Healthy Habits for Kids
It is not hard to find statistics that show Australian children spend too much time on devices and in front of screens and the figures on childhood obesity reflect this. 1 in 4 Australian kids are now overweight or obese and 80% are not getting enough physical activity. Less than 60% of children are not eating enough fruit or vegetables.
Encouraging children to eat well and get moving is not new information, but can be easier said than done, so this month we thought we would compile a checklist of ways to encourage your children to form healthy food and activity habits now, so they can carry these practices into their healthy futures.
Lead by example
The best predictor of a child’s eating and physical activity behaviour is that of their parents. Children will reflect your practices so be sure you are having a variety of vegetables and fruit every day along with a balanced diet of adequate protein, wholegrains and healthy fats, and participating in regular physical activity.
Get children involved in shopping and the kitchen
Talk about what foods are nutritious so your kids are familiar with them. Take them to the shops and let them pick out a few foods to include in healthy meals and things they would like to eat. (Tip: this may be easier at a fruit and veg store rather than a supermarkets when unhealthy packaged foods are plentiful)
Allow your children to help you in the kitchen with age appropriate activities such as washing foods, mixing ingredients in a bowl, grating some vegetables and when old enough, cutting and cooking. If the food has an element of fun to it and children were involved in the preparation process, research shows they are more likely to eat it.
Serve new foods with familiar foods
If your child lacks variety in their diet, take it slow and introduce new foods one at a time so not to overwhelm them. Offer a new food of their choice when they are having something they already enjoy can allow them to feel more comfortable.
Share meals with other children
Organise a play date or picnic with other children around a meal time. It’s a great way to get outdoors, as if children see their peers eating well, they are more likely to follow.
Try growing herbs or vegetables
This could be something new for you too, but getting children involved in any step of the food process has been shown to help them build more positive relationships with food. By growing something they are also learning a new skill and it’s a great way to get outdoors!
Make outdoor activities fun
The easiest way to get children outside is by making it fun. Allow your child to invite a friend, go to a park with great equipment, or make up an obstacle course of them to get involved it.
Keep it simple
Playing outdoors improves children’s cognitive development and mental health. Unstructured play can allow children to think more creatively or problem solve themselves.
If your child or children are not particularly fond of the outdoors, start small. Choose a quiet park or beach area, have an activity planned and have a set short timeframe they need to participate for before you can leave. If they are enjoying themselves you can stay, but with a timeframe, they can at least give it a go and build from there.
Again lead by example with physical activity is key. If you are doing the same thing, and appear to be having a good time doing it, your children are more likely to mirror these behaviours. Participate in your children’s games or kick a ball with them. Your involvement can also increase the time spent participating in physical activity.
Incorporate technology if needed
For the child who is technology obsessed utilising this to get them involved in physical activity can be to your advantage. Geocaching activities (using GPS) or using photography in your activities or games can help get the most reluctant, screen obsessed child involved.
And most importantly: Stay calm
You want the best for your children and trying to instil healthy practices can be stressful especially around mealtime and activity. If you lose your temper when they push away your food again or refuse to get off the couch it wont help and could result in a fight. If you can remain calm, be persistent in encouraging healthy eating and activity and keep the environment positive, this has been linked with better outcomes. Conversely, negativity and stress particularly in the food environment can have profound detrimental effects on future eating habits.