One of the greatest gifts you can give to your children is a healthy lifestyle. Healthy eating and plenty of physical activity are not only necessary to build strong bones and muscles now, but will have a lasting impact on their adult lives as well. Helping your child make healthy choices at a young age will create a foundation for a lifetime of healthy habits. A National Institute of Health funded study found that when parents worked with obese children to learn about healthy diet, behaviors and exercise, as opposed to children who were taught these lessons independent of their parents, the children were more successful at losing weight and making healthy changes. Further, the children who worked with their parents were more successful at maintaining these behaviors, even 10 years later.
Of course, knowing that you have an impact on your child’s health is one thing, but it is often difficult to know how to help them make the best choices, when those are often the choices parents struggle with themselves. Here are a few tips that will help you get your child started on the right path.
Eat at Least One Meal a Day Together
Eating meals together as a family is not only important to the family structure, but gives you time to model good portion control for your children and discuss making healthy choices like eating slowly and monitoring fullness. If possible, involve your children in planning and preparing the meals. Children tend to be willing to try foods they’ve prepared.
Model Healthy Choices
This doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect, but you do need to be mindful that your children are noticing your behaviors. If they see you trying to eat right and be active, they are more likely to adopt those behaviors. For many parents of young children it is hard to find the time to be active. If that is an issue for you, consider joining a gym like 24 Hour Fitness, which offers a babysitting service. Taking time for your health will benefit both you and your child.
Plan Times to Move as a Family
Physical activities that involve the whole family like hiking, swimming, bike rides or even hide-and-seek, will nurture your child’s love of being outdoors and help them associate physical activity with family fun. Every kid is different, so find an activity that they enjoy and they will be more likely to want to participate.
Limit Technology Time
While it may be unrealistic to expect to completely cut screen time out of your child’s life, it is important to limit the time spent watching TV or using the computer, iPad, phone and other devices. These activities are sedentary and lead to more snacking. Further, in-person interaction teaches social skills that are often missed when too much time is spent online.
Pick Healthful Rewards
Parents often use food or screen time as a reward for good behavior, because it works. But using these as incentives can create an unhealthy relationship with food or inactivity. Giving sweets as treats for eating vegetables, for example, may cause a child to look at vegetables as negative or less valuable. Likewise, withholding food as punishment may lead a child to overeat out of fear of not getting enough in the future.