Grow Healthy and Strong With the 5-2-1-0 steps

By Michelle McDonough, M.D., family medicine physician in Mankato, Minnesota.

Like a tablet with a low battery, or a car running low on gas, your body can run out of energy without its fuel and energy source — food. Just as a tablet needs the right cord to charge and a car requires the correct fuel to run, children need to eat enough healthy foods and drinks to keep their bodies moving.

Fueling those bodies with important nutrients helps kids play, learn and grow — and you can easily instill healthy habits using the 5-2-1-0 formula.

Using the 5-2-1-0 steps

To create good daily habits, start with knowing and following the 5-2-1-0 steps:

  • 5 — Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

The vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables are important for children’s growth and development. Children may not like certain fruits and vegetables the first time they try them, so keep offering choices with meals and snacks. For example, if children don’t like cooked carrots, try offering them raw carrots with different types of dips. Try including your children in meal preparation, as they are more likely to try new foods if they participate in making the meal.

  • 2 — Limit recreational screen time to no more than two hours a day.

Increased screen time is linked to obesity, sleep issues, language delays and behavioral problems in children. Put time limits on their devices or apps, keep screened devices out of children’s bedrooms and turn off screens during mealtimes to help reduce daily screen time. Parents also can be good role models for children by limiting their time on screened devices.

  • 1 — Get at least one hour of physical activity every day.

Exercise is an important part of a healthy life and can be fun. Incorporate physical activity into your day with a family walk, bike ride, dancing or time at the park. Children who participate in sports, such as soccer or swimming, also can learn life lessons about teamwork and increase their social skills.

  • 0 — Aim to drink zero sugary drinks.

Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks, including pop and juices. Juice has minimal nutritional value for children and is high in calories and sugar, even if labeled “unsweetened.” Instead, opt for non-fat milk products or water. Try infusing water with different kinds of fruit for a fun summer treat.

Catching butterflies in the Prairies Edge Exploration Area at the Children's Museum in Mankato

Making healthy behavior a family focus

Promoting healthy behaviors at a young age can set the foundation for a lifetime of good nutrition and exercise habits. Remember, mealtime is a key part of the day for applying the principles of the 5-2-1-0 steps.

When it’s time to eat, even if it is just a snack, turn off screened devices and focus on food choices.

Involve children in choosing an activity to get the family moving. After 30 minutes of sitting, get up and move. This can be as simple as turning on some music and dancing, picking up the toys in a room or going outside to play a game.

Establishing routines around the 5-2-1-0 steps can help your family focus on simple ways to be healthier this summer. If doing all four steps at once feels overwhelming, start with one focus and add in the other steps over time.

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