar (glucose) is the body’s primary energy source. But the average American eats about 156 pounds of sugar a year — many times what health experts recommend — and most of it comes from refined sugar that’s added to processed foods. Sugar and other stripped carbohydrates lead to extra weight and health risks. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to spot added sugar in foods. Look at the ingredient list and watch out for sugar’s many “disguises”: anything ending in -ose, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey or fruit juice concentrates. If you find two or more, especially near the beginning of the list, the product most likely contains a lot of sugar. And don’t be surprised to see sugar pop up in unexpected places, including mayonnaise, ketchup, tomato sauce, salad dressing, mustard, barbeque sauce, canned soups, peanut butter, bread, fast food and TV dinners.

Unplug: Reduce stimulation before bedtime

Overstimulation from electronic devices may be harming kids’ ability to sleep. Despite the fact that you probably know someone who repeatedly falls asleep in front of the TV, watching nighttime TV actually hinders sleep. The light from the TV suppresses production of melatonin, a hormone that maintains the body’s circadian rhythm, which is responsible for our internal 24-hour “clock” that plays a critical role in when we fall asleep and wake up. With low levels of melatonin, the brain continues to think it’s daytime. Even if you get your kids away from the tube at night, computer use is another problem. In fact, it’s an even worse problem, since most people sit so close to the screen. The light shining in your child’s eyes can trigger her brain to think that it’s time to get up, not go to sleep! Your best bet is to get your kids to cut back on TV and computer use after 8 p.m., or at least one or two hours before they’re ready to hit the sack. The same goes for you: This tip works for grown-ups too!

Get fortified: Up intake of DHA

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 that’s essential for the proper functioning of our brains. Our need for DHA begins at birth. During the first six months of life, when our nervous systems and visual abilities are developing rapidly, adequate amounts typically come from breast milk and fortified formula. So what about kids older than 6 months? Studies showed that children aren’t getting nearly enough, and that this deficiency may be contributing to attention, comprehension and behavioral issues in children. It’s easier than you think to make sure kids get enough DHA. Eat fish and green veggies, and look for foods fortified with it, such as milk, yogurt, or egg yolks..(You’ll see juices with it too, but skip those — who needs all that sugar?) Don’t hesitate to hide greens in smoothies, or muffins or soups. While there aren’t any official guidelines for DHA intake (for kids or adults), most experts recommend that kids get at least 100 mg a day. Getting sufficient amounts means eating just two DHA-enriched eggs plus one child-size serving of DHA-rich fish (one ounce of fish per 20 pounds of body weight), such as salmon, each week.

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