In this section: Parents and other caregivers can guide children to develop lifestyle habits that will support their good health for years to come. We know that as a parent or caregiver you may not have all the answers. Like many Americans, you may even struggle to develop and stick with healthy habits of your own. One way to win this double struggle is to practice healthy lifestyle habits—together! Consuming healthful foods and beverages, doing regular physical activity, getting adequate sleep, and other factors may help children to
A family with two school-age children bikes together on a spring day.
Practice staying physically active as a family.

Healthy Habits

How can I help my child form healthy habits?

As a parent or caregiver, you play a big part in shaping children’s eating and drinking habits. When you make it a habit to consume foods and beverages that are low in added sugars, saturated fat, and salt and are high in fiber, the children you care for may learn to like these foods as well. If a child you are caring for does not like a new food right away, don’t be upset. Children often need to see a new food many times before they will try it. Be a role model. As a parent or caregiver, you also have an effect on children’s physical activity. You do not need to be an expert at any activity. Just get up, move, and show children how much fun being active can be. They may grow to like it too. You can set a good example by going for a walk or riding a bike instead of watching TV, playing a video game, or surfing the internet. Find an activity that you enjoy and can do together. Talk about being healthy. As you learn more about how to improve your health, take the time to talk to your children about how a certain food or physical activity may help them. For example, when going for a walk, bring your children with you and let them pick the route. Discuss how walking helps you feel better and is a fun way to spend time together. Use your children’s food and beverage choices as teaching moments. Speak up when you see unhealthy choices. Direct children to healthier options or say, “You can have a little of that, but not too much.” Talk to them about why an overly salty or heavily sugared snack is not the best choice. Avoid making them feel guilty about their food or beverage choices. You can also praise your children when they choose a healthy item like fruit. Use comments like these
Father and his young son prepare a salad with bell peppers, carrots, and lettuce.
Children often need to see a new food many times before they will try it.
With physical activity, try upbeat phrases like these to keep your child excited Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Getting enough sleep can improve your child’s mental, emotional, and physical health. Not getting enough sleep may lead to many health issues, including obesity. Find out how many sleep hours experts recommend for your child, depending on his or her age. Believe in the power to change. Know that eating healthy and moving more are the building blocks to better health. Work together to form healthy habits. Promote good health beyond your family. Other adults may play a role in your child’s life, too. You can share ideas about healthy habits with them. For instance, many parents and caregivers work outside the home and need others to help with childcare. Family members, daycare providers, babysitters, or friends may shape your child’s health habits. Talk to them to make sure they offer healthy meals, snacks, and drinks. Check that caregivers are also providing plenty of active playtimes and limiting inactive time spent with TV, video games, or other devices. If your child is in school, you can help promote healthy habits in several other ways
Female babysitter serves apple slices to a toddler boy in a highchair.
Make sure your child’s caregivers offer healthy snacks and meals.
Consider other influences. Just as they do for you, your children’s friends and the media can also affect healthy choices. Some TV, online, and other ads try to persuade children to consume high-fat foods and sugary drinks. You can help your children be aware of these pressures. Speak with your children about choices while you watch TV, surf the internet, or go to the movies with them. Talk about how media outlets and influencers sell products or convey values through famous athletes, child celebrities, cartoon and action figures, and made-up images. Use programs and ads to spark chats about your values. These talks may help your child make healthy choices outside the home.

Healthy Eating

What should my child eat and drink?

Just like adults, children need to consume foods and beverages that are packed with nutrients. Also, like adults, children should consume just enough calories to fuel their daily living and activities. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest balancing calories you consume with physical activity. The guidelines also recommend improving eating habits to promote health, reduce the risk of disease, and reduce overweight and obesity. Americans ages 2 years and older are encouraged to consume a variety of healthy foods and beverages. Suggested items include

What foods and beverages should be limited?

Youth and adults are also encouraged to get less Added sugars, solid fats, and salt often occur in pizzas, chips, crackers, sodas, sugar-sweetened drinks, desserts like cookies or cake, and fast foods. If children and teens consume these foods and beverages, these items should be limited to a healthy eating plan. Another step is to make sure your children have breakfast to spark the energy they need to focus in school. Some studies suggest that eating breakfast regularly may decrease children’s chances of developing obesity.1
Teen boy and his mother eat a breakfast of whole-grain cereal, low-fat milk, and fresh fruit juice.
Make sure your children eat a healthy breakfast to spark the energy they need to focus in school.

How can I help my child eat better?

Use less fat, salt, and sugar. Here are some ideas to help you and your child follow a healthy eating plan
Logo of website, showing a plate divided into quarters for fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein. A cup nearby is labeled “dairy.”
Half of your child’s meals should be vegetables and/or fruit. Learn more at
Serve nutrient-rich foods and beverages. Many foods and beverages are particularly rich in key nutrients and vitamins—such as potassiumcalciumvitamin D, and dietary fiber—that are important to your children’s health and development. Here are some ideas for boosting your children’s intake of these nutrients
Colorful vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products.
Greens, colorful vegetables, beans, seafood, whole grains, and dairy products give your child important nutrients.
Think about the drink. Offer healthy snacks. Along with their meals, snacks can help children get enough nutrients to help them stay healthy. Buy or prepare single-serving snacks for younger children to help them get just enough to satisfy their hunger. Visit the children’s section of ChooseMyPlate to help you and your kids select a satisfying snack. Try to keep healthy food in the house for snacks and meals for the whole family. Offer such snacks as Keep two more things in mind when choosing healthy snacks. Share food time together. The keyword is “together.”
Mother and school-age son prepare a meal in their kitchen.
Involve your child in planning and preparing meals.

Physical Activity

How does physical activity help my child?

Experts (PDF, 13.8 MB)  suggest that preschool-age children (ages 3 through 5 years) should be physically active throughout the day to help them grow and develop. As a parent or caregiver, you play a big role in helping kids get up and get moving. If you are caring for preschoolers, try to make sure they get about 3 hours of physical activities each day. Those activities could be light, moderate, or vigorous in intensity. If you are caring for school-age children (ages 6 through 17 years), try to get them to do at least 1 hour of physical activity each day. Experts suggest activities that are moderately or vigorously intense. Bicycling, jumping rope, and playing basketball or soccer are some ways for children to be active.
A teenage boy in a wheelchair plays basketball with friends.
Try to get school-age children to do at least 1 hour of physical activity each day.

How can I help my child be more active?

There are many ways you can help.
A mother and son run side by side on a grassy field.
A powerful example for your child is to be active yourself.
Reduce inactive screen time. Sitting for hours at a time, while using computers, hand-held devices, music players, or TVs, may reduce your child’s active playtime. Pediatricians suggest limiting the time children use digital media outside of homework time. Between ages 2 and 5, allow your children no more than 1 hour of screen time. For children ages 6 and older, set consistent limits on media time. That will help you be sure they have enough time for physical activity, play, sleep, and other healthy behaviors.3,4 Try these tips to reduce your child’s screen time

What should I do if my child is overweight or has obesity?

Children who are overweight are more likely to become adults who are overweight. These children may develop high blood pressuretype 2 diabetes, and other serious health problems. Weight problems may also lead to stress, sadness, and low self-esteem in children. Because children grow at different rates at different times, it is not always easy to tell if a child is overweight. For example, it is normal for boys to have a growth spurt in weight and catch up in height later. Ask your health care professional to measure your children and tell you if they are in a healthy range for their age and gender. You can also calculate your child’s body mass index (BMI), then discuss any concerns with your child’s health care professional. BMI is a measure of body fat calculated from weight and height. If your provider tells you that your child weighs more than he or she should, there are ways you can help your child who is struggling with his or her weight.

How can I help my child with his or her weight?

Here are some dos and don’ts. Remember, you play the biggest role in your children’s lives. You can help your children learn healthy eating, physical activity, and other habits to follow for the rest of their lives.
A smiling boy in a baseball uniform holds a ball and baseball glove.