As parents, we are ultimately responsible for the decisions our children make, good or bad. And when it comes to health and nutrition, these choices are most often based on actions that have been modeled for them. Fortunately, there are many ways that we can encourage lifelong habits that will affect our kids’ health for the better. Here are some tips to help your children learn how to make good decisions for themselves, even when you aren’t around.
Make the choices you want them to make.
Children are born into a family unit, and their entire existence is modeled after the behaviors of the people in it. A 2017 study published by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity supports this, and strongly illustrates that parental behaviors directly impact children’s decisions, specifically the area of food consumption. Children pick up our habits, including how we eat, whether or not we smoke or drink, and how much we exercise. If you want your kids to have a healthy relationship with food – and pretty much anything else – you have to let them see you make positive choices.
Encourage sports and social activities.
In this day and age, children spend more time in front of a screen than ever before. While technology has advanced our collective knowledge of health and nutrition, it has also become a vice that leads us to neglect some important areas, such as exercise and real-world social interactions. Encourage your children to participate in team sports, which serves the dual benefits of providing exercise while teaching the crucial life skill of teamwork. Set them up for success by letting them choose the sport they’d like to participate in, and then making sure they have everything they need to be competitive and safe when participating. For example, if your child chooses soccer, invest in quality soccer cleats and shin guards. These items will increase their performance on the field while reducing the risk of injuries.
Offer plenty of fun and healthy food options at home.
One of the best ways to ensure that your child is open to trying many types of foods is to provide them early in life. Fortunately, eating healthy does not mean that you have to live your life in front of a salad bowl. There are many foods that taste great and deliver an important balance of nutrition. Cheese is one example that Food Network explains offers calcium and protein, and it pairs well with fruits and raw vegetables. Teaching your children how to cook from an early age is also a great way to instill positive habits in the kitchen. Not only do children who cook tend to have diverse culinary interests, but they also enjoy extra family time together and learn many important skills, according to Rosemary Black of Highlights magazine
Make sure water is their drink of choice.
There are really only two drinks that children should have regular access to: milk and water. Toddlers, especially, should drink at least two cups of milk each day. Occupational therapist Alicia Grogan recommends that milk be enjoyed during meal time. Water should be your household’s primary beverage. While it’s easy to get caught up thinking that apple and orange juice is a great way to meet your produce intake, the reality is that these drinks are in no way a substitute for simply eating fruits and vegetables. Commercially-processed juices often lack fiber, increase caloric intake, and are sweetened with added sugars, much like soda. Sugary drinks also often contain caffeine, which has a diuretic effect and can lead to mild dehydration.
The bottom line is that kids emulate our behaviors. From the way we eat to our vices, our children learn how to be an adult based on what they see us do. When it comes to their eating and exercise habits, it pays to pay attention to yourself so that your kids will have a positive role model and learn healthy habits that will follow them throughout their lifetime.
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