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Healthy habits make happy kids

I spent a lot of my younger years overweight and I struggled with weight issues well into my late '20s. (My Weight Loss Story part A and part B)

As I became a mother, I knew I wanted to raise my kids with a healthy and active lifestyle. I wanted to figure out how to help them so they wouldn't go through the same struggles that I did being overweight.

Get the kids moving

When I was a kid there were not as many athletic programs for kids as there are today. When my kids were young, I made it a point to get involved and take advantage of all the city and recreation leagues that were available wherever we happened to be living. It's a relatively inexpensive way to give them exposure to different sports and a great way to burn off all that extra energy.

When my kids were little, I introduced them to many different sports in hopes that eventually, they would decide which ones they liked best and wanted to pursue. Hoping, ultimately, it would be something to help them stay active they could enjoy for the rest of their lives. It really didn't matter to me what sport or activity they chose to pursue, but getting them involved in athletics is a fun way to boost self confidence, teach about teamwork and help form healthy exercise habits early in childhood.

All of my kids played soccer starting about age 4. Yes, in the beginning they stood in the field and mostly watched their teammates run up and down with the ball. If you asked my daughter Kate her favorite part of playing soccer, her answer was “the snacks at the end of the game.” But each year, she improved, learned more, and most importantly, got exercise and gained confidence.

I remember the last year any of my kids wanted to play soccer. They had all ended up pursuing other activities. After 9 years of being a soccer mom, I was sadly retired — but only for a minute. They have since pursued basketball, volleyball, football, baseball and dance. It's a lot of work to get kids to practices, games and performances, but the benefits are innumerable.

Get yourself moving

Another piece of raising healthy active kids is setting a good example by being physically active yourself. Not only does exercise help with your own well being and stress reduction, it sets a good example for your family of the importance of taking care of your body. Exercise plays a huge role in my life. There were periods where I wasn't taking care of my body. Since I've been regularly exercising and eating a balanced diet, life has been much more fulfilling and enjoyable. I am a distance runner, a newbie road biker and I can fumble my way around a weight room. All of which help enrich my life. I have energy to lead an active and fulfilling life.

I didn't realize that by running consistently for the past 12 years, I was setting an example and planting a seed in my girls that I recently watched bloom. For the past couple of years, my girls have expressed an interest in training and learning to run long distance races. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to run a half marathon with both of them. Out of all the finish lines I've crossed, this one meant the most to me. I'm so proud of them.

Create healthy food habits

When my kids were young, I worked hard to teach them how to listen to their bodies and know when they were truly hungry. If they wanted a sugar treat, I'd ask them to name the last healthy thing they had eaten. I'd suggest that eating a fruit, whole grain or vegetable first would be a smart choice. They could finish their snack off with a little treat. I wanted to teach them to listen to their bodies and to eat a balanced and healthy diet. The USDA recently released its new Choose My Plate program.

My Plate is divided into sections of approximately 30 percent grains, 30 percent vegetables, 20 percent fruit and 20 percent protein. A smaller circle represents dairy which is for low fat or fat free dairy or yogurt cup.

My Plate suggests:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables -Switch to 2% or skim milk
  • Make half your grains whole grains
  • Vary your lean proteins
  • Reduce sodium and sugar
  • Recommends portion control while still enjoying food

“We can't watch over everything our kids eat but we do have time to look at our kids' plates . . . And as long as they're eating proper portions, as long as half their meal is fruits and vegetables alongside there is lean protein, whole grains and low fat dairy, then we're good. It's as simple as that,” said Michelle Obama.

What is a healthy diet?

  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat free or low fat milk and milk products.
  • Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
  • Keep it low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and sugars.

Use My Plate dietary guidelines to:

  • Make smart food choices from every food group.
  • Find balance between food and physical activity.
  • Get the most nutrition out calories consumed.
  • Stay within daily calorie needs.

Check out the website for many great tips and information on recommended guidelines and nutrition. I hope these tips are helpful in knowing how to help your kids lead healthy and active lives and it will help them lay a foundation for lifelong healthy eating and exercise habits.

Ruthie Armstrong resides in Pleasant Grove, UT. She is the mother of 5 and blogs at! Contact email: