The most significant factors contributing to good health are balanced nutrition and regular exercise. So how do you, as a parent, help your children develop these healthy habits from a young age?
9 tips to help your children develop healthy habits:
1. Be a good role model – Children emulate their parents. When your children see you eating properly, getting physically active and loading up half of your dinner plate with vegetables, they’re more likely to adopt those healthy habits!
2. Make dinnertime a family time – When everyone sits down together to eat there is less chance of children eating the wrong foods or over-snacking – but the benefits don’t stop there. Research shows that children who regularly eat dinner with their families five or more times per week have better academic performance, better communication skills and emotional adjustment and less trouble with drugs and alcohol. They also report being closer with their parents than children who eat dinner with their parents less often.
3. Know your mealtime responsibilities – Parents’ responsibility at mealtimes is to decide what to serve, when and where; your children’s responsibility is to decide whether to eat and how much. As such, you should not force your children to eat everything on their plates or use food as a reward or punishment. You should also not become a “short-order cook,” rushing to cook an alternate meal when your child refuses to eat what’s served.
4. Get the whole family moving – Plan times for everyone to get moving together. Take brisk walks after dinner, ride bikes, play Frisbee, go swimming or just play tag outside. Everyone will benefit from the exercise and the time together. Leave your cell phones behind.
5. Limit screen time to two hours per day – Television, video games, cell phones and computers can lead to a sedentary lifestyle and excessive snacking, which in turn can lead to obesity and cardiovascular disease. Sit down with your children and write a list of fun activities they can do when they get bored. Keep the list on your fridge for easy access!
6. Encourage physical activities your children enjoy – Let your children experiment with different activities until they find something that they truly love. They’ll stick with it longer if they love it! Be careful not to overschedule their activities, however; free time at home allows for creative play to develop.
7. Read food labels with your children – This is a habit that can change behaviour for a lifetime. You can learn more about reading nutrition labels from your Copeman dietitian and then teach what you learned to your children.
8. Remove calorie-rich temptations – Although everything can be enjoyed in moderation, reducing the calorie-rich temptations of high-fat, high-sugar, and/or salty snacks can help your children develop healthy eating habits.
9. Be realistic – Achievable goals and limits are crucial to adopting any new behaviour. Gradual changes can make a big difference in your health over time, so start small and build up.
As you work to help your children develop healthy habits, remember to keep things positive. Celebrating their successes – for example tracking progress on a calendar and rewarding their achievements – will help them develop a healthy self-image into their teenage and adult years.
And that’s a reward that’s well worth the effort.