10 Ways to Promote Healthy Habits in Children
By Kerry Dolan
As a parent, all you ever want for your kids is for them to be happy and healthy. Sounds simple, right?
Sadly, today’s busy lifestyles mean that we can’t readily find the time to make home cooked meals or go out on bike rides with the kids. Things often feel worse when your day job has been a nightmare, the kids are arguing over the TV remote and the dog looks like it’s spent the afternoon at an army boot camp on a wet day.
It’s easy to feel guilty about not having the time to make healthy choices for you and your kids. We've rounded up a few tips that are not only good for your lifestyle, but they’re easy to incorporate into family life and they’re fun too.
Living a health-conscious life is simply obtained by making well informed choices. Setting a good example is the best way to get your children to follow your lead - you can hardly expect them to eat their vegetables while you devour a takeaway, can you?
1. Never skip breakfast
It really is the most important meal of the day and it means what it says – you’re breaking the fast. Your body is crying out for some carbohydrates in the morning to give it the energy it needs for the day. Think of it as fuel. You wouldn’t expect the car to take you on a road trip without filling the tank.
If you never have time for breakfast, set your alarm 10 minutes earlier, you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes. Breakfast prep can be done the night before – soak your porridge oats overnight, or cut up fruit and leave it in the fridge. Toast and cereal are possibly the quickest meals you can rustle up, so there’s no excuse.
Plan breakfast the night before with your kids to help save time. Ask them what they want in advance and prepare as much as you can before you go to bed. Get the family up with plenty of time and all sit together to eat, play a game of eye-spy or What Begins with the letter...? for a brain crunching wake-up call.
2. Walk the walk
If you’re doing the school run and you use the car or public transport, park the car further away or get off the bus or tube one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way. If you have reluctant walkers, which most parents do, encourage them to use bikes or scooters to make the journey more fun.
Ask them to show you how to ride and watch them shriek in delight as Mum scoots to school with them! A simple comment such as, ‘I can walk/skip/ride faster than you’ is all they need for that competitive streak to kick in.
3. Eat more fruit and veg
A lot of children happily eat fruit, but not so many are keen on vegetables. Some children dislike fruit too, and it can be incredibly stressful to try and get them to eat their recommended allowance if you’re struggling to get them to swallow a tiny grape.
A good way to start young children eating their fruit and veggies is to give them names. Eating Peter Parsnip or Sammy Strawberry sounds far more appealing to youngsters. Cut up different fruits and vegetables on a plate and play around with character names.
You could have Chloe Carrot Stick, Melanie Melon and the Perfect Pea gang on a plate. Don’t forget that Mum and Dad need to join in with the eating too – if they observe you making yummy noises, they might not be so reluctant to try particular foods.
4. Cook meals from scratch
Yes, we know we said it was tedious coming home from work and cooking a meal from scratch, but it needn’t be a banquet. There are hundreds of 10-minute recipes available on the Internet, such as whizzing up a simple tomato sauce for pasta with hidden veg.
Get the kids to help with peeling, chopping, washing and you will probably find they are more likely to eat a meal they have helped to cook. Explain what makes the onions sizzle or why the sauce is bubbling to get their interest, you never know you might have a potential chef in the making!
5. Jump Around!
Never pass up the opportunity to have a bounce around with the kids - it’s fun, encourages bonding and it burns up loads of calories without you even realising it. If the weather is good, take 10 minutes to go and bounce on a trampoline or kick a football around the park.
If you can’t get outside, there’s plenty of energetic play you can do inside. Stick on some music and have a dance around the room, or have hop, skip and jumping races down the hall. Hide a few toys around the house and see who can be the fastest to recover them. Kids love going a bit crazy from time to time, so why not let them?
6. Snack Smart
Chose healthy snacks rather than instinctively reaching for sugar leaden treats or high fat munchies. Again, setting a good example is imperative so that children can learn what is a ‘good’ snack and which ones are unhealthy.
If the kids are craving something sweet after school, try offering a fruit kebab. Get them to help you cut up different coloured fruits and let them have fun choosing which ones to slide onto a skewer. You could also make veggie kebabs or use bowls of nuts and seeds for snacking.
7. Talk time
A healthy lifestyle isn’t just about eating right and taking exercise. Communication with your family is important for your mental health and for family bonding. Set up family time each day, where no iPads, iPhones or screens are allowed and enjoy having a family chat. A relaxed chat is a great way for everyone to express their opinions and feelings, and a good opportunity to sort things out that could otherwise be forgotten.
8. Eat the World
Well not literally. The range of different cuisines available today is vast although most of us tend to stick to ‘what we know’ which could mean we are missing out on tastes and flavours that we didn’t know existed and can lead to fussy eaters in the future. Try to incorporate theme night into your weekly menu where one day per week the family vote on a new cuisine to try. Banish the chicken nuggets and see how the children react, you might find a new superfood they love.
9. Drink up
Keeping yourself properly hydrated is important for so many reasons. According to the NHS, adults should be drinking between 6-8 glasses of fluid per day. Children aged 5-8yrs should be drinking at least five glasses, and ages 9-12 should have seven glasses each day.
If you or your child doesn’t like the taste of plain water, then milk, tea and coffee all count too. You can also add some no added sugar squash or fruit juice to your child’s water to make it more appealing.
Encourage them with a reward chart and stickers if they are struggling to drink their daily intake or buy some personalised cups and drink together.
10. Sweet Dreams
A good night’s sleep is vital for a healthy mind and body. An adult should aim for around 6-9 hours of sleep per night and although it’s not difficult to persuade tired parents to go to bed, the children usually have other ideas!
Setting up good sleep routines are important, but it needn’t be a chore. Try to limit screen time an hour before bedtime, and attempt keep to the same routine every night. Fun ways to get your child into a good sleeping pattern are bath times, have a chat and a splash and then snuggle them up ready for a bedtime story.
Choose story book favourites or make up your own, keeping the tone calm. A reluctant sleeper can usually be persuaded to climb into a bed with character covers or a funky shaped bed.
What tips do you have for promoting healthy eating in children?