There's something going on with children's health - children are less active and eat more junk food than ever before. So how do we keep kids healthy and active and set them up for lifelong good habits? Here are some simple routines you can implement in your home and day-to-day lives.
Move together every day - Kids are active in a different way to adults. While we might set aside time for the gym or a walk, most kids will play happily play and run during school time. But at home, where there are numerous electronic gadgets, kids now spend only 8% time outdoors playing and spend a whopping 2 hours a day on average on devices for non-homework purposes and take on average 1000 steps less a day, instead spending time on screens. With extensive research finding that long periods of time sitting and spending time on screens is linked to obesity, diabetes and behavioural issues.
Try to allocate time for your kids to do at least 30 mins of physical activity with you every day such as walking the dog, kicking a ball around, swimming in the local pool or going to a fitness class together. The bonus is, if you do it together, your kids will see you as a good role model. So instead of driving your kids to school, try walking or at least walk to a bus stop or train station. Take the stairs at the shops or park further away from where you need to go. Aim to schedule at least one family outing that includes physical activity like flying a kite, bike riding, a game of cricket or throwing a frisbee.
Keep meals simple - Try not to have too many food choices in your fridge or pantry or on the table so you don't overeat as you're more likely to go for seconds when there is a smorgasbord of food on offer. Having too much variety such as 4 different cereals or several choices of yoghurt and sweets can lead to overeating. Try to limit kids choices to one or two choices of cereal, yoghurt, fruits and keep treats in the pantry only for special occasions. Write down a detailed shopping list each time you go to the supermarket and stick to it and do not impulse buy based on your kids nagging as these are often unhealthy choices or even better shop online to limit how much you buy and limit choices. Many of my clients are also using healthy food delivery services for 2-3 dinners a week such as Hello Fresh, Marley Spoon, Lite n Easy or Eat Fit Food. These food services are a great way to give you a break from cooking and older kids can heat and serve themselves if you're stuck at work or in between evening activities.
Make healthy snacking easy - Keep a well stocked fruit bowl on the kitchen bench and keep sweet treats at the back of the pantry so they are out of sight and out of mind for kids. In the fridge, place yoghurt, cut vegie sticks, individual cheese portions and small dipper hoummos at kids eye level at the front of the fridge. In the pantry place wholegrain crackers, trail mix single serve bags and a selection of muesli bars low in sugar at the front as they provide long lasting energy and fibre. Once kids see how healthy it is to eat well, these habits will stick for life. Eat as healthy you can at home and when eating out let those be the treat times only.
Eat meals together - when you eat meals together as a family and sitting down at a dinner table with the TV turned off and no devices at the table eliminates distractions so your children can focus on what they're eating and learn healthy behaviours from you. A study found that children eat more fruit and vegies and less fried food and soft drinks when they eat at the table compared to when they don't. It's good for you too - research shows that eating at the dinner table and eating home cooked meals at home are linked to healthier weight for both children and parents. Dinnertime conversations and family time also boosts behaviour and the vocabulary of young children more than reading aloud to them. Children learned 1000 words at the dinner table compared to 143 words from being read story books according to a study. It's even more important to keep up the dinner table talk with tweens and teens with regular family dinners linked to lower risks of smoking, binge drinking, anxiety, depressions and eating disorders. Eating meals together as a family also teaches kids how to cook which is another way of setting them up for life long healthy habits and better management of mental health.
Set a routine for bedtime - Sleep is especially important for kids so they are not tired during the day and so they are less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks and pick me ups like soft drinks, biscuits and chips. Staying up late on blue light screens such as phones, computers and TV leads to poor quality sleep as the blue light from screens reduces the body's levels of the sleep inducing hormone melatonin. Make a family rule that all devices - TV's phones, tablets etc are switched off after a certain hour. It may be a good thing for you too!
Hope this helps
Lifestylist Health & Wellness