You can help your child establish healthy eating and physical activity behaviours, from the start. If these habits are established early as part of your family’s lifestyle they will just become the natural way you do things.
Maintaining healthy habits from the start can help your child grow and develop to her/his full potential and help your whole family avoid lifestyle problems that can occur later in life, such as overweight and obesity, type-2 diabetes, types of cancer and high blood pressure.
Here are some tips to help you and your family live a healthy lifestyle.
Promote healthy eating in your home.
Children are more likely to develop healthy eating behaviours when they’re given a choice of healthy foods at home, so put healthy foods on your shopping list and prepare healthy meals and snacks for the whole family. Having fewer foods like soft drinks, chips and candy in your cupboard means you won’t have to say “no” as often to what your children eat.
As a family, remind yourselves of the basic foods.
These are vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean meat, fish, poultry and meat alternatives like beans, peas and lentils, and low-fat dairy foods. Make your shopping list from these groups so it will be easier to prepare family meals that include them.
Put up a poster that includes this information in your kitchen or on your fridge – you and your child could make the poster together. Check out Canada’s Food Guide for ideas.
Be aware of serving size.
This way you can serve suitable amounts of food for your family. Knowing serving sizes discourages you from putting too much on your plates Children who are allowed to follow their own appetite will generally choose the right amount of healthy food for their needs.
Make a distinction between “everyday” and “sometimes” foods.
“Everyday” food is the healthy stuff, whereas “sometimes” food is the not-so-healthy stuff that may be higher in fat, sodium or sugar. Eat it only occasionally. Talk to your child about the difference between “everyday” and “sometimes” food. Aim for zero sugary drinks and five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Establish healthy eating routines.
Healthy eating isn’t only about food choices – it’s also about eating on a regular, predictable basis in a social way. For example, it’s important to:
- eat breakfast every day
- eat regular meals and several snacks throughout the day
- eat meals together at the table instead of in front of the TV
- allow enough time so meals can be eaten in a relaxed and unhurried way
Praise children when they choose healthy foods.
Remind them of the benefits of healthy eating. You’re more likely to encourage healthy habits by making mealtimes fun – you can do this by giving younger children some positive feedback. For example, you could try saying, “Wow, you picked a banana for morning snack! Delicious”. You could also say things like, “Drinking milk helps keep your bones strong”.
Involve your older child in making healthy lunch box and snack selections. Encourage him to prepare these foods by himself, and ask him to help you prepare family meals. Have a variety of healthy foods available for your child to choose from, so you don’t have to worry about his choices.
Make physical activity part of everyday life.
Many people think being active means playing sport or doing strenuous exercise, but that’s only one way of being active. For example, you can encourage your child to walk to school or a friend’s house instead of taking the car a short distance, walk the dog instead of watching TV, and use stairs instead of elevators or escalators. Be a role model and choose being active to show your child how easy it can be. Take a moment to notice and comment when your child chooses everyday physical activity.
You can also encourage everyday physical activity by saying things like:
- “It’s time to play outside now”.
- “The dog needs some practice fetching. It’d be great if you could go outside and throw the ball to her”.
- “Let’s walk to the shop”.
- “You did a fantastic job pulling the weeds out of the garden. It’s great when you help”.
- “You rode a really long way on your bike today. Well done!”
Enjoy physical activity as a family.
You could ride bikes together, or have a family visit to the park to throw a frisbee or kick a soccer ball. Talk about these as fun activities rather than exercise. Outdoor play is generally more active than indoor play, so make the most of outdoor time.
Give children – older children especially – opportunities to try different sports and ways to be active.
This could include various sports or activities at school or outside school hours. Support your child by watching her play, and make it easy for her to take part by taking her to games and practice, you can also show support to her and her team through volunteering to help out. This is great encouragement and can increase the likelihood she’ll stay involved.
Limit the time your child spends on screen-based activities.
This includes time spent watching TV and DVDs, and playing computer and other electronic games.
Our article on screen time and children has current guidelines on screen time for children of different ages.
Encourage your child to value his body for what it can do, rather than how it looks.
Try not to draw too much attention to your child’s weight, even if you’re worried about it. A healthy body image is especially important for teenagers, who might be thinking a lot about how their body looks.
Set a good example.
Parents who have a healthy diet and are physically active are much more likely to encourage the same habits in their children. Keep in mind the power of modelling – your child learns mostly from what you do yourself, not from what you tell her to do. Practice what you preach!
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.
Resources & Links:
HealthLink BC: About Healthy Weights - The Meaning of Healthy Weights in British Columbia
HealthLink BC: Screening for Weight Problems
Health Canada: Canada’s Food Guide