We often think that heart health is only for adults and often only for older adults. The truth is that we need to begin when children are young to help them establish heart-healthy habits that will last them a lifetime. Research has shown that the choices we make throughout our life can influence our heart health when we are older. With the rising rate of child and adult obesity come many heart-related illnesses that can be avoided by making healthy choices. More and more children and adolescents are being diagnosed with high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, and high cholesterol which can be prevented with a healthy diet and physical activity.
The question many parents have is “Where do I start?” Heart-health doesn’t have to be difficult. Many foods that kids already enjoy provide benefits not only for your heart, but also for overall health. The key to preparing and serving these foods is to limit the added fats, sugars, and salt. Too much of these things can override the benefits of the food. Among the top foods that benefit your heart are salmon, oatmeal, black or kidney beans, almonds, walnuts, tuna, brown rice, and many fruits and vegetables. Blueberries, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, tomatoes, papaya, broccoli and spinach are just a few produce items that have been shown to promote heart health. Even dark chocolate can be heart-healthy as long as it has cocoa content of 70% or higher. Most dark chocolate will list the cocoa content on the label so you can easily find the percentage you are looking for.
When it comes to celebrating, many people think food. Celebrating Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to involve only high calorie foods and sedentary activities like movies. Instead of a box of candy, recruit your children to help you prepare a meal for the whole family. Getting kids involved in cooking has many benefits including reading and following a recipe, cutting, measuring, and preparation skills. When children are involved in making food, they are able to touch, explore, and taste the items you are using. This gives children an introduction to new foods as well as experience with those foods that can result in them trying the new foods more often.
Heart-Healthy Meal Ideas
- Baked salmon, steamed brown rice, spinach salad with almonds, walnuts, and blueberries with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing
- Chili made with ground turkey, black beans, low-sodium and low-sugar tomato sauce, red bell peppers, and pureed spinach
- Whole-wheat, oatmeal, and banana pancakes with poached eggs
Instead of going to a movie, try an activity that exercises your heart. Regular physical activity is crucial to keeping your heart strong. Ice skating is an activity that the whole family can participate in—either outdoors or indoors. Snow skiing is another great option that offers a variety of levels from beginners to advanced. Snow shoeing and cross country skiing involve equipment that not everyone may have, but that can be rented through Polk County Conservation. If the weather is just too cold to get the whole family out, try an active game at home such as charades or the Wii, an indoor play area, or open gym at your school or rec center. Check with your school or rec center for dates and times. Resources for all of these many of these ideas are listed below.
Finally, let’s talk about school Valentine’s Day parties. Over the years, giving Valentine’s has come to involve giving candy as well. Just when you have had a break from the Christmas candy, kids come home with a box full of new, sugary treats. Instead of passing out candy with your child’s Valentine’s, consider giving mini Play-Doh containers, glow bracelets, or coupons for frozen yogurt or local venues such as an indoor play area or children’s museum. Pencils, erasers, stickers, temporary tattoos, and book marks are good options as well.
Getting kids involved in healthy habits now will ensure healthy hearts for a lifetime!
Physical Activity Resources
Snow Shoeing and Cross Country Skiing
Indoor Play Areas
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