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It is a very important parenting task to make sure that our children learn to take care of their bodies correctly throughout life.  Modern medical science has released a tremendous amount of research over the past three decades showing that a healthy balanced diet, regular physical exercise and a good sleep regimen are the primary controllable variables for ensuring vitality, preventing serious disease and lengthening life.

Many of our children spend long hours sitting in day schools and yeshivos, usually without significant physical activity.  In addition, especially on Shabbos and Yom Tov, eating multiple large festive meals is an accepted part of the Jewish family and community experience.   It therefore is not difficult  to understand why childhood obesity is on the rise in the Jewish community, along with its attendant life-long negative health implications.  It’s a community-wide health concern that we can no longer afford to ignore.

But while the concepts seem simple enough, it’s not always so easy  to put them into practice. Here are a few family friendly suggestions.

•    Eat a good breakfast to kick the metabolism on early in the day.

•    Exercise with your kids. Go for a walk, play basketball or go for a swim. Skip the elevator and race to the top of the stairs.  Try to do vigorous exercise most days,  for about 30 minutes a day. In addition to boosting metabolism and toning muscles, exercise burns off stress.

•    Prepare meals together.  Experiment with a new fruit or vegetable every couple of weeks.  Go with whole grain cereals and pasta and low fat dairy foods. Choose chicken and fish over beef.    Ever try beans, lentils, quinoa, or tofu?  Be creative with different ways to prepare foods.

•    Give treats on occasion.  “Never say never” to any food.

•    Don’t use food as a symbol of love or reward.  Creating the association predisposes the child to overeating throughout life.

•    The way we eat makes a big difference.  Always remember to eat sitting down.  Start with small portions on the plate.   Walk back into the kitchen for refills.  Chew slowly and thoroughly.  Slower food consumption actually reduces the amount of food consumed and is more satisfying.  Stop eating when satiated. (No one should be required to eat every last morsel.)

•    To avoid binge eating, don’t get too hungry between meals.

•    Snack smart.  Teach kids to check labels for fat, salt and sugar.  Popcorn, nuts, fruits and veggies are satisfying munchies and don’t have to be boring.

•    Be sure everyone in your family drinks at least 8 cups of water or juice a day to stay hydrated.  (Sodas are high calories and do not hydrate.)

•    Get enough sleep.  Tired people eat more, are more irritable, are more anxious, have more accidents and are generally less productive.   Young kids need 10-12 hours of sleep.

•    If stress levels are very high, relax for a few minutes with your kids, teaching them to take slow abdominal breaths.

•    Read books together that reflect values of maintaining a healthy body.

To sum it all up: Teaching children to keep their bodies healthy is a “no-brainer.”  For many of us, this means learning a whole new way of relating to diet and exercise ourselves.    So, just try one suggestion at a time.   Let’s help each child learn to treat his body like the precious gift it truly is.

So how about a nature hike in the woods ?

©2009 Debbie Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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