Today’s children are faced with a barrage of conflicting information where health and wellness are concerned. Some experts tout a vegan diet while others encourage low-carb, meat-centered eating habits. And while your child will grow up to make his or her own decisions, you can help them make the right ones by instilling healthy habits from an early age.
Your children’s health is largely influenced by the food they eat. Encourage your children to make healthy decisions regarding their diet by giving them plenty of options for snacks, meals, and treats. Contrary to popular belief, it does not have to be cost-prohibitive to feed even a large family on a budget.
You’ll likely need to change your shopping habits. Start by stocking your pantry with staples, such as quinoa, brown rice, and beans. These foods are inexpensive and can serve as the base for most lunches and dinners. Plan your meals ahead of time and look for special offers at your local supermarket. Many larger grocery stores will custom-season certain meats and seafood with herbs, seasonings, and even vegetables at no extra charge. If you eat “in season,” you will save money, too.
Depending on where you live, you might stock up on strawberries in the late spring or enjoy corn on the cob in the middle of summer. Most local, seasonal foods are less expensive than their shipped-in counterparts. The USDA breaks down which foods are in season throughout the winter, spring, summer, and fall.
Get the kids involved by asking them to help plan your weekly menu and cook. According to a research study by the University of Alberta, children who are given the opportunity to help out in the kitchen tend to make better food choices throughout their lives. Teaching your children to cook will help them be more confident in their food choices. It’s also an important life skill that can never be learned too early.
When you’re cooking, you should pay particular attention to portion control. Eating healthy is one thing, but eating a lot of healthy foods in one sitting is not necessarily a good habit. Overeating can lead to more health problems for your children down the road, so make sure they’re getting a well-balanced meal every time. A kitchen scale is a great tool that accurately weighs your food, and the newer scales come with more features than older ones. Find a model that the whole family can use. If you have younger kids, make it fun by letting them weigh the food and read the number that shows up on the scale.
Eating at home is always the best option for nutrition and budget considerations. But if you do enjoy the occasional outing, you can help your children learn to make smart choices on-the-go. Many fast food restaurants, including McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A, offer fruit as a side instead of French fries. Restaurants may provide the option of grilled chicken tenders, which is a healthier alternative to breaded chicken nuggets.
Healthy choices shouldn’t stop at food. Like adults, children need plenty of physical activity in order to maintain healthy bodies and minds. PBS Parents explains that you can get your children excited about exercise by scheduling play dates together where you play fun games that require moving, such as kicking a ball. You’ll also encourage your children to stay in motion by providing health-oriented gifts, such as a trampoline or hula-hoop. Many parents are pleasantly surprised that their children get more excited by spending time together outdoors than sitting listlessly in front of the television playing video games.
You can also help your child make healthy choices as an adult by helping them overcome their innate fear of the dentist, hospital and doctors. The sooner you begin visiting their health care provider for routine checkups and dental care preventative maintenance, the better. Let your child see you get an examination. Remember, you are your child’s primary role model, and the way you treat yourself and your health will encourage your children to make safe choices.
Most importantly, always maintain an open line of communication with your child regarding their health. Talk to them about alcohol and drug use, sexuality and emotional wellness on top of other health-related matters.
Children who are well-practiced at making healthy decisions grow up to become adults who do the same. The lessons they learn today will lay the foundation of their tomorrow. But don’t leave it to chance – or the Internet – teach your children that health starts at home and to always use common sense when considering their diet and exercise.