Multiple studies show a positive correlation between parental body image and diet, and those of their children. One of the main influences of either a healthy—or unhealthy—lifestyle are parents. Children are masters of mimicry, so if parents eat well and make sure exercise is an important part of their lives, their children will most likely follow their example.
Start your family exercise program as soon as possible. Exercise for children takes many forms, including playing outdoors, going on family walks, bike rides, or swimming. The most important thing is to get children to move so they are used to it. The more familiar and comfortable they are with it, the more likely they will be to continue to stay active throughout their lives.
Families should do things together that would be fun for their children. Family walks, bike rides, pool days, and obstacle courses are great activities.
Several sports can include family participation for young children, like soccer and tennis, which are sports that many children, as young as three, can participate in to some level. Golf is another sport that many young children can play that teaches important physical skills, like hand/eye coordination.
Unfortunately these days kids tend to over utilize the internet and computer games which fosters inactivity. Allowing your child to play video games for a set amount of time only after they have completed their homework, is a great way to emphasize the importance of homework. It also forces your child to be creative with their free time, encouraging them to read or play outside.
One way of having a year-round active life is to join a health club as a family. Health clubs oftentimes give families a litany of ways to help support healthy lifestyles. Elite, for example, offers a program called TNT (Teen Nutrition & Training) in junction with Elite’s registered dietitian, Rita Larsen, in a peer setting, which teaches children the basics of fitness and nutrition and reinforces the idea that exercise is not only beneficial, but fun! Kids work with a certified personal trainer to learn the basics of dietetics and exercise so they can have fun and be safe and healthy at the same time.
Many people complain that they can’t be active with their children on inclement weather days. However anything that gets your child to move on days where going outside isn’t an option is good. A plank challenge, sit-up competitions, and wrestling are great ways to keep kids active inside.
Outdoors, in winter, there are downhill and cross country skiing, and ice skating, healthy activities for winter weather. The more your children move at an early age, the more aware of their bodies they will be and the more comfortable they will be doing more physically challenging activities. It’s a good idea to help your child the first time they try something like ice skating or skiing. It will give you a good feeling for how they are progressing.
Diet is very important in family life. Even if parents eat well, often children can pick up unhealthy eating habits from their peers. While it’s impossible to control your child’s eating habits 100% of the time, reinforcing the good habits at home will go a long way in helping your children to make good choices when the parents can’t be around.
If you send lunches with your kids to school finding a healthy mix of food can actually be quite an easy task, and it doesn’t have to be expensive! If you break it down, you can make a healthy sandwich for your child (including meat and cheese) for under $1.50! Making sure you get a good mix of fruits and veggies is important as well. Some good lunch ideas are carrot sticks, apples or apple slices, celery, pears, bell pepper slices, and bananas. Sending a small amount of nuts (cashews, almonds, etc.) can be a good way to get some protein in your child’s lunch. Hard boiled eggs, raisins, and granola are also good options. Filling your child’s lunch with healthy things they like will help ensure they eat what you send with them. It’s normal for them to want to eat some junk food, and some junk food is fine on occasion. Letting them know what you expect from them and talking with them about what they ate that day is a great way to start the conversation with them.
When shopping for food take children along and read labels together to see if the items are healthy. The sooner children start to learn about shopping for healthy food and reading food labels, the quicker they will learn to look for healthy things and make smart choices. You can even make it a game: tell them you are looking for a certain item and have them try to find the option that has the least sugar or saturated fat.
To make a good diet palatable to children moderation is a key component. Unless you have an allergy, or other medical condition, a doughnut or cookie or piece of cake here and there isn’t going to destroy all of your hard work to maintain a healthy diet. Using treats as just that, a treat, is a great way to create a reward system or mark a special occasion. Since many children start the day out with a bowl of cereal, knowing what is in that cereal is important. Setting a good base for your child’s day is a major factor in their performance that day, both mentally and physically.
As to whether or not to have sweets in the house, this is a question that is best answered on a case by case basis. If you know that having sweets in your house will cause you to binge on them, limiting what you have may not be a bad idea. However, practicing self control yourself will help teach your child to do the same. If you grab an apple as a nighttime snack instead of the jar of cookies, you’ll feel better about yourself and your child will hopefully pick up on it too.
Going out to eat or eating at friends’ homes and eating healthy is a challenge. However, many restaurants list the nutritional information of their dishes nowadays. If you can’t find it on their website, there are websites that collect this information and post it for people to search for. Elite’s Fitness and Nutrition (FAN) Club does a nice job of explaining how to make good choices when eating out. If you have instilled in your children the importance of eating healthy food, they are more likely to make good choices when at a friend’s house. Eating chips and dip at a friend’s house isn’t going to ruin your child if they do it once in a while. However, making it a habit is not advisable.
Remember that there isn’t really a set age that everyone should be living a healthy lifestyle by. You’ll be able to see your children start to make independently healthy choices as they grow. Maybe they will ask you to go for a bike ride with them or ask for a healthy snack instead of a cookie after dinner. It’s important to foster these things and reward them. Taking time to go for a walk or play in the park goes a very long way in developing your child’s desire to be active. After all, monkey see, monkey do!
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Written by Jordan Meyer, Certified Personal Trainer at Elite Sports Club-North Shore