Instilling Healthy Habits in Kids

My memories of growing up in Hawaii consist of going to the beach, camping, hiking, and spending time outdoors. My mother was a bundle of energy and I had a lot of fun keeping up with her. She ate healthy, opting for whole grains and always served greens with dinner. She also exercised regularly – sweating to the oldies or dancing around the living room with Denise Austin. 

When I was a kid, I hated the fact that I couldn’t eat Lucky Charms every day, play video games all weekend, and had to eat my vegetables before I excused myself from the table. I didn’t understand why my mother, who I coined the “health nut,” limited sugar intake, didn’t buy soda and white bread, and made fresh produce and granola bars available instead of chips and candy. 

As an adult, I thank my mom for instilling the value of health and wellness in me at an early age. But many children don’t have the same upbringing. 

A 2012 National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion study revealed these alarming statistics about children in Hawaii:

♦ 12.5 percent of kids age 2-5 were overweight; 9.1 were obese. 

♦ 14 percent of adolescents were overweight; 14.5 were obese. 

♦ 85.3 percent of adolescents didn’t eat vegetables daily. 

♦ Only 18.1 percent of adolescents achieved the recommended amount of daily physical activity (60 minutes).  

Although these numbers are still on the lower end of the national averages, it certainly doesn’t mean all children in Hawaii are healthy. No child should have to deal with the health and social consequences of being overweight or obese.

Kids won’t change on their own and need to be taught healthy habits and behaviors. Modeling your own healthy choices is one of the best things you can do for your kids. Talking with them about the reasons health is so important will help them understand. Remember to discuss the benefits of a healthy diet and movement in kid-friendly language. Kids don’t care about diseases they may develop further down the road. They care about having more energy for that big game this weekend or not being able to attend a friend’s birthday party because they’re sick. 

A few ideas to help instill a love and appreciation for health in your children include:

♦ Involve them in your own healthy choices – take them with you to exercise classes, the farmers market, etc.

♦ Make small changes together – like switching to brown rice and walking more.

♦ Make healthy choices easy – offer healthy snacks and pack home lunches.

♦ Make healthy choices fun – jump rope or hula hoop with them or make a healthy recipe together. 

I wanted to know what parents around me did, too. I asked our very own Well-Being Hawaii blogger parents what they do to help their children learn the value of good health and nutrition. Here’s what they had to say:

Neal Iwamoto: It’s never too early to start children learning healthy habits! I try to keep my kids active with soccer and swim lessons. We try to set a good example because when we’re inactive, so are they. We try to get them outdoors on the weekends, for a hike or a trip to the beach. Even helping with chores like vacuuming and yard work helps them stay active. 

We’re not the greatest when it comes to nutrition with the kids. They can be very finicky but we give them fresh fruits with every meal. My oldest loves vegetables so we make sure to serve her broccoli and salads, which are her favorites. We also stress good oral hygiene, making sure they brush twice a day and floss regularly. Ari had to get fillings at four years old and I don’t want her to have to go through that again. 

Fernando Pacheco: I try and have my children with me whenever we harvest anything from our garden. My wife and I try to make each harvest a big deal to remind my daughters how healthy it is to eat food that is harvest. We’re also saving a trip to the store. 

Children love routines, so if you start healthy habits early it becomes a part of their natural behavior. 


Fernando with daughters Lola, 5, and Mila, 2. 

Denise Lau: I don’t want my children to have the health problems I’ve had, so I try to model good exercise habits and healthy eating. I let them eat what’s around the house so it’s my fault if my children are eating junk food. When my eldest gets a stomach ache, I’ll remind her that she’s not eating enough vegetables and drinking enough water. I feel successful when she’s aware of what she’s eating and thinks about her choices.

Children need to see you cooking meals and eating a variety of fresh food. I was embarrassed that my daughter pointed to the microwave when she was younger and asked me to “cook” something. As parents, we want to be healthy in order to see our children grow up and we want them to live longer lives too. Being healthy starts one step at a time. Making healthy, homemade meals and staying active as a family is a good place to start. 


Denise's kids, Abby, 6, and Cody, 2. 

Moani Wright-Van Alst: My sons are very young (two and three) so healthy concepts are still foreign to them but I make sure to include fruits and vegetables with all their meals. I encourage them to eat them and sometimes I even bribe them. Even if they don’t eat them, at least it sends the right message by them seeing it on their plate. I also make sure that we do a lot of outdoor play to get them moving and run out their energy.

It’s really important to start kids on healthy habits early because what you learn at a young age becomes lifetime habits and engrained in who you are. 

Moani with sons Kamaha`o, 2, and Kaimalu, 3. 

Lynelle Fox: I have my son eat vegetables at dinner and lots of fresh fruits. I don’t ban snacks or “unhealthy” foods but I do have him practice moderation and eat at least one bite of everything on his school lunch plate. I believe instilling healthy habits is important because anything you begin in childhood becomes part of their lifestyle. I began feeding Jaxon salads from when he could digest them and now, he requests them. 


Lynelle's son Jaxon, 9. 

Do you have ways you help your kids learn healthy habits?