EAT, HYDRATE, MOVE: Experts Share Healthy Habits for Kids

Six experts give advice on how to encourage kids to eat healthfully, hydrate properly and stay active to help tackle childhood obesity.

By: Cindy Young

March is National Nutrition Month®, an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to highlight the importance of healthful eating and physical activity habits – a call to action that’s more relevant than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 5 American children has obesity. Compared to children with healthy weight, children with overweight or obesity are at a higher risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Children with obesity are also more likely to experience bullying, social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem. What’s more, while childhood obesity has been rising for decades, a 2021 study from the CDC tied the COVID-19 pandemic to an “alarming” increase in obesity in U.S. children and teenagers — especially in those who already were obese when the pandemic started.  

While there is no simple solution, experts agree there are three main ways parents and caregivers can help children reach and maintain a healthy weight – EAT, HYDRATE, MOVE. This National Nutrition Month, Aquasana is once again teaming up with Marathon Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to getting kids moving, to help tackle childhood obesity by encouraging healthy habits for kids including eating healthfully; drinking plenty of clean, filtered water; and staying physically active. Together, we’ve tapped a panel of experts to provide insight into the critical role that each plays in achieving proper nutrition and overall wellness. Check out these everyday tips for families from six experts including Deborah Gilboa, MD (aka “Dr. G”), resilience expert, nationally recognized family physician and media personality; Chef Fernando Saralegui, restaurateur, author, and creator of a children’s TV show advocating healthy eating; and four leading nutritional science scholars from the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living, UTHealth School of Public Health.

EAT: Achieve proper nutrition by eating healthfully


A healthful childhood leads to a healthier adulthood. The dietary habits children develop early will continue into adulthood, which is why healthy eating, hydration and physical activity are important to a child’s overall well-being. Two of the biggest challenges kids face today that prevent them from succeeding in healthy eating and hydration are 1) food marketing; and 2) availability. Sugar-sweetened beverages and non-healthy foods are available everywhere and heavily marketed. Kids who drink one sugar-sweetened drink per day can gain up to 14.5 pounds of unnecessary weight (depending on age and size) in one year.* Too often, as well, the price of sugary beverages is the same as water. 

Water is the healthiest drink choice for children and adults. Water is important for just about every major body system, including your nervous, muscular, urinary, and digestive systems. Without sufficient water, individuals can suffer from dehydration that can affect the ability to think and learn, and lead to constipation and kidney stones, among other things. Hydration is equally important as nutrition and exercise. In addition to the physical benefits of water, drinking water is associated with improved cognitive function and mood in individuals of all ages

To eat more healthfully, families can start by providing healthy foods in the home and a structure that includes three meals and scheduled snack and activity breaks. Include vegetables and fruits as much as you can into meals and follow the USDA’s easy-to-follow food guide, MyPlate, which was created to help parents figure out how to feed their kids nutritious, balanced meals. Try to encourage at least one whole fruit in the morning, 1-2 fruit and vegetable options for lunch, a fruit or vegetable for snack, and 2 or more vegetables at mealtime. Additionally, try to reduce availability of high-fat, high-sugar, and/or salty snacks, and provide your children with less processed snacks. 

Take time to plan a menu during the weekend for the week ahead. For healthy, kid-friendly recipe ideas, you can visit our Nourish program site for families as well as for easy, healthy family dinner ideas. To help picky eaters add more fruits and vegetables into their diet, we recommend parents and caregivers: 

  • Be a role model. Eat fruit and vegetables in front of your children.  
  • Expose children to different fruits and vegetables multiple times. It can take a child 10 times or more of seeing and tasting a fruit or vegetable on their plate before they eat it.   
  • Try different cooking and seasoning methods for fruits and vegetables. Cooking should be fun and so should eating!  

To find more tips and suggestions for addressing kids’ feeding and eating challenges, visit

UTHealth School of Public Health faculty participated as experts on nutrition and hydration. Their participation should not be construed as an endorsement of any product or service mentioned on this page. 

HYDRATE: Drink plenty of clean, healthy water

Expert: Deborah Gilboa, MD (aka “Dr. G”), parenting expert, nationally recognized family physician, and regular contributor on The Doctors, The TODAY Show, Good Morning America, The Rachael Ray Show, and more

One of the very best things you can do to help your child have a healthy body their whole lives is to build the habit of drinking water! With these three steps you can give your children not only a healthier childhood but a better chance of lifelong healthy weight, better sleep, sharper cognition and improved mood. 

Drink water "out loud" yourself. Don't just drink water when you're thirsty. Name it, ask for it at meals, praise the water you're drinking and yourself for drinking it. Make sure your kids know that you are drinking water most often and why. Modeling behavior is even more effective than imposing it on our children. 

Start with water for everyone. At restaurants, at home, in the car, at school and sports, set the expectation that everyone's first drink is water. If you decide to have juice or milk or even soda (for kids 13 and over) with a meal, make sure water comes first. 

Make it a competition or a collaboration. Depending on your child's personality and desire, you can compete with them to see who can get their recommended amount of water each day first, or you can collaborate to hit a "family total" each day.

Especially as our kids get older, it can be almost impossible to know if they are drinking enough water. Look for these common early signs of mild dehydration: headache, irritability, fatigue, unexpected hunger, or going to the bathroom less often. When your child mentions any of those, for example complaints of a headache or fatigue or hunger, suggest they try a glass of water as a first solution.

MOVE: Stay physically active

Expert: Chef Fernando Saralegui, restaurateur, author and creator of Papi’s Kitchen, an educational children's TV series promoting healthy eating 

Eating, hydration, and physical activity are three legs of the same stool. Positive encouragement in these areas at early stages in life could not be more important. They create the foundation for the future – not only as a physically healthy adult, but also as a mentally healthy adult, and ultimately, a healthy contributor as a citizen to society. These strengths are also important in helping children to believe in themselves in order to resist peer pressure from their core. 

In my opinion, the biggest challenge to all three topics is easy – screens! By definition, screens are sedentary. Just as important, unfortunately screens are also often used by parents as a pacifier. Hey, I get it, I’m a dad. Parenting is hard and demanding! While it’s often easier to check out and give kids screen time, consider that you’re also potentially creating myriad bad habits. Instead, try any or all of the following ideas to get your family moving together:

Start these healthy habits for kids at an early age. Introduce exercise to kids from the very start by jogging with them in strollers or hitching them on the bike.  

Take it outside. Incorporate sports and outdoor activities into your daily routines as a family. I’m currently working with Texas Parks and Wildlife, and I like their slogan: Life is Better Outside. Walk, hike, swim, hunt, fish, ski, kneeboard, surf, touch football, all sports. To quote NIKE, “Just Do It!” Overall, make activity part of your life together.

Tie physical activity and healthy food together. Take children to a farm stand at local farms, meet the farmer, walk the rows, and taste. Grow your food in the yard or outside in pots to get kids involved in the natural process, giving them ownership. Keep everything as close to the source and natural as possible. As the plants grow, introduce recipes with stories about their origin/place. Tell them the story (e.g., show them a documentary), creating good habits AND tolerance! Growing their own is also a great way to get picky eaters to taste new vegetables.  

Additionally, the Nostalgic Palate is a personal theory of mine. The palate evolves at a very young age, and more importantly, creates palate memories that we can never erase – for better or worse. If we grow up eating junk (you define - fast food, heavily processed and packaged foods, etc.), it is those foods that will bring nostalgic comfort in adulthood, becoming the go-to in times of stress. This 60-year tradition in America has spawned many sad outcomes. Obesity, diabetes, and bad habits are passed down by generation….it is not a “Happy Meal”.  

At the end of the day, remember to cook with your children, eat with your children, and eat the same thing. No kids anything!

Expert: Cami Hawkins, CEO of Marathon Kids 

Regular physical activity has been proven to help alleviate anxiety in both children and adults, so in times like these, staying active is more important than ever. Fortunately, Marathon Kids has lots of great resources and suggestions for ways to keep your kids active at home — including running and walking, two of the most basic ways to move our bodies.  

Remember that positive modeling from the important adults in their lives helps children of all ages. Translation: Parents being active with their kids benefits everyone involved! Tackling physical activity as a family will help your children make moving their bodies a lifelong healthy habit and will help you stay physically and mentally healthy as well. 

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

How Aquasana can help

Expert: Derek Mellencamp, General Manager at Aquasana 

One of the easiest ways to get your family to drink more water is to invest in a quality water filtration system. By removing the chlorine and contaminants from tap water, it not only tastes and smells significantly better, it’s better for you, too. This can be as easy as finding the perfect filtered water bottle for kids 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 your home. 

Aquasana is thrilled to help an organization like Marathon Kids set children on a long and healthy path through adulthood. We believe having access to clean, filtered water is essential to overall wellness and proper nutrition. As a parent myself, keeping our kids healthy, hydrated and active feels more important — and challenging — than ever. We’re proud to support Marathon Kids in directly impacting the lives of school children across the nation. 

Join the Marathon Kids cause

Research shows that when kids feel healthy, they perform better in school, make better choices, and exhibit better behavior. Marathon Kids' purpose is 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. The program uses a volunteer-led coaching model combining award-winning technology and evidence-based practices to build a structured physical education program. Active kids need plenty of water daily, and they can work with their Marathon Kids coaches to set hydration goals along with their daily distance targets.   

For 26 years, Marathon Kids has transformed the lives of millions of children through running programs at schools, community-based organizations, and camps. The non-profit will use Aquasana’s generous donation to help more children of all backgrounds and abilities to access the non-profit’s programming, set healthy habits and achieve more than they ever thought possible. 

Join us this National Nutrition Month in establishing new healthy hydration habits and drinking goals. To learn more about Marathon Kids, including how to support their efforts, visit


* Hall KD, et al. From calories to weight change in children and adults: the state of the science. Healthy Eating Research. (2016).