When I was pregnant with my son I was given lots of advice on being healthy. I took Folic Acid every day. I avoided alcohol (apart from half a glass of wine at Christmas!) I had my flu vaccination and numerous blood tests despite a hatred of needles and ate endless amounts of fruit and vegetables. I did all of this for my unborn child – after all a healthy pregnancy equals a healthy child…right?
At the time it was fairly easy, after all I was only making changes to one person’s lifestyle….my own – I was in control of what I did and ate. However once he started to develop a mind of his own (& learnt the word NO!) I found it a lot harder and it got me thinking… what does it take to raise a healthy child? (Other than a lot of patience)
1. Eating Right
This seems the obvious answer, after all a balanced diet provides all the nutrients needed for boundless energy, strong bones and to help prevent chronic diseases later in life.
Unfortunately healthy meals don’t magically appear on the table and there’s nothing more frustrating than spending a long time preparing a home cooked meal and hearing the words “I don’t like it” from your little angel before a forkful has even reached their lips.
My mom used to hide my vegetables in piles of mashed potatoes in a desperate attempt at getting healthy food into my system. However these were simply cast aside along with the unwanted peas and carrots. If you don’t fancy lumpy potatoes then try these other ideas:
Choose a variety of vegetables to make meals colorful and more appealing.
Arrange fruit and vegetable snacks into pictures such as boats or smiley faces.
Involve children in planning meals, grocery shopping and preparation – they’re more likely to eat it if they’ve done the hard work!
Teach children where food comes from by planting a garden – they always love to try what they’ve harvested and will take pride in their achievement. If this isn’t possible go fruit picking and make a treat such as a smoothie, fruit ice cream (use coconut milk and don’t add extra sugar!) with whatever you’ve gathered.
Hide the cookie jar and display a bowl of fresh fruit instead– it’s an attractive addition to the kitchen and can be more tempting if it’s within easy reach.
Of course, it’s all well and good telling children how to be healthy but it parents need to set an example too but hey, healthy changes benefit everybody, whatever the age!
This may seem another obvious one but even adults can lose hours channel and web surfing so when children want to sit around watching television or playing games it’s not always easy! TV should be discouraged for children under two years of age – opt for music instead, little ones can really bust a move when they want to! For children older than two limit viewing to no more than two hours and keep any electronics in a communal area so you can pay more attention to the amount of time they’re spending in front of a screen.
So now they’re away from the TV and complaining that they’re bored – how can you get them moving for the recommended one hour a day? (Sixty minutes sounds a lot but the good news is it can be done in short bursts throughout the day!)
And a bonus is keeping active doesn’t need to be expensive - simple games such as blowing bubbles for your child to run about and pop or bouncing a balloon can be a source of great amusement for young children both indoors and out.
Other ideas include playing hopscotch, hide and seek, tickle monster, playing soccer or catch with a ball or even going for family walks. Soon you’ll be having so much fun it won’t feel like exercise and you’ll be exceeding that sixty minute limit in no time!
My mother-in-law used to drive me crazy as she thought it was perfectly fine to smoke through the window and return ten minutes later expecting to cuddle my newborn son close to her chest and she would often spend the rest of our visit giving me evil looks and muttering about how he’s her grandchild. However what I could never get her to understand is that smoke stays on clothes and hair for up to an hour so children (and adults) will be breathing in those poisons such as nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide.
4. Teach kids how to keep themselves healthy
This can be done through every-day routines such as washing hands, applying sunscreen, brushing teeth, growing food in the garden, fastening seatbelts and wearing helmets. It’s amazing how quickly kids will pick things up and doing these things for themselves will make them feel independent and grown up.
5. Provide lots of love and support
It’s often said that children don’t want money and expensive toys (although these things are nice!) all they need is a cuddle and someone to talk to. Being there for your children and talking to them in a way that’s age appropriate can teach them how to make healthy choices and stay safe and happy. Provide plenty of love and attention so they feel they’re growing up in a secure environment where they can talk to you about anything that may be worrying them.
Put time aside where you can discuss their friends and what they’ve done throughout the day, this could be done in the evening as part of the bedtime routine. If your child isn’t talkative, snuggling up in bed and reading together can help kids feel secure and loved and of course you can choose books about healthy choices and staying safe.