I often find myself deep in phone conversation with a friend, or half an hour into a texting marathon with my sister, talking about ways to improve what I am putting into my body and / or new and exciting ways to get active. I forward emails to friends all the time with subjects such as “5 foods to help strengthen bones” and “Exercise that doesn’t FEEL like Exercise.” I continuously scour the net for tips on the above and I read loads of books and magazines on the subject as well. It’s fair to say I talk about my diet and movement patterns lots and lots. And lots.
But what about the diet and exercise habits of my kids? Sure, I cook loads at home and feed them healthy meals and snacks at the moment, but they’re babies, only 1 and 2 years old. And whilst a good start in life is certainly advisable and beneficial for their growth and development, as they get older I know that they will most certainly become more aware of the food they’re eating and will want to play a part in deciding what they consume and what they don’t and how active they are or not.
It is therefore my job right now, I’ve decided, to help them help themselves down the track. It’s all about education and walking the walk! I thought I would share with you some ways that I think we as parents can help our kids eat healthier and be happier doing so. Here goes… healthy eating for kids:
1) LEAD BY EXAMPLE
There’s something not quite right about Mum or Dad throwing back a soft drink and a bag of salt and vinegar chips for dinner whilst telling little Johnny to eat his greens. Hypocrite-city anyone? Kids aren’t stupid and we shouldn’t treat them like they are. Don’t just talk the talk.
2) DON’T MAKE IT ALL ABOUT THE FOOD
Whilst diet plays a huge role in our health and wellbeing, exercise is something that shouldn’t be ignored by any of us. Do your best to balance the chats about health with information on both food and movement. Also, following on from point one above, try and be active in your own daily life to show your kids that going for a run, having a swim, playing a game of netball is ‘normal’ and should be part of daily life.
3) DON’T CALL FOOD ‘GOOD’ OR ‘BAD’
By calling foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we really are sending the message to our kids that there are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ things to be eating. And personally, I just don’t believe this to be true. As corny as it sounds (because we’ve heard it a million times before), I am a big fan of calling the less healthy foods “sometimes foods”. It’s easy to understand. It doesn’t attach emotional words to food, it simply is what it says it is. Everything in Moderation.
4) FOCUS ON ACTION NOT APPEARANCE
Start attributing healthy foods with being able to do more things physically; ‘run faster’, ‘jump higher’, ‘swim for longer’, ‘feel stronger’, ‘have more energy’, as opposed to improvement of physical appearance; ‘look thinner’, ‘fit into tighter clothes’, ‘wear the jeans you want’ and so on.
5) GIVE OPTIONS / EMPOWER YOUR KIDS
Giving your kids a say in what they eat and what activities they do benefits both you and them. From their perspective they feel like they have some control over their own lives and that you trust them with important decisions. And from your side, as long as both options you’re offering suit you, you will be pleased that they are content whist being healthy! For example as an afternoon snack you might offer yoghurt or a homemade bran muffin, as the parent you’re happy with either selection but they are also satisfied as you have demonstrated that you have faith in their choices. Win and win.
6) OFFER HEALTHY FOOD OPTIONS FIRST
Kids are more likely to down almost anything when they’re starving, so plate up healthy pre dinner snacks (e.g. steamed veges with a dipping sauce) as opposed to offering them along side the meat and fish. Once they have a belly full of protein they are definitely less likely to go for the less appealing asparagus spears and Brussels sprouts!
7) DON’T FORBID FOODS
This is a tough one, and when speaking to friends I had a few of them vehemently oppose me as they genuinely didn’t agree. I know that I’m ‘just a Mum’ i.e. not a doctor or a dietician or a nutritionist (although I do know my fair share on the topic) but I think banning foods all together creates a desire that may not have even been there in the first place if the food wasn’t banned! Growing up I always remember at birthday parties it was the kids who weren’t allowed sweets that sat on the table guzzling for the whole 3 hours whilst everyone else was pinning the tail on the donkey. See point number 3.
As a parent it’s important that you are aware of what your kids are eating. Be this in your own home, when they have dinner at a friends place or if they eat out with a babysitter or family member. That said, as long as you feel that you have educated them on food choices to the best of your ability it’s also important that you show them that you trust their decisions. Whilst you do want to be aware of what they are ordering from the tuckshop for lunch, sometimes it’s a good exercise to give them a couple of dollars extra to spend to show them that they are also in charge of their choices and the effects of those choices. If occasionally they choose the large chocolate cookie, they will feel the effects of that and there’s nothing like first hand experience!
9) IT’S NOT TOO LATE
Don’t throw in the towel and give up or not start at all just because your kids are now 8 and 10. It’s never too late (and I mean NEVER too late) to try and ingrain healthy eating habits into your kids. Even if you have adult kids! Maybe some of the above tips (e.g. monitoring tuck-shop spending money) won’t be applicable, but many are and a change for the good is DEFINITELY better late than never!
In addition to what I’ve said above, I had a chat with Julie Maree Wood, SongFit Nutritionist and author of The Complete Food Makeover, and she had a few points of her own to add:
“One of the goals behind The Biggest Loser Next Generation is to encourage social change amongst those who do not currently ascribe to the healthy living approach. Below I have outlined some ideas and inspiration to help those people to go forward with their plan
Why is one of the first questions a child asks. They love to know the reason behind everything. The why of healthy eating and active living is key to making it a successful part of your family and to engaging your children in the process. Why are we doing this? Why is some food healthy? Why is there ‘sometimes’ food? Why do we need to exercise? Why are we changing the way we do things now? Why can’t we do this later? Be well armed with answers to all of these questions. If you are making big changes to the way you do things now, it will help your understanding and motivation too.
CONNECT YOUR FAMILY TO REAL FOOD
Grow it, pick it, plan it, discuss it, cook it. Visits to the fruit and vegetable shop, a herb pot in the back garden, a small vege patch, a visit to the farmers’ market, all of these things will encourage your children to connect with the smells, sights and tastes of real food and see that eating food from packets is not the way nature intended and that real food makes them feel better.
RECOGNISE THAT CHANGE IS ABOUT LOSS
If you are making big changes to introduce a healthier diet and lifestyle in your house, you may well encounter resistance. Humans actually fear loss, not change so recognise what is being lost when you make these changes. There may be perceived loss of comfort, special time spent with mum, recognition of good behaviour or some other significant things in your child’s mind. Try to replace these things so the changes you introduce don’t mean they are lost. Give them some other non-food ways to comfort themselves, spend active time with them rather than food time, etc.
TUNE THEM INTO THEIR BODIES SIGNALS
Your children need to be able to listen to their bodies so they know when they are hungry, thirsty and full. Are you hungry or are you bored, uncomfortable, anxious, thirsty? Sounds simple but it is one of the most important things you will teach your child in relation to food. The satiety centre of our brain tells us when we are full. It’s controlled by the Vagus nerve but this nerve has numerous roles and telling us when we are full is low on the list. When you finish a meal or snack, teach your children to wait 10 minutes to let their Vagus do its job. If they are still truly hungry after they wait, then they could think about having something healthy to finish off their meal.
The Biggest Loser is back in 2013 for what is possibly the most significant challenge in the history of the series: to help
break the cycle of generational obesity in Australia. We now know that habits formed early in life can follow on throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. Bad habits in childhood can increase health risks such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes in a person’s adult life. The Biggest Loser is addressing these issues both within the program and through a free health and fitness initiative called The Promise. This year The Biggest Loser is not just a television event, but also a social movement, a movement that aims to break the vicious cycle of generational obesity. To find out more about how you can receive free health and fitness tips and help break the cycle of generational obesity, head to The Promise website.
The Biggest Loser Next Generation Premieres 6.45 Sunday on Ten.
This post is sponsored by The Biggest Loser. Comments on this post are just for this post. If you want to talk about the IDEA of sponsored posts or the choice of advertisers please click here. We will be reading all those comments too for feedback.
How do you teach your kids about healthy eating? What were you taught when you were young?