Parents hold great responsibility over what their kids eat, what activities they participate in and how much time they spend in front of screens. They are the authoritative voice in the house, most of the time with the last say.
While childhood obesity can arise from many avenues such as bullying, the media, hormone imbalances, genetics, unhealthy eating and a lack of exercises, luckily most of these are reversible and can be combated through healthy lifestyle changes.
As parents, you can ensure your child engages with regular physical activity as well as healthy eating habits in and outside the home. If you recognise your child lacks energy, indulges in ‘sometimes’ foods most of the time, barely takes their eyes off screens and loathes at the thought of having to go outside, then these 8 tips are for you.
1. Know what food your kids are putting in their mouths. Make fresh and healthy homemade meals from scratch for them for dinner, pack them healthy lunches for school such as a salad sandwich, fruit and nut bar instead of giving them money to buy lunch at school. Stock your fridge and pantry with only healthy foods and don’t keep processed foods in the home at all, ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’
2. Encourage your kids to participate in sports. Lead by example and take them for walks with you on the weekend, go cycling around a park together, go swimming in summer or install a basketball hoop in your backyard.
3. Create a supportive family home environment. Tell aunties, uncles, grandparents, cousins and friends that you intend to start making healthier lifestyle changes for your child. No doubt they will hop on board. However, the grandparents might need some extra convincing that lollies and chips are not ‘treats’ and are in fact doing more harm to their grandson or granddaughter then they think.
4. Ensure they get at least 10 hours sleep. Not enough sleep is also a big factor contributing to your child’s risk of being overweight or obese. Their little bodies are still growing and need as much sleep as possible to function at their optimum. Not enough sleep combined with an unhealthy lifestyle is detrimental to your child’s health.
5. That being said, limit screen time. This includes TV, phones, computers, iPads, radios. Screens can interfere with your child’s sleeping patterns, impeding their brains from ‘switching off’ at night. Instead get them to read a book. Promote mindful eating and ban screens during mealtimes. This way your kids will learn to listen to their hunger cues better. Eating in front of the TV also applies, studies have shown that kids who eat while watching TV are more likely to overeat then those who are at the dining table.
6. Eat as a family together around the dining table during mealtimes. Studies have shown that kids who eat at home at least 5 nights a week performed better academically and were less likely to become overweight or obese or turn to alcohol or drugs later in life than their peers who ate out frequently. Eating as a family around a shared table also encourages communication and debate, enriching your child’s repertoire of skills and knowledge, all while encouraging slower eating too.
7. Focus on food rather than body size. If your child is overweight, they most likely know this. Be as supportive as you can and don’t tease or shame them about their size. Rather, focus on talking about food. Talk about the benefits of healthy foods like fruit and veggies. Ask them how does junk food make them feel? Encourage them to help you out in the kitchen cooking healthy meals with you and get them asking questions about veggies, how to prepare and cook them using different techniques. For more information on this, check out one of my previous posts.
8. Avoid using sugary sweets as rewards. While you may think you are being a kind parents giving them treats, you are in fact doing them a disservice. Why don’t you bake a healthy treat together? Like this healthy chocolate avocado mousse or these healthy cacao, coconut and date bliss balls. They still tick the sweet treat box, contain all natural and healthy ingredients while sparing your child all that unhealthy processed sugar and those impossible to pronounce ingredients. However, the biggest reward you could give your child is a big loving cuddle and kiss, this will last a lifetime in their eyes, as opposed to a chocolate bar that would last a only a few minutes in their mouths.