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Top Four Healthy Habits for Young Children

Amy Long Carrera, MS, RD, CNSC, CWCMS
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
01/13/16  3:53 PM PST
Healthy Habits for Young Children

Are you following the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for a healthy child? The AAP’s 5-2-1-0 initiative, aimed at preventing childhood obesity, consists of the following top four healthy habits for young children:

5: Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

2: Limit screen time (using computers, playing video games, and watching television, videos, or DVDs) to 2 hours a day. Children younger than 2 should have no screen time.

1: Strive for at least 1 hour of physical activity a day.

0: Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

To see if children’s habits stacked up to the AAP’s recommendations, one study looked at lifestyle habits of more than 3,000 US children from birth through 4 years of age. They asked parents questions about the foods their children usually ate, how much they weighed and how active they were. The researchers concluded that toddlers and preschoolers are already developing some of the unhealthy habits seen in older children.

Weight and Health

  • 97% of parents of younger infants reported their child’s diet was “very healthy” compared with 34% of parents of 3-year-olds.
  • Most parents reported that their child was “about the right weight.”

If your child is over 2 years old, click here for a calculator to figure out your child’s body mass index, an indicator of healthy weight.

Family Dinners

  • 10% ate dinner as a family 1 night a week.

Eating meals together is a great way to strengthen family bonds and promote healthy eating behaviors. The Family Dinner Project offers tips, resources and an online program to make family dinners a household staple in just four weeks.

Fast Food

  • 17% of children 6-11 months old ate fast food at least occasionally.
  • 95% of 3-year-olds ate fast food at least occasionally.
  • 37% of toddlers ate fast food 1 or more times per week.
  • 55% of preschoolers ate fast food 1 or more times per week.

If your child is eating at fast food restaurants, make healthier choices:

  • Order water or fat-free milk instead of a soda, juice, milkshake, frappe, or smoothie.
  • Get a side salad or baked potato if possible instead of French fries and onion rings, which can be laden with saturated fat.
  • Order smaller portions, such as items on the snack menu.
  • Choose grilled foods instead of fried foods.
  • Hold the cheese to eliminate extra calories and fat.

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Only a third of preschoolers met the recommended 5 or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and Veggies More Matters offers ideas to involve kids in healthy shopping and cooking, interactive games to peak their interest and fun recipes that kids can make or help with.

Physical activity

  • 15% of toddlers and 32% of preschoolers were involved in some sort of organized activity or sport.
  • 95% of toddlers and 99% of preschoolers played outside.
  • 56% of toddlers and 71% of preschoolers had at least 1 hour of daily play outside.

Physical activity controls weight, lowers blood pressure and reduces risk of disease in children and adults.

Screen time

  • 74% of toddlers watched TV, videos, or DVDs.
  • 2% of toddlers met the AAP recommendation for no screen time and 60% had less than 1 hour per day.
  • 21% of preschoolers had more than 2 hours of average daily screen time.

Whenever your young child does get screen time, make sure it’s for educational or physical activity purposes only. For activity ideas, watch Nemour’s Children’s Health System’s video, “Screen-Free Moments: Promoting Healthy Habits.”

Sweetened beverages

  • 48% of 3-year-olds consuming sweetened beverages.
  • 92% of older infants met the AAP recommendation of avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • 54% of preschoolers met this recommendation.
  • 9% of 3-year-olds (roughly 1 in 10) consumed carbonated soda ever.

Sugar-sweetened drinks are associated with unwanted weight gain and dental caries in children and adults.

Reduce your child’s risk of obesity and chronic disease by sticking to the AAP’s 5-2-1-0 recommendations, using some of these healthy tips:

5: Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

  • Serve a ½ cup serving of fruit or vegetable at every meal.
  • Each month, pick a color from the rainbow and try to eat a new fruit or veggie of that color. It’s a great way for little ones to learn colors while you’re all eating healthy.

2: Limit screen time (using computers, playing video games, and watching television, videos, or DVDs) to 2 hours a day. Children younger than 2 should have no screen time.

  • Make a “no television (or computer) while eating” rule.
  • If you need a break and want to let your child watch TV, set a timer for 30 minutes. You can get a lot done and you’ll know how long they watched.

1: Strive for at least 1 hour of physical activity a day.

  • Try being active for 10–15 minutes several times each day.
  • What were your favorite active games when you were a child? They might seem old school to you but they’ll be new to your child.

0: Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

  • Think plain water is too boring? Try adding a fruit slice (like orange) for natural flavor.
  • If you choose juice, make sure the label says 100% fruit juice and limit the amount to 1 small cup a day (4–6 ounces).


  • Briefel RR, Deming DM, Reidy KC. Parents’ Perceptions and Adherence to Children’s Diet and Activity Recommendations: the 2008 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study. Prev Chronic Dis 2015;12:150110.


  1. Posted August 1, 2019 at 8:51 am PST

    Very Informative article and I really like the facts you have shared. A better and healthy lifestyle leads your kids to a developmental and physical growth with activeness, strong bones that make them more creative and productive.

  2. Posted January 14, 2020 at 7:16 am PST

    Very well said thank you for sharing such a nice article.

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