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!