February is National Heart Month, which is a great reminder that promoting heart health is just as important for kids as it is for adults. Heart disease often results from untreated diabetes, which, according to doctors from Syracuse’s St. Joseph’s Cardiac Hospital, affects over 200,000 people under the age of 20. I never thought children could be diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, but that all changed last November when one of my youngest cousins was diagnosed with it. Fortunately, altering children’s diets and exercise levels can greatly reduce the risk of diabetes. Here are some tips we have used to manage my cousin’s diabetes, which can also be used to prevent this awful disease:
A Healthy Diet
Many kids have specific food preferences, and none of them wants to bring food to school that the other students think is weird. The following tips have helped me balance these desires with keeping my cousins healthy:
1. Make dips!
Kids love hummus and other bean dips, which are great sources of protein and unsaturated fat. They can dip raw vegetables such as bell peppers and carrots. Try this recipe to get started:
-1 1/2 cups edamame
-2 tablespoons tahini
-2 tablespoons olive oil
Combine the edamame and tahini in a food processor. Add the olive oil slowly until the mixture is smooth. Serve with cut-up veggies or whole-grain crackers and voila! Enjoy
2. Give vegetables a new name.
This might sound crazy, but a recent study showed that calling carrots “X-ray Vision Carrots” greatly increased the number eaten by little ones.
3. Serve foods individually.
Many kids will try new foods separately but not mixed with others. Try offering foods such as carrots, beans and low-fat cheese cubes in individual containers.
4. Be a good role model.
Make sure to offer your child a variety of healthy foods, even those that you yourself may not like (just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean that you kids won’t!). Children notice when adults act negatively, and it teaches them to do the same.
5. Get creative.
Eating healthy doesn’t mean that you have to give u all of your favorite foods. Try making a healthier version of it instead. Instead of fried chicken nuggets with French fries, try this recipe for cornmeal-crusted chicken nuggets as a healthy alternative!
Adding exercise to your child’s daily routine can be fun in addition to protecting his or her heart. Some children are naturally more active than others, but these tips will get any kid moving:
1. Offer non-competitive exercise ideas.
Not all children enjoy competitive sports. Some prefer to jump rope alone; others prefer ice skating or dancing. Doing it as a family activity will encourage everyone to get involved, and increase family bonding too.
2. Exercise with your child.
I go for long walks with my cousins, which gives us time to catch up as well as get fit.
3. Encourage play time.
Children love playing games like tag and kickball so much that they probably don’t even think of them as exercise. Help your child invite friends over so they can exercise together.
4. Get in the habit of walking to school and taking the stairs more often. These seem like small steps, but they will promote healthy habits for many years to come.
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