Make a back to school plan for healthier kids

Back to School is a time for new beginnings. Are you worried that your kids eat too much of the wrong food, don't get enough exercise, and are stressed to the point of needing medication, headache remedies or pills for upset stomachs?

Stop and think. Why not start back to school this new year with a whole new drug-free plan for helping your kid enjoy a healthier, happier life?

It's not too late. Get a kid off television and into sports and games, and you can expect better grades, slimmer, stronger bodies and greater self-confidence. It can happen. You can make the grade, starting today.

Here are three back-to-school lessons to help get you started:

  • Make an activity calendar. It's a shame, but many schools, for many reasons, have cut recess and playtime from your kids' school day. It's stupid thinking on the school's part, because kids need physical stimulation as much as they need mental challenges.

But blaming the school, which is likely overburdened and underfunded, is also a dumb idea. You're the parent. You're in charge.

Begin by turning off the television. Sit down with your kid at the start of the new school year and figure out how and when he or she will do something physical 30 to 60 minutes every day. Keep a weekly calendar and revisit it frequently. A walk, a run, a bike ride, washing the family car, organized sports, disorganized sports, jumping rope, dancing: Just about any form of physical fun qualifies, excluding television, computer games, and all things passive and electronic.

If the kids resist, keep cool and don't give up. Of course, the best way to inspire them is to be a role model. Make time in your own day to play, to get physical, to have fun. Exercise isn't a luxury. It's part of a balanced healthy lifestyle and the sooner you educate your kid to that fact, the better off you'll all be.

  • Educate yourself in good eating habits. No matter how bad your kids' eating habits are now, know one thing: They can change. Kids can learn new ways of eating - more real food, more fruits and veggies, less sugary pop and high-fat fried snacks - but you have to be the main teacher.

Educate yourself this new school year about balancing carbs, fats and proteins, about portion size, about food labeling. Offer your kids a wide variety of good food choices. Involve them in cooking, shopping, even growing food. Don't give in to fast food factories that tempt your kids with toxic treats. You are the parent. You are in charge.

If the school lunchrooms are part of the problem, work to change that. There's a wealth of good info online about healthy lifestyle choices for kids, including an online body mass index calculator to help you determine if your kid is truly overweight.

Check it out at GetKidsInAction.com, a co-venture between the University of North Carolina School of Public Health and the Gatorade Company.

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