Parents often see their child’s weight creep up or observe poor diet and lazy activities and then turn into a drill sergeant out of fear for their health. A better approach to getting your child to “buy into” a healthy lifestyle is to make it fun. Keep the energy around healthy eating and activity fun rather than chore like.
One important thing to remember is the best guidance is through example, the parents have to lead by example not verbal authority. Practice what you preach. Children are the best observers and they can spot a hypocrite. The “do as I say not as I do” is no way to inspire a child to be active and eat healthy foods. Make small lifestyle changes with your children. Regular park trips or walks for exercise, and counting fruit and vegetables servings daily are two simple things to do to get started.
Limit sodas and other sugary/salty/processed treats, to specific times. First, educate your children about the downfalls of eating and drinking too much sugar, or sugary products. Talk about rotting teeth, tummy aches and gaining too much body fat. Then, move on to limiting their soda/juice intake, or any other sugary product that they love, to specific times (ie. Like after practice, lessons or on Saturdays for lunch). If you do away with soda and sugar all together, chances are your children will be unhappy and quite upset, this keeps it special and will create realistic boundaries.
By allowing sugary treats only during special times, your children won’t feel like you’re punishing them, and they’ll realize that they don’t need to consume their favorite sugary treats all the time. Plan out a trip to a local bakery, ice cream shop or better yet make some treats with them in your own kitchen, this will give them something to look forward to. Keep in mind, that moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle, so don’t begin by cutting out sugars all together. Also, if your child’s favorite treat is cookies, find an alternative recipe for a refined sugar and flour free cookie recipe.
Plan and cook healthy meals/snacks together as a family
Children love hands on activities, if they help prepare it she was more likely to eat it. What better way to get your children interested in eating healthy foods than by involving them in cooking healthy meals? Depending on the age of your children, the level of help they can offer will vary. Start by getting them to contribute to your shopping list, have them set the table, mix ingredients, etc. Teaching your children to prepare healthy meals also gets them involved in grocery shopping. Take your children to the store with you. There are many different ways of involving children of all ages in the process of planning and making a healthy meal.
Best of all, spending time together as a family is priceless, memories are never built behind a computer or television. Studies have shown that families who eat meals together are much closer. Planning, preparing and enjoying a family meal together are wonderful ways to not only promote children’s health, but also family harmony.
Get involved in exercise
Eating healthy is over 70% of results when it comes to overall health, but being active is another important part of being healthy. Getting children involved in sports, or other extracurricular activities is a fun way to get kids to enjoy exercise. Make it a game. Have push up contest during commercial breaks, dance parties while cooking dinner, or stretching sessions before bed. Keep their environment healthy. Take your children with you to the gym and if they are too young to workout with you check them in at the child center, the healthy environment of a health club is great exposure. Register for a 5k or 1 mile fun run at a local race. If your children see that exercise is in your daily routine and it can be fun they will look forward to the gym trips or local races. Plus, training sessions of walk-running outside at a local park or in the neighborhood beats TV, video game or computer time any day!
Pack Lunches and Snacks for school, etc.
Despite the fact that schools are trying to be more conscientious about the lunch options they offer children throughout the day, children are still able to pick and choose from different school lunch options. And let’s be honest, most children are going to choose the greasy “fast food” meal over the healthy one. In order to make sure that your child is receiving a healthy lunch, pack lunch everyday instead of buying it, this ensures that they are getting a balanced meal. Feel free to involve your child in the process of packing lunch and have them help out with choosing more healthy options. Send a water bottle instead of sugary juice or soda, and fresh fruit over processed snacks. Make the lunch appeal to their eyes, use cookie cutters for PB&J sandwiches, and colorful fruits and vegetables made into silly characters for pre-school and lower elementary age kids. By involving children in selecting healthy food and lifestyle options, your efforts will have a lasting impact!
Focus on what they can have rather then what they cannot have. Deprivation only makes children want something more. Focus on how many servings of fruit and vegetables your child needs to consume daily rather than cutting out all of their favorite foods and making them feel like they have to starve. If your child gets adequate protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates they will not physically crave the sugar or salty processed foods that you want them to stay away from.
Daily nutrition goals to combat childhood obesity include:
- At least 2 servings of fruit and 3 of vegetables per day
- Protein at each meal
- Drinking half of their body weight in ounces of water per day
- A daily multi-vitamin
- Healthy fats at each meal and snack including nuts, avocado, olive oil, etc. (assuming there are not nut allergies)
If you keep this routine up your child will feel better, and more importantly they will know that they cannot beg for sugary processed snacks until they have consumed enough water, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and protein each day.
This is a preview to an article that will be featured in Staten Island Parent Magazine. Check back for the full article.
Dr. Kantor’s greatly anticipated new children’s book, The Green Box League of Nutritious Justice, is now available. Be sure to order this highly reviewed book, filled with healthy living tips for the whole family. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.