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One Formula for a Healthy Lifestyle

Article Translations: (Spanish)

Parents hear lots of advice about helping their family eat better, exercise more, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. So much advice, in fact, that sometimes the real message gets lost.

Nemours Health and Prevention Services (NHPS), a nonprofit organization focused on children's health, makes it easy to get the facts straight. NHPS, like KidsHealth, is part of Nemours, one of the nation's largest health systems devoted to improving the health of children. Its formula — called 5-2-1-Almost None — helps parents and kids remember the basics of a healthy lifestyle.

What's involved?

  • 5: eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily
  • 2: limiting screen time to no more than 2 hours a day
  • 1: getting 1 or more hours of physical activity every day
  • almost none: drinking almost no sugary beverages

The guidelines in the 5-2-1-Almost None formula have been shown to help people prevent obesity, maintain a healthy weight, and improve their overall well-being.

Lots of Fruits and Vegetables

We were all told as kids to "Eat your veggies!" And now we're telling our kids the same. And why not? Most fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients and naturally low in calories and fat, making them a healthy choice. They're also full of water and fiber, which makes them filling.

5-2-1-Almost None recommends 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. A serving size equals ½ cup of chopped fruit or vegetables or a full cup of raw leafy vegetables, like spinach.

Here are some ways to get more servings in your kids' diet:

  • Have fruits and vegetables in kids' view on the counter or in the fridge; pre-cut them to make it easier to grab and go.
  • Ask kids to help choose different vegetables and fruits for mealtime.
  • Get kids involved in washing, chopping, and cooking fruits and vegetables. They'll love to eat what they prepare.
  • Offer fruit or vegetable options at every meal.
  • Be creative: Add fruits and vegetables to pancakes, cereal, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, pasta, tacos, and sandwiches.
  • Offer new fruits and vegetables and old favorites together. It can take several tries before kids accept a new food, so if they don't like it the first time, try it again soon.

Limit Screen Time

Screen time includes watching media on TVs, tablets, and smartphones; playing video games; and computer use that's not related to school. While some screen time can be an excellent way to educate and entertain kids, too much is associated with an increased risk of becoming overweight.

Experts recommend:

  • No more than 2 hours of recreational screen time each day for older kids.
  • Limiting screen time to 1 hour a day or less for children 2 to 5 years old.
  • No screen time, except video-chatting, for kids younger than 18 months.

Next time your older kids complain "there's nothing to do" but watch TV, offer these alternatives:

  • Ask them to help make dinner, work in the garden, play outside, or just turn on some music and have fun together.
  • Go to the playground or take a walk around the neighborhood. Do it together as a family — it's a great opportunity for conversation and physical activity.
  • Encourage reading, playing, and crafts. Have books, magazines, board games, puzzles, and balls readily available.
  • Give your kids a screen time allowance. Help them choose only the shows they really want to watch.
  • Turn off the TV and have dinner together. Ask every person to share the best and worst parts of the day with each other.

Get Active

Most kids don't spend enough time moving their bodies. At least 1 hour of physical activity is recommended every day for kids 6 years and older. Toddlers and preschoolers should be active for at least 90 to 120 minutes every day.

Regular physical activity helps kids to have strong and healthy hearts, bones, and muscles, and to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Those who are active may have an increased ability to learn, feel more energetic, and sleep better.

Here's how to get your family moving:

  • Schedule a regular time for daily physical activity.
  • Use physical activity as family bonding time; be active together.
  • Set your weekend in motion by planning active family fun. Try a hike, a walk through the zoo, a dip in the local pool, or toss a Frisbee in the park.
  • Make physical activity part of things you already do. Park farther away from store entrances and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Play outside whenever possible.
  • Set up a safe area in your home where active play is OK — don't let nasty weather be an excuse to be idle.

Avoid Sugary Drinks

Besides causing dental cavities, sugary drinks are one of the main culprits behind the childhood obesity epidemic. 

But what's considered a "sugary drink"? You may be surprised to know that it's not just soda. Juice drinks, lemonades, sweetened iced teas, sports drinks, and coffee drinks are also loaded with sweeteners and offer little nutritional value.

For kids 2 years and older, water and fat-free or low-fat milk (1%) are the best choices for drinks. Limit 100% fruit juice to no more than one serving (4–6 ounces) per day for kids 1–6 years old, and no more than two servings (8–12 ounces) for kids 7–18 years old. As an alternative, add flavor to water by throwing in a few lemon or lime slices. Your kids will enjoy a refreshing beverage that's good for them, too.

Here are more tips for getting your kids off the sugar-packed soft drinks:

  • When you go shopping, buy healthy beverages instead of sugary drinks. Your kids learn from you, so let them see you choose healthier options.
  • At dinner, offer low-fat milk or water. Reserve soft drinks for special occasions.
  • When thirsty, choose water. Keep it on hand to quench thirst at the big game and pack a water bottle in school lunches.

So try to make 5-2-1-Almost None part of your family's life, and share the formula with your kids. It can help prepare them to make good decisions on their own about the foods they want to eat — and that can lead to a lifetime of healthier choices.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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