By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Illustration of a family's healthy habits

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Make it fun, make it fun, make it fun.

That’s how dietitian Candace Johnson recommends parents get their children to exercise and eat their peas and carrots. But doing those things as a family is the key, she said.

Johnson uses a family-centered approach at the Cardiometabolic Assessment, Research and Education Clinic at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Many of the children Johnson sees are overweight or obese, and may be prediabetic and have high cholesterol.

Johnson recently talked to American Heart Association News about how families can get healthy together.

What can parents do to help their family eat healthier?

Make it fun, and get everyone involved. Make a meal plan for the week and have each person choose a vegetable they want to make and how they want to cook it. Parents can use what they know about whole grains, lean meats, and fruits and vegetables to guide kids in choosing what they want to eat. And let kids pick what fruits to put in a fruit salad.

What are some tips for getting fussy eaters to try new foods?

Take them to the grocery store so that they’re involved in the process of filling the cart with healthy foods. And then get them in the kitchen to help prepare those foods.

I know it sounds like a hassle, and grocery shopping and cooking will take a little longer, but kids who are involved are more likely to try new things.

And, for example, if your child says he doesn’t like carrots raw, come up with other ideas, like roasted or steamed carrots.

How can parents incorporate exercise into the family routine?

Pick some activities you and your kids like to do — riding bikes at the park, playing soccer or basketball. And then make a schedule each week to do those things. Maybe it’s a half-hour after dinner and an hour each weekend morning.

Make it a habit in your family that this is something we’re all going to do.

Why is it important for families to work together to be healthy?

If the whole family doesn’t make a change, eating healthy and exercising may feel like a punishment to the person trying to change their lifestyle.

But if you have the support of your family, you’re not alone. Making changes tends to be easier when those around you are also making healthy choices.

Editor’s Note: We’re resurfacing this story from the archives for National Nutrition Month to help you eat healthier as a family.

If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.