Originally published April 17, 2022 in the Daily Advance of Elizabeth City.

By Lynnell Godfrey

Looking for an easy way to eat healthier?

There’s a lot of talk these days about fit kids. People who care (parents, doctors, teachers, and others) want to know how to help kids be more fit. Being fit is a way of saying people eat well, get a lot of physical activity (exercise), and have a healthy weight.

Let’s take a look to see if you are fit. Does your body work well? Do you feel good? Can you do all the things you want to do?

Here are five rules to live by if you are a kid or have a kid that wants to be fit. The goal is to follow the rules — most of the time. Everyone knows there will be a time when we cheat (birthdays and other special family occasions). We might have cake and ice cream or some other favorite dish that doesn’t fit into our daily healthy eating lifestyles.

1. Eat a variety of foods. You may have a favorite food, but the best practice is to choose a variety of foods from the five food groups: diary, protein, fruits, vegetables, and grains. Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (two fruits and three vegetables).

2. Drink water and milk. When you are really thirsty, cold water is the best thirst quencher. Ever wonder why school cafeterias offer cartons of milk? That is because kids need calcium and it’s found in milk. Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth, and is a great source of minerals.

If you are between the ages of 4 and 8, 2½ cups of milk each day is what you need to help build strong bones. If you are 9 or older, you should aim for three cups of milk per day, or the equivalent, such as mixing it up by consuming other diary calcium-rich foods. For example: 2 cups of low-fat or nonfat milk, 1 slice of cheddar cheese or ½ cup (small) container of yogurt.

If you choose to sometimes drink something other than milk or water, it is OK to have 100% juice. But remember to limit the juice to no more than 1 serving (6-8 ounces) a day. Mainly, you want to avoid the sugary drinks such as soda, juice cocktails, fruit punches, as these items contain a lot of sugar and add calories.

3. Listen to your body. Do you know how it feels to be full? When you are eating and you notice your stomach starts feeling comfortably full this is a sign that you need to stop eating. Some tend to ignore this feeling and as a result they overeat. Eating too much can make you feel uncomfortable and can also lead to unhealthy weight gain which can be unhealthy to organs in the body such as our heart and lungs.

4. Limit screen time. What is screen time? Screen time is computers, TVs, smartphones, tablets, and the most favorite videogames. The more time spent on these sit-down activities, the less time kids have to be active. Set a goal, try to do no more than 2 hours a day on screen time. Not counting computer work for school or other educational activities.

5. Be active. The last rule of becoming a fit kid — be active. This is one of the best jobs to have as a kid; not only is it fun but you get to choose which activities you like best. Not everyone likes football or line dancing; some may enjoy martial arts or even kickball. Whatever your favorite activity is try to implement it into your routine on a daily basis.

It is all of our jobs to build and maintain a healthy environment for our children. For instance, as parents, grandparents and guardians we can begin by stocking the house with healthy foods and when cooking try to implement foods from all five food groups.

Another thing we can do is plan physical activities for the entire family. As children and adults we can talk about how we can implement, focus and achieve the goals in becoming healthier and physically fit.

After all, why does it have to be just a fit kid? Doesn’t fit mom and dad sound good? Of course it does, but fit family sounds healthier, happier and achievable.

Lynnell Godfrey is an Expanded Food and Nutrition Education program educator and 4-H Youth Development agent with the Pasquotank Center of N.C. Cooperative Extension.

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