Making time to raise a heart healthy family can seem overwhelming, but a few simple lifestyle changes can help keep the entire family’s hearts in the best shape. With childhood obesity rates higher than ever, it’s important to encourage your children to live a heart healthy lifestyle to improve their overall health and decrease their risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity later in life.

Tips to keep a healthy heart top of mind for your family:
  • Encourage children to join in on planning and preparing meals to create fun, creative, heart healthy snack/meal ideas.
  • Choose lean proteins, such as skinless chicken, turkey or fish, and try incorporating plant sources of protein, such as beans, lentils, soybeans or tofu.
  • Limit sugary sodas, juices and sports drinks.
  • Keep a family calendar to plan out the week’s family activities and plan for active weekends at the local park or beach.
  • Encourage healthy eating and exercise habits for overall physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Parents should remember that they are the biggest role models in their children’s lives. This is why it’s important to create healthy family habits early on and “practice what you preach.” By sticking to nutritious fruits and vegetables, lean meats and not overindulging in treats, you'll be sending the right message to your family.

Tips on being a heart healthy role model to your family:
  • Be sure to cook, serve and eat an appropriate amount of food. You should never force your child to continue eating if they are full, this can lead to unhealthy eating habits and overeating.
    • As you eat, talk about your feelings of fullness and encourage your children to do the same once they are full.
  • Encourage your child to try new foods and try them yourself. Describe the taste, texture and smell of the foods you try.
  • Limit yourself from eating foods high in calories, fat and sugar. When you limit these foods yourself, your children will be less likely to eat them as well.
    • Explain to your child that these foods are not necessarily “bad,” but that they should be considered treats and should only be eaten occasionally.

If your infant, child or teenager is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect or an acquired heart condition, he or she will require specialized cardiac care. The Children’s Heart Institute at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach is one of the few programs in the region that provides comprehensive cardiac care for children throughout adulthood. Learn more about the growing Children’s Heart Institute.

Learn more about the author, Dr. Chun