Prioritizing family time is a great way to combat the inundation of commercials and social media messages that promote unhealthy foods, sedentary lifestyles, and risky behaviors. Family time is also an opportunity to teach children about healthy eating and cooking, demonstrate the importance of physical activity, and help them grow up with healthy relationships with food, health, and weight.
Keep reading for 3 tips and some book recommendations from me, a registered dietitian and PhD.
create a habit of healthy activities
Encouraging your child to try different healthy activities to find the best fit is a great way to help them stay active while also doing something they enjoy. Talk to your child about things they may want to try, such as trying a sport or taking dance classes. Explore options in your community, particularly free or low-cost options offered through community centers. Maybe there is a jump rope team or basketball team that is free to join.
Emphasize the balance between sticking something out that is hard at first while also not forcing your child to do something they don't enjoy. For example, if they don't enjoy the team aspect of playing soccer, talk about trying tennis or another individual sport.
Most kids interested in dance exhibit that interest as soon as they are exposed to music! There are many types of dance and as we know, any movement is good movement. Don't force sports over dance because of your own preconceived notions or goals for your child.
Another great way to get your kids interested in being active is to lead by example. If they see you prioritizing physical activity (and enjoying yourself) they are more likely to do it themselves. Plan to take family walks in the evenings (with kids on bikes or scooters even) is a great way to communicate the importance of physical activity.
Action for Healthy Kids Resource Library
Healthy Eating for Families
Tips for Healthy Eating as a Family (with great additional links on the page including picky toddlers)
Healthy Eating Resources for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers
Ways to Enhance Children's Activity and Nutrition (We Can!)
I also recommend these books below!*
*The links above are affiliate links through Amazon, which means that for no extra cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
teach about healthy eating habits
Piggybacking on the importance of physical activity is the importance of healthy eating. Whether you already feel confident in healthy eating or you are learning yourself, include your kids!
Some key ideas to prioritize:
Note that none of the ideas above talk about weight or dieting or restrictive food patterns. One of the strongest influences on a person's relationship with food as they grow from child to adult is how their parents/guardians interacted with food and influenced their own relationship with food. For example, a parent or guardian that is constantly dieting and talking about weight in front of their child may transfer anxiety about those same topics. Parents or guardians that are overly restrictive with access to foods can result in a child developing secretive eating behaviors. Requiring a child to finish their plate (which usually coincides with the child being served too large of portions) can destroy hunger cues. Treating dessert as a reward can lead to restrictive/binge behaviors.
One of the most positively influences around food is to have regular family meals. While work schedules may preclude this, having at least one family meal a week or cooking together to prepare meals ahead of time creates a positive safe environment around food.
Taking your kids grocery shopping helps prepare them to choose healthy foods for themselves in the future, while also giving them choices on which healthy foods they prefer to eat that week. There's no need to give blanket control to the child - offer them a decision between 2 healthy choices that you are OK buying either.
schedule regular checkups
Schedule regular checkups with your child's pediatrician and dentist to make sure they are meeting milestones and growth goals while also catching potential issues early.
Talk to the doctor about age-specific immunizations and ask them about any concerns you are having about your child, such as sleep habits. Physicians aren't always the best health care practitioner to provide advice about eating and physical activity habits - seek out a dietitian (or switch to a pediatric practice with a dietitian on staff) to avoid out-of-date and over-general eating advice that may alter your child's relationship with food and exercise.
If your child is afraid of the doctor or dentist, try to find out what specifically they are afraid of. Call around to different offices to see if they cater to certain phobias. Work with them to overcome these obstacles rather than postponing health care appointments.
Just like maintaining healthy teeth and gums is important for adults (because gum inflammation and tartar buildup can lead to other diseases in the body), oral health is important for kids, too. And not just for kids with their adult teeth! Kids that still have their baby teeth need to maintain good oral health to keep their body strong and help their immune system continue to develop. Regular checkups with dentists like Brian B. Dolive DDS Family & Cosmetic Dentistry can help catch problems early, discuss orthodontics or other procedures far in advance, and show your children that health is a priority.
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a blog about health, wellness, nutrition, and fitness from an epidemiologist / dietitian with personal trainer experience
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