Nfld. & Labrador

10 tips to get fitter, healthier kids

A dietitian and a medical specialist offer sensible tips for parents on improving diet and lifestyle, without having to raise the roof.

Experts weigh in with tips to get your kids moving more and eating right

While schools try to broaden the variety of healthier fare at cafeterias, parents are being encouraged to do their part by packing lunchboxes with nutritious snacks and meals. (CBC)

Students across Newfoundland and Labrador are heading back to the classroom this week, but they might not be getting enough exercise or eating the best food.

Kids require 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day — an amount they might not be getting out of their physical education classes. And while schools in the province have made their cafeteria menus healthier, kids are sometimes binging on junk food they buy outside of school property during their lunch breaks.

We asked our experts to give us some tips to get your children motivated about movement and making healthy food choices.

Top 5 ways to get your kids off the couch

Dr. Tracey Bridger, a pediatric endocrinologist and the medical director of the Janeway Lifestyle Program, says that kids are moving less these days. It's a combination of using technology more often, with kids often having their eyes glued to the television set, computer screen, and to their phones, and that they're just not getting enough time outside to play for extended periods.

Dr. Tracey Bridger suggests using a timer to help put a limit on how time children spend watching TV. (CBC)

She says there are some ways that parents can get their kids moving again:

1. Use a timer. Dr. Bridger says a good way to limit screen time is to put on a timer — that way, the parent can get out of the middle of the situation, and the timer becomes the bad guy. Tell your kid that they have 15 to 20 minutes to watch TV, and then once that timer goes off, it's time to turn off the television.

2.  Have an activity menu. Make up a list of activities that your kids can help you out with. That way, Dr. Bridger says, when the time comes to do something, you can say, "OK, what activity are we going to choose to do today from this fun menu that we have?"

3. Make time for family activities. Have a family activity planned at least once a week for everyone to take part in. Dr. Bridger says you can plan a weekend activity in advance, and she suggests you involve your kids in the planning process to provide input about what you can do as a whole family together.

4. Put a positive spin on it. While kids might protest about doing things like going on a hike, they'll be much more excited about the activity if you turn it into a game. Dr. Bridger says she took her kids to the Botanical Gardens, and they have a program there asking children to find little things along the way. "Kids sometimes like having activities for just finding things," she says. "You don't just say you're going for a hike, but you make it a fun game — 'let's go look for these 10 things' — and the kids have a lot more fun that way."

5. Encourage activities that your kids enjoy. Dr. Bridger says if you pick an activity that your children like, they're much more likely to get off the couch and do it. But she says to keep in mind your child's age and developmental level, so that you're picking activities that they're able to do. "You don't need to put your tiny kid in organized sports if they're not necessarily ready for it yet," she says.

Top 5 healthy lunchbox snacks

Dietitian Amanda Burton knows it's no easy battle to get kids to eat their greens. But she says getting children to eat healthy food is about making small changes to their diet, getting into the practice of reading food labels, and overall, making healthy eating a family priority.

Amanda Burton suggests packing lunchboxes with combinations that include carrots and hummus. (CBC)

Burton says when you're planning a healthy snack for your kids, you want to include at least two of the four food groups: fruits and vegetables, milk and alternatives, grains, and meat and alternatives. She notes that fruit, veggie, and milk consumption is especially important, since Newfoundlanders and Labradorians rank low on that intake.

Here are some of her ideas for healthy snacks for kids (and adults too!):

1. Carrots and hummus: Burton says that by pairing either baby carrots or a large carrot cut up with some hummus, you're hitting two food groups and also getting "lots of nutrition, fibre, and protein to help keep you full and sustain you."

2. Milk and apple slices: Burton says this is a great snack because you should be consuming at least two cups of milk a day. You can also grab a variation on this snack, like yogurt and a banana or an orange.

3. Whole grain granola bar and a cheese string: Make sure you check the nutritional facts label so that you're getting a healthier, whole grain bar. Burton says those are not only filled with lots of nutrition, but also fibre. She also notes cheese strings are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, which many people in the province simply aren't getting enough of.

4. Fortified soy beverage and a fruit cup: There are alternatives to milk, like fortified soy beverages and rice beverages, which Burton says are great if your kids are lactose intolerant, or if you're just looking to try something new. She says a fortified soy beverage has just as much calcium and vitamin D as milk, and pairing it with a fruit cup makes it a wholesome snack.

5. Whole grain crackers and canned tuna: Burton says we tend to not eat enough fish that are high in omega fats, and kids often need more of those fats for part of a healthy diet. She says kids should also be eating similar fish products, like salmon, mackerel, herring, char, trout.