Today’s children are faced with many hazards that can impact their entire lives. From what they eat to how they treat their bodies, kids of all ages can have opportunities each day to start off on the right foot. Although it may not be easy, parents play the most important role in ensuring that kids make the right choices.
Healthy living begins in the kitchen
One of the most important ways a family can ensure a healthy life is through deciding to eat meals together frequently. Today’s modern lifestyles with work demands on parents and multiple after-school activities can make eating together tricky. This difficulty has created a fast food culture, where families are more likely to eat their meals in a fast food restaurant parking lot than at the dining table. The convenience of fast food is outweighed by the negative effect of excess fat, refined carbs and a general lack of nutrition in these meals.
Schedule time to eat healthy meals together. Your children will learn from your example, so make sure to fill cabinets with healthy snacks instead of chips and cookies. Nuts and fruit are great snack choices.
If schedules make eating together impossible, consider avoiding fast food as a next-best alternative. Send your kids off to their activities with healthy grab-and-go meals made in the home kitchen, such as homemade sandwiches, salads and snacks. A combination of vegetables, fruits and a small amount of meat and cheese provides energy for the day.
Another tactic is to send your kids to school with a hearty and healthy lunch, and treat the midday meal as the most important one of the day. In fact, give your child a job in helping to prepare lunches, and you may find them eating the whole thing. One way to make sure that a lunch is filling and nutritious is to limit sugar and empty carbohydrates and swap in extra vegetables. If your child likes turkey sandwiches, use less bread and increase the lettuce, tomato and turkey. Try to find thinner slices of whole wheat bread or experiment with wraps or whole grain pitas.
Caffeinated and sugary drinks are another area where kids’ diets can be hazardous. Limit these, and avoid energy drinks entirely. Encourage water as the drink of choice for the family.
Exercise the whole family can enjoy
Healthy living also embraces exercise and activity. Make frequent walks a part of your family’s weekly routine, and instead of planning weekend activities around shopping or going for ice cream, enjoy local hikes, bike rides and sports for the entire family. Again, your children are likely to mirror your attitude about exercise, so make sure that you practice what you preach. If you belong to a gym, ask if they have family passes so your kids can try age-appropriate exercises. You can check your area for family-centric exercise locations, such as the YMCA or other centers. Another way to get the whole family involved in a healthy activity is to find local 5k races. These often are held for charitable purposes, and are inexpensive and approachable for even someone who has never run before. The training process is a great way for families to bond, and the race itself will provide memories and inspire future races.
Limiting risk of other bad choices
Just as children will mirror your diet and exercise, their attitudes toward drug and alcohol use will be informed by your approach to these substances. Kids don’t turn to alcohol and drugs solely because they witness their parents drinking, but they do often experiment because of misinformation and because they’re easy to access, so keep any alcohol and prescription drugs out of reach. Have conversations with your children about drinking and doing drugs. If you drink socially, explain why this is acceptable and the importance of responsible alcohol consumption.
Through a healthy attitude toward diet and exercise, and talking to your kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, you can help your children make healthy decisions that will carry on into their adulthood.
- Amanda Henderson