Raise Health-Smart Kids Take a family-based approach to healthy living

When it comes to getting kids to make healthy choices, parents play an important role. Learn how to help your kids adopt healthy habits, eat their fruits and vegetables, and stay active.

Healthy habits last a lifetime. They’re essential to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes. As a parent, your best tool is you. Children turn to parents as role models for their preferences and behaviours. January is a great time to adopt a family-based approach to help children eat well, stay active, and develop the habits that will make them health-smart kids.

Stop skimping on sleep

Between early mornings and stimulating nighttime activities, children aren’t getting the sleep they need. This chronic sleep shortage adds up and has been connected to obesity, hyperglycemia, and type 2 diabetes.

Sleep schedules that change from weekdays to weekends have also been connected to unhealthy weight in children and teens. Oversleeping on the weekends was associated with increased obesity in children under 12. Consistent sleep and wake times during the week and on the weekends can help to improve sleep quantity and quality for children.

Establishing a calming pre-sleep routine can help families seamlessly stick to a schedule. A study of 405 mothers found that a consistent bedtime routine improved the ease with which young children fell asleep and reduced the number of nighttime awakenings.

Win the bedtime battle

  • Limit light, stimulation, and screens well before bedtime. These can suppress melatonin, our sleepy-time hormone.
  • Create a calming routine for young children, such as bath time followed by a quiet time activity such as cuddling or singing lullabies.
  • Teach children relaxation and self-soothing techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery, or listening to calming music, which they can continue to use as they grow older.

Start the day off right

With the morning rush of getting everyone ready and out the door, the first meal of the day tends to fall by the wayside. While it might seem small, skipping this meal or relying on quick, processed breakfast substitutes can have big impacts on our health.

Studies show that breakfast is indeed the meal of champions. Starting your children’s day with breakfast can help them maintain a healthy body weight and balanced blood sugar levels. Regularly skipping this morning meal can decrease mood and energy levels, and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

What children eat for breakfast every day also makes a difference. Choose whole foods high in fibre and protein to help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes.

When the chaos of morning hits the household, the best breakfast intentions might not be enough. Proper planning is paramount to a family breakfast strategy.

Prep is key

  • Get ingredients and dishes ready the evening before. Cook steel-cut oats or chop and assemble smoothie ingredients in reusable containers.
  • Have grab-and-go breakfast options ready for days when everyone seems to be running late. This might be yogurt and trail mix, a fruit salad, or chia seed pudding. Keep them in a designated area so that it’s easy to grab items when in a rush.
  • Enlist your children’s help in planning and preparing morning meal options.

Eat together to stay healthy together

Whether at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, regular family mealtimes can help instill healthy eating habits in children and adolescents. Researchers found that children and teens who sat down to three or more family meals a week were

  • 12 percent less likely to become overweight
  • 20 percent less likely to eat unhealthy foods
  • 24 percent more likely to eat healthy foods

Shared meals offer a chance for families to connect and for parents to introduce new foods and model healthy eating habits. Watching parents enthusiastically eat fruits and vegetables, and eating at set meal times influences how often children eat healthy foods.

Have healthy snacks on hand

When fruits and vegetables are available, accessible, and regularly offered, children are more likely to eat them. Having ready-to-eat healthy options at home makes it easy for parents and kids to choose them over convenient unhealthy snacks. Sliced fruit, almonds and other nuts, yogurt, and chopped vegetables with hummus are healthy items to stock up on.

Involve the whole family

Inviting children to help plan and prepare meals is a surefire way to increase the amount of healthy foods that they eat. Researchers found that when children helped their parents cook a meal they ate more of the entrée and vegetables than when parents cooked alone.

Cooking together is a great opportunity for children to learn valuable nutrition lessons and to have fun. Have them help out in age-appropriate ways, whether it’s arranging fruit and vegetable platters, making smoothies, measuring and mixing, or choosing which meals and snacks to serve.

 Grow together

Getting kids involved in seed-to-table activities can also encourage them to eat more healthful foods. In the summer, plant a vegetable garden with your kids in the backyard or at a local community garden. In any season, sprouting is a fun and easy way for kids to grow fresh, nourishing foods.

Get active together

Staying physically active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any age. The recommended one hour a day helps kids maintain a healthy weight, improve fine motor skills, and build self-esteem. You can encourage your children to be active by making activity central to family fun. When parents participate, children are six times more likely to be physically active.

 Bring fitness into every day

  • Bike or walk close distances. Whether you and your child are headed to school or a nearby friend’s house, leave the car at home.
  • Plan outdoor family activities. Winter activities such as sledding and skating are fun for the whole family and allow you to enjoy the fresh air.
  • Take a class together. Look for dance, aerobic, or yoga classes that are offered for parents and their children.

Building a family health strategy can be challenging at first. Remember to start small, stick to a routine, and have fun.

Written By Selene Vakharia
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