Weave these clever health hacks into your child's daily life to give them a healthy kick start in the world.
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Chances are, you're doing all that you can to ensure that your little one is in top-notch condition—they are clean, well fed, well rested, cared for, and everything in between. Still, those constant concerns creep in on the regular and leave you wondering what you could be doing more for your child, especially in the midst of the pandemic. In fact, if there's one thing you think about on an almost second-to-second basis as a parent, it's "How can I keep my kid as healthy as possible?"

According to pediatricians, there are various ways to continually improve and boost your little one's health. "Small changes make a big impact and they will also teach your child," says Alison Mitzner, M.D., a pediatrician in New York City. "Additionally, the earlier you start these healthy habits as a child, the more likely they will continue into their adult life."

To help you give your child a head start in this world, here are some little wins that can improve their health in a big way.

Sneak in More Veggies

It's no surprise if your kid turns their nose up to veggies on the regular—it's hard to blame them when cookies and pasta taste way better. But it's important that their diet is loaded with the right nutrients and vitamins, many of which are found in vegetables. Thankfully, it's easier than ever to incorporate them into your kid's diet, often without them even noticing! For example, you can bake kale, making it nice and crispy to the point where it tastes pretty darn close to potato chips.

Additionally, many brands are creating veggie versions of children's favorite foods. Does your kiddo like mac & cheese? Kraft now makes a veggie-infused version, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Cauliflower, which swaps out the grain-based pasta for a cauliflower pasta without switching up the flavor. Another tip is to bake slices of sweet potatoes in place of basic fries. Each of these small swaps will add up to serious nutrition for your growing child.

Limit Screen Time

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had long recommended against screen time for children before age 2, but later softened this advice given the fact that today's children are growing up in an unavoidably digital age. The recommendation is now to limit screen time to a healthy amount so that children can better observe and interact within the world around them. This is more difficult than ever as kids are using screens a lot more during the pandemic.

It's still a good idea to find little ways to limit screen. A simple small tweak to decrease screen time is to set time limits. Stormee Williams, M.D., medical director of school telemedicine at Children's Health in Dallas, recommends keeping televisions and electronic devices out of rooms where children play, or at least turning them off after a certain time (usually two hours before bedtime, unless it's being used for school work). She also recommends setting parental controls on cell phones, tablets, e-readers, and social media accounts whenever possible.

Encourage Free Active Play

Even though kiddos are blessed with an abundance of energy, it can be difficult to sneak in the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise, primarily now that we are spending so much time at home. That's why Dr. Williams suggests weaving in playtime that incorporates physical movement into your child's daily routine—even in simple ways that they might not notice. "Take your child to the park, go on a hike, or bike ride," says Dr. Williams. And during warm weather, "swim or turn on the water hose and play with him or her in the sprinkler," adds Dr. Williams. Of course, make sure to follow safety precautions like wearing a mask and socially distancing when out in any public spaces.

Cut Back on Sugar Intake

Your little one might have a serious sweet tooth, but it's important to keep their dessert habits to a minimum, especially as snacking has increased for many during the pandemic. Even at a young age, a diet high in sugar has been linked to a myriad of health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even certain cancers. With just a few tweaks, you can cut back on your kiddo's sugar intake without them noticing.

Dr. Williams suggests buying 100 percent fruit juice instead of "juice drinks" and keeping desserts, sodas, punches, ice creams, and fruit snacks for special occasions only. "These have no nutritional value so they should be treated as an occasional treat, not an everyday staple," she says.

Stick to a Consistent Bedtime

A tired child is not only a cranky and less attentive child, but a potentially sick-prone child too, as lack of sleep can decrease immunity. In addition to making sure your child gets enough hours of sleep, you also want to make sure they're getting good quality sleep, too. "If a child is over-tired, they are often hyper and overstimulated, which makes it even harder to put them to bed," says Dr. Mitzner. She recommends committing to a solid bedtime routine. "Dim the lights, read books and, if needed, get some blackout shades," she suggests. "If you see your child is not getting enough sleep, try pushing the bedtime even just 10-15 minutes earlier at night and you can start to see the difference with just that small change in timing."

Stay on Top of Check-Ups

Preventative visits for your child, such as a yearly health check-up and a dentist visit every six months, ensure your child is growing as they should be. "Most parents do a good job taking infants to see their doctor regularly at the beginning, but it is easy to forget about older kids (and ourselves)," says Dr. Williams. "A good tip to remember these appointments is to schedule dental and health visits during regular school breaks—for instance, every summer and Christmas break we go to the dentist and doctor." Adding these appointments to one calendar, perhaps that you share with your co-parent, can ensure that you stay on top of things.

During the pandemic, parents are leaning into telemedicine appointments. Those can be helpful, but doctors still do recommend in-person visits for things like check-ups and complaints that can't be addressed virtually. If you feel apprehensive about an in-person appointment (totally normal!), experts recommend calling your doctor's office to ask about their safety precautions. That includes mask wearing in the office, how they are dealing with appointments especially for sick patients, and sanitation.

Be the Best Role Model You Can Be

Experts agree that one of the best things parents can do to boost their kids' health is to be a good role model and exhibit healthy choices themselves. "When parents make good decisions about their own health, children are more likely to follow," says Dr. Williams. "Maintaining a healthy diet, not smoking, living an active lifestyle, using a seat belt when driving, and wearing helmets when on a bike are examples of how parents can lead by example."