How Families Can “EAT, HYDRATE, MOVE!” for Better Physical and Mental Health

We asked the experts how parents can help their kids establish healthy eating, hydration, and fitness habits early on for a lifetime of wellness.

By: Rachel Carollo

March is National Nutrition Month®, an annual campaign created 50 years ago by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to highlight the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits. To celebrate 2023’s theme of “Fuel for the Future,” Aquasana is teaming up again with Marathon Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to getting kids moving, to help encourage families to “EAT, HYDRATE, MOVE!” together. By eating healthfully, hydrating with clean, filtered water, and getting plenty of physical activity, families can help children establish healthy habits early on – setting them on the path for a lifetime of wellness.  

Healthy eating, proper hydration, and adequate physical activity are essential for the overall well-being of children. According to Hannah Fuerniss, a registered dietician (R.D) and nutrition and health manager at the Texas Beef Council, these factors not only impact physical health, but mental health as well. “If one of these areas is neglected, the others will likely suffer, so each should be considered when helping children to be the healthiest versions of themselves,” added Fuerniss. 

For the third year in row, Aquasana and Marathon Kids asked a panel of diverse experts to provide insight into the critical role that diet, hydration, and activity play in achieving proper nutrition and overall wellness. This National Nutrition Month, we’re excited to share some helpful everyday tips for families to “EAT, HYDRATE, MOVE!” from a team of registered dietitians; a celebrity chef, father, and fitness enthusiast; and a fitness and intuitive eating coach who is also a registered nurse and a Brooks Run Happy Team Ambassador.

EAT: Establish healthy eating habits early on


Hannah Fuerniss, R.D, nutrition and health manager at the Texas Beef Council 

Layla Mays, R.D., nutrition and health manager at the Texas Beef Council 

Chef Robert Hale, manager of culinary and foodservice at the Texas Beef Council

Parents play a vital role in shaping children’s eating habits. Shared mealtimes help kids pick up healthy eating habits from their parents and learn how to make informed food choices. Children who eat meals with their family tend to eat healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and they’re also more likely to maintain a healthy body weight. Eating meals with family members also has many other benefits like increased vocabulary in young children and decreased risk for substance abuse in teenagers.

Research suggests that having dinner together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development. According to the American College of Pediatrics, children ages nine to 14 who have more regular dinners with their families have more healthful dietary patterns, including eating more fruits and vegetables, less saturated and trans-fat, fewer fried foods and sodas, lower glycemic load, and more vitamins and other micronutrients. They’re also 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating and 24% more likely to eat healthier foods. In teens, regular family dinners are associated with lower rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders, and higher rates of resilience and higher self-esteem. 

How can parents help kids make healthy food choices?

HF: To help your kids eat more healthfully, make mealtime family time. Involve the whole family in cooking, preparing, and eating nutritious meals all together. Since children can learn by doing, this is a fantastic way to role-model healthy eating behaviors and make family fun memories at the same time.  

LM: I often recommend making healthy options easy options. For example, it’s helpful for parents to have pre-cut fruit, veggies, and beef jerky easily accessible so kids can reach for healthy snacks instead of chips or candy. I also encourage parents to help their kids understand the basics of the five main food groups and how to build a balanced plate as they get older. Finally, parents should prepare healthy meals that are also tasty - they do not have to be elaborate! 

RH: I find that getting up early enough to prepare and enjoy a healthy, nutritious breakfast together every morning is a wonderful way to set the whole family up for success all day long.

What about stubborn picky eaters?

HF: One tip I would suggest for parents with "picky eaters" is to offer them fruits and vegetables frequently in a non-threatening way. Exposure through sight, smell, and touch can all help kids to be more curious and interested in trying foods. Even have them help in the kitchen if you can! Modeling from parents and caregivers is another strategy I would encourage - when kids see others enjoying fruits and vegetables regularly, they just might want to try some (even if it's off your plate instead of theirs!). 

LM: Parents can also encourage picky eaters to try fruits and vegetables by serving them with familiar foods, cutting them into fun shapes, and serving them with various preparations. For balanced, kid-friendly recipes, I recommend Cheesy Ground Beef and Veggie Quesadillas and Beef and Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie. These recipes are delicious and packed with protein from beef and have extra nutrition and fiber from the vegetables that are mixed in. 

RH: Don’t be afraid to try new foods and experiment with new cooking techniques. I love to add spice to meals, and this can be done in a few different ways, from adding fresh peppers to a dish or dry spices. Using fresh peppers adds flavor, texture, and color that is important to satisfy all senses.

HYDRATE: Drink plenty of clean, healthy water


Hannah Fuerniss, R.D, Nutrition and Health Manager at the Texas Beef Council 

Layla Mays, R.D., Nutrition and Health Manager at the Texas Beef Council   

Hydration is critical to overall health. According to Fuerniss, it is a piece of the wellness puzzle that can often be overlooked or undervalued. “For adults and children alike, being adequately hydrated helps major organs function optimally to allow for improved digestion, sleep, mood, and even brain and heart performance,” says Fuerniss. “Water plays many important roles in the body, including transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, body temperature regulation, nerve and spinal cord function, waste elimination, and more.” adds Mays.

One of the easiest ways to get your family to drink more water is to make it more appealing by using a quality water filter at home. Filtering out chlorine and contaminants makes tap water taste and smell significantly better and healthier for you, too. This can be as easy as giving kids a reusable filter water bottle to carry at school, filling up with filtered water from the kitchen faucet, or investing in a whole house water filtration system for clean, healthy water from every tap in the home. Aquasana recently introduced a new electric countertop system that instantly filters out 78 contaminants, including chlorine, lead, PFOA/PFOS, pharmaceuticals, and more. Sleek and compact like a Nespresso machine, kids love pushing the button and watching the water be instantly transformed while filling their cups and bottles in seconds. 

How important is it that a child drinks enough water daily, instead of milk, juice, soda, etc.?

LM: Kids should drink water daily to support a healthy and active lifestyle. Water is calorie-free and essential to supporting the body’s vital functions. According to the 2022-2025 Dietary Guidelines, developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, beverages with nutrients like milk or 100% juice, can be consumed as part of a healthy diet. For children, it is important to limit sugar-sweetened beverages because they contain “empty” calories, meaning they have calories and sugar but lack the nutrition that the body needs. The Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of calories starting at age two. 

How can parents help their kids drink more water?

HF: Have a reusable water bottle for each child and help them to keep it filled up throughout the day. Make water the drink of choice at home by not stocking up on sugar-sweetened beverages that may be more tempting to kids.  

LM: Infusing water with delicious fruits like berries and citrus adds flavor, making water more delicious and visually appealing for children.  

HF: The foods we eat also play a role in being properly hydrated. Raw fruits and vegetables, like cucumbers and watermelon for example, are made up of a high percentage of water. When it's difficult to help children drink enough water throughout the day, incorporating more of these foods can help significantly. If raw fruits and vegetables are a struggle also, try blending them into a smoothie!

How much water should children be drinking per day? 

LM: Water recommendations for kids vary based on age and activity level. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 5 cups of water a day for kids ages 4 to 8, and 7 to 8 cups per day for older children. For adults, the National Academy of Medicine suggests 13 cups of fluid per day for men and 9 cups per day for women. However, this can vary based on activity level, climate, and pregnancy. Consult with a health professional to help figure out your fluid needs. 

How can you tell if your child is not getting enough water? 

LM: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, signs of dehydration for older children can include a dry or sticky mouth and decreased or dark urine output, among other symptoms.

MOVE: Get moving as a family for physical and mental wellness


Sarah Kramer, R.N., fitness & intuitive eating coach and Brooks Run Happy Team Ambassador   

Parents being active with their kids benefits everyone involved! Getting moving as a family helps children make physical activity a lifelong healthy habit and helps parents stay physically and mentally healthy as well.  

“Research shows that when kids engage in physical activity with their parents, they have a much better chance of developing lifelong healthy habits,” says Cami Hawkins, CEO of Marathon Kids. “That’s good news for their bodies and their minds. When children feel healthy, they perform better in school, think more clearly, and can better cope with everyday stress.” 

Regular, moderate to vigorous physical activity, such as walking, hiking, riding a bike, playing basketball, or going for a run, isn’t just beneficial for children’s physical health but for their mental health as well. Children who develop the habit of regular physical activity at an early age have lower rates of depression and anxiety compared with their peers who are less active. 

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, children ages 6 to 17 need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day. However, only one in five kids in the U.S. currently reaches that minimum.

How can parents get the whole family moving?

SK: One of the best ways to get the whole family active is to be the example. As parents, it’s important to prioritize taking care of ourselves, and engaging in healthy habits makes a difference in our overall well-being. When kids see their parents engaging in running or other forms of physical activity, they will eventually want to mimic that behavior. Over the last 20 years, I’ve been consistently exercising. Our kids have been around mommy during workouts since they were infants, so the exposure has been frequent and repetitive. As they’ve grown, the question is no longer, “Are you going to exercise, Mommy?” Now it’s become, “When are you going to exercise, Mommy?” Kids will start asking to go on walks, bike rides, runs, mimic strength-based exercises, create their own movement sessions and stretch. Eventually they won’t always have to be asked to move their bodies and will come up with the idea on their own. Instead of forcing it to be structured for kids, let them intuitively decide what sounds fun and appeals to them.

Work life balance is hard! How can parents easily incorporate physical activity into their family’s busy daily routine? 

SK: This is a struggle for so many people, as they feel varying amounts of stress and responsibilities throughout their days. A big tip is this: know you don’t have to exercise for 30 minutes at a time. Perhaps it’s more accessible if you break it down into three 10-minute sessions. Some days, your day responsibilities may be lighter, and you can fit in a 20-minute workout. The less pressure, guilt, and frustration around exercise, the better. It’s OK if you’re in a season of life where 10 minutes of exercise is your max each day. There will be days when you exceed that or don’t meet it; it’s OK. Stressing out over it does more harm than good, so be gentle with your body and mind. Pick a time of day when you can move your body and not feel so rushed. The time of day you exercise doesn’t matter, so choose what works best for you and your family. Always remember that you deserve to take care of your health too. Everyone benefits! 

What are some other physical activities that families can do together for fitness that are also fun?

SK: Kids want to do things that keep their attention, so engaging in sports related activities, letting them choose a route to take for a walk, having a family friendly competition, or emphasizing the positives can make a huge difference. The more you build up the excitement around exercise, the more intrigued kids will be to try. Exercise looks different for everyone, so giving kids the opportunity to try different forms of movement gives them choices and keeps things exciting. Some other great examples are ice skating, roller skating, shooting hoops with a fun game, helping in the garden, mowing the yard, picking up trash in the community, or bowling.

What advice do you have for parents who want to get their kids moving but aren’t necessarily active themselves?

SK: Make exercise fun! The way you speak about exercise is the way kids view it. If it’s about strength, confidence, health, and enjoyment, it feels different. If it’s about being a certain weight or size, the focus is only on external factors and can lead to feelings of shame or guilt. It’s unusual to be great at something the first time you try it. Building up endurance, consistency, strength, and cardio health all take time. If running, it’s also important to know you don’t have to run the entire time you exercise. Take walk breaks by doing intervals, slow your pace, decrease the time, and get your body into the groove of this form of exercise. Be patient and know every time you show up for a run or other physical activity, you’re doing something for yourself.

"Make exercise fun! The way you speak about exercise is the way kids view it."

What are the key success factors for beginners?

SK: As a beginner, you want to start creating a habit around exercise. I tell my coaching clients to start small. This will help you from feeling overwhelmed and allows for behavior change to happen. If you have not been consistently exercising, make your goal one day per week for a structured workout. That may be walking, including shorts bursts of jogging, bodyweight exercises or simply stretching. Don’t overthink it. Focus on moving your body for a specified amount of time, one day per week, and do that for a few weeks. Then, you can add another day of exercise during the week. Continue adding in workouts over a period of time and you’ll find it becomes a habit. When you meet a goal, that gives you momentum to keep moving forward, so that’s why I encourage small goals to start. Achieving small goals will lead to those bigger goals.

How critical of a role does hydration and nutrition play in running and exercise?

SK: Hydration is so important and underrated. Throughout my career as a registered nurse and fitness coach, I’ve seen that most people are underhydrating. Drink more water than you think is necessary. Keep a big container of water with you throughout the day and take frequent sips. If needed, set a timer on your phone to remind you to hydrate. Nutrition is also such an important piece. When you nourish your body well, it responds differently. Knowing you can and should eat a variety of foods each day will keep you satisfied and nourished. What digests well for one person may not digest well for another. Paying attention to your body and the way it responds to food (satiation, digestion, energy levels, hunger cues, physical and mental signs/symptoms) makes such a significant difference. For a long time, the conversation was about eating less, which doesn’t always support what the body needs to thrive. Focus on eating more of the foods that feel good in your body, give you energy, taste good, support overall well-being, and what you can add in versus remove from your lifestyle. Food satisfaction is a must. 

Visit for more tips, ideas, and free resources to get the whole family moving. 

Marathon Kids is a nonprofit on a mission to get kids moving. The organization provides effective physical activity programming to help kids adopt an active lifestyle and learn how being active can improve their entire well-being. Marathon Kids’ program is designed to increase daily physical activity by engaging kids in a positive, goal-driven program that challenges them to run, jog, walk or move over the course of a season.