The end of summer is near for your school-aged kids. Hopefully the summer has been filled with plenty of activities and healthy, fresh summer food. Now is a good time to think ahead and plan for ways to keep your family active and eating well throughout the entire school year. As busy as life can get with endless obligations requiring our time and attention, if we don’t plan ahead we often don’t create time to ensure we’re getting enough exercise and eating well.
Shape Your Future, a health awareness program of the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, has creative ideas for busy parents to make sure their children are getting 60 minutes of physical activity every day and filling half their plates with fruits and veggies.
“Physical fitness is vital for a healthy body and mind,” said Sjonna Paulson, director of Health Communication for the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. “No matter your age, shape or size, there are tons of advantages to being physically active. It can improve your mental health and help you control weight. Plus, physical fitness helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.”
But, finding new ways to convince children to stay active and eat healthy all year long isn’t always easy.
“One of the easiest and most fun things you can do to keep your family active is turning on some music and having a dance party,” Paulson said. “Even if it’s while you’re getting dinner made. My kids love turning on their favorite music and dancing. Physical activity doesn’t have to be boring–make it fun for whatever your family likes!”
Grade point average is another reason to encourage your kids to stay active. Paulson said regular movement not only helps reduce childhood obesity, it helps students strengthen and stimulate their brains.
“The importance of physical activity is monumental for students,” she said. “A healthier mind means higher test scores, better classroom participation and fewer disciplinary problems.”
Paulson explained that adults need 30 minutes of physical activity every day and kids need 60 minutes of activity every day. She suggested that if you can’t do it all at once, split it up into 10-minute increments. Or incorporate daily family walks and encourage active time over screen time.
And don’t forget about eating healthy. Physical activity and healthy eating go hand-in-hand. Paulson expressed why it’s important to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
“Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, calories and sodium and they have no cholesterol,” she said. “Plus, they contain lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all essential for good health. Whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned, all fruits and vegetables are delicious and nutritious.”
To avoid getting stuck in a rut with healthy cooking, Paulson had some good ideas for your family.
“My family loves choosing a new fruit and veggie to play around with each week,” she said. “This way, kids get to try new fruits and veggies and you get to experiment with new ways to get your kids eating them. I expect my kids won’t love every single thing we try, but they at least love trying new foods.”
Paired with exercise, eating healthy can yield great results in school as well.
“For kids, school nutrition is vital to academic achievement. Students with healthy eating habits focus more, concentrate better and are more successful in school—with higher test scores and better classroom participation,” Paulson said.
One way to help is preparation. Think ahead when you’re packing school lunches or snacks for your kids.
“Meal prepping is a huge help in our household,” said Paulson. “I think through all of our snacks and meals on the weekends, grocery shop, and then get as much put together for grab-and-go during the busy school week. It’s so much easier for us to stay on a healthy track if the healthy options are ready to grab as we’re running out the door.”
So when school rolls around, tackle healthy eating one snack at a time. There’s good news for the parents who are trying to get kids to exercise more. It doesn't have to rest completely on your shoulders. Getting help from your child’s teacher can help your child stay physically active as well.
“Once school begins, it’s all about scheduling time to be active, even if you don’t think you’ve got the time,” Paulson explained. “Encourage your children’s teachers to make some in-class learning active, ask them to take the long way around the school to lunch, and work with your school to set up a walking school bus. After school, give your kids some fun ideas on physical activities they can do while you’re working on dinner. Shape Your Future has tons of great, kid-friendly activities.”
Shape Your Future offers more than suggestions for great activities for kids during the school year. It also provides healthy recipes, resources and ideas for the whole family to stay healthy all year long.
“Staying healthy can mean something different to everyone, but the easiest ways to be on the right track include getting 30 minutes of daily physical activity and filling half your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal.” Paulson admitted, “You don’t have to be able to run a marathon to be healthy. Take a lap around the mall if it’s too hot or cold out, choose water over sugary drinks and find fun ways to incorporate healthy foods into your daily diet.”
The Shape Your Future campaign is dedicated to improving Oklahoma’s health and future through nutrition, fitness education and tobacco-free lifestyles. Shape Your Future encourages parents, caregivers, children and all Oklahomans to eat better, move more and be tobacco free.