Modeling Healthy Behaviors for Your Back-to-School Children


Written on behalf of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

For parents, keeping tabs on their children’s eating and physical activity habits can be especially hard once the kids head back to school. As a health professional, you can encourage parents to model healthy behaviors their children may follow when they are away from home. Here are some ideas to share with parents:

Pack Lunches Together

Parents can offer their children the same healthy foods they include in their own lunches. Bringing them grocery shopping gives children a chance to choose foods they like and have a say in planning healthy lunch menus. Share these tips with parents for preparing healthy lunches:

  • substitute a bottle of water for juices or sodas
  • replace a bag of chips with cut-up veggies and hummus
  • substitute low-fat or fat-free cheese and yogurt, without added sugars, for full-fat versions
  • replace white bread with whole-grain bread
  • substitute fresh fruit for cake, cookies, and candy. Children are more likely to eat cut-up or easy-to-peel fruit.
  • substitute lean turkey, chicken, or tuna fish for ham, bologna, or other high-fat, high-sodium meats

Bringing lunch may help children avoid pizza, fries, and other less healthy options that may tempt them in the school cafeteria. Parents should encourage their kids to limit these foods both in and outside school.

ChooseMyPlate has more information for parents about healthy eating, how to get children excited about becoming a MyPlate Champion, and resources parents can share with younger school-age children and teenagers.

Stay on the Move

In addition to healthy eating, parents can model how to work physical activity into busy schedules and lives. Although some children participate in after-school sports or other interests that may involve physical activity, many children are spending less time moving and more time sitting in front of TV and computer screens. Children need at least an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day.

Parents can become more active with their children by

  • walking—rather than driving—them to school, if possible
  • turning off all devices after dinner and taking a walk or bike ride, dancing to music, or playing hide and seek together instead
  • signing their children up for a school or community sports team and volunteering to be a team referee, coach, or assistant coach
  • helping children with physical limitations choose or adapt activities to meet their needs, such as playing wheelchair basketball or doing wheelchair tennis

Practicing healthy eating and physical activity habits can help both parents and children prevent overweight and obesity, and eventual health problems that could arise. Encourage parents to talk with you or another health professional if they have concerns about their children’s weight.

The NIDDK has information to help families develop healthy habits, as well as a guide specifically to help teenagers take charge of their own health. Parents whose children are overweight can find additional tips and guidance in Helping Your Child Who is Overweight.

The NIDDK sponsors research on how eating, physical activity, and other factors affect weight and health, and how to treat weight-related health problems such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease. Follow the NIDDK on Facebook and Twitter for updates about resources, research, and other activities.

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