Healthy habits help children grow up happy and healthy as well as preventing health problems both mentally and physically.
There are 3 pillars of a healthy lifestyle: a balanced diet, physical exercise and sleep. This applies to any age so helping children develop healthy habits early in life will bring lifelong benefits and encourages them to evaluate food choices and physical activities.
Keep it positive and be a good role model. I know its easier said than done when you just want to order a pizza or have a day off from cooking so be realistic. Always set practical goals when introducing new behaviours or routines and stay involved.
There are simple steps you can take to introduce changes. I have found that the younger generation are obsessed with the variety of electrical devices available and that the older generation would have given anything back when we were kids for a few minutes of peace. But habits as such lead to a sedentary lifestyle and excessive snacking. So limiting their screen time will help.
Reading with kids is a perfect opportunity for some quality time and its great for building literacy and social-emotional skills that are important in children’s development. If you do this everyday, even if it’s 20 minutes before bed, it is introducing a new habit and one they will remember when they’re older. They might even do it with their own kids. Just think of it like this, limiting screen time will decrease the risks for obesity and cardiovascular disease.
This takes me onto the bedtime routine. You’re never too old for a routine at night but as you get older, the ability to be disciplined slowly fades. Establishing and maintaining good sleep habits at a young age helps you to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed. Research shows that kids who consistently don't get enough sleep are more likely to have problems at school and develop more slowly than those who do.
Get the whole family moving and enjoy physical activities. All kids are different so whether they want to jump right in or shy away from anything physical, it is your job to keep encouraging them even if they aren’t top performers.
Encourage activities that they will enjoy. Experiment and try new things and discover what they like. Once they find something, they more likely to stick with it. As they grow older, school becomes more demanding so something to help switch off from that even if it is just an hour, it great. Being active means healthier, fitter and stronger and better out look on life. Your child is more likely to be motivated focused more confident and successful in school plus they sleep better.
Be an advocate for healthier children and make meal times fun. Make meals colourful. Compare a plate of vegetables to a standard nugget and chips meal, visually, the healthier foods are brighter. Don't worry if they only like one or two types of vegetable or fruits. Kids tend to accept new foods gradually, and their preferences expand over time. Kids will eat anything when they’re really hungry so setting up regular meal and snack times will encourage a regular appetite. Don’t buy as much junk food and then eventually they will begin to snack on healthier foods if they have no other option. I’m not saying deprive them if it's what they’re used to but a gradual change will make it easier to maintain new habits. Our family were only allowed Coco Pops and Coca Cola at Christmas and it became a joke for us and our friends as we go older. Now it’s not something you will ever see in our cupboards and that’s not just because of the job we have. It’s because all jokes aside, our parents taught us from an early age, they were not good for you and it stayed with us.
Teaching them to eat slowly and recognise when they are full is better for them than dictating when they are done. I admit I was all for ‘finish your broccoli or no dessert’ until meal times become a negotiation period of ‘how much do I have to eat before we can have dessert?’. Don't let rules, pleading, or bargaining determine your child's eating patterns. Eating breakfast is a must and if it is protein based then it will help steady the blood sugar for the day and prevent a sugar crash.
Teach your child about nutrition by looking at the food labels for their favourite packaged snacks. You can focus on a few important parts of the label, such as the amount of sugar or saturated fat. If sugar is the first ingredient listed, that snack is made up of more sugar than any other ingredient and by telling them this, they know what to look for when they ask “can I have this?” About every unhealthy snack they find. You never know, you may learn a lot yourself. During dinner, point out the various food groups in the meal and teach children the importance of variety and nutritional requirements.
I might sound like I’m waffling on about healthy eating habits so bear with me if you haven’t already grabbed a packet of biscuits in utter rebellion. (Check them ingredients!!) But cooking and eating are my thing. I love cooking with kids because they love to learn (mainly licking the bowl with the cake mix in the bottom) and they always have that sense of achievement when its done. So whether it be a sweet dessert or even grabbing a piece of fruit, the more they know about the product, the better they will feel eating it.
Trying new food can be difficult so try to include a food you know they like. My biggest challenge has been a veggie bolognese with carrots, mushrooms (always a hard one), onions peppers etc and it can be difficult because for kids who are fussy, this is a nightmare meal. But getting them to try just a few mouthfuls and if you do this once a week with no snacks before, eventually they learn they like it. Don’t give up!
Help your children understand healthy eating by teaching them about food, where it comes from, how it grows, what nutrients it contains. Remember as a kid, ‘carrots helped you see in the dark’ well now is it more ‘should have eaten more carrots’ for those who have problems with their sight. Imagine what kids will do with a wider knowledge about the nutritional benefits of foods.
Fast food is a huge NO GO for me. Mainly because kids have this crazy thought that Happy Meals are a treat so therefore when they grow up they will get joy out of stuffing their face with a cheese burger. These kinds of foods have links to diabetes, obesity, heart problems, the list is endless. And the chemicals in them will actually make you feel bad after eating them. Imagine your go to food when you’re feeling down actually makes you feel worse. If you haven’t got time, maybe you’re rushing to football practice, sandwiches are always a better option. Even oat cakes, hummus carrot sticks, cucumber and some fruit will do before you get home for tea.
Anyway, a lot of do’s and dont’s so I’m going to leave you with this, if you don’t already, try a few of these tips. Come back to me with some feedback, I'd love to hear how you got on.