A healthy lifestyle starts at home.
A child’s mind is like a sponge, constantly soaking up new ideas and concepts as well as internalizing observed behavior and beliefs as they grow. For new parents and families, a healthy home is integral to raising children who value healthy food and movement as a means to achieve whole-person health. Children can develop healthy eating habits and a love for physical movement when they are introduced to these concepts at an early age.
Are you having trouble getting the kids to finish (or even try) their vegetables? Have they become a bit too engrossed in morning cartoons? The best way to inspire kids to see the benefits of making healthy choices is to model these concepts yourself. As a parent or caregiver, it’s key to be a role model. This can be achieved by creating a home that is a safe space for children to explore their health and encourages them to learn and appreciate the benefits of healthy eating and movement.
Share the benefits of a healthy and nutritious diet.
Teach kids the benefits of eating healthy by making the experience fun and collaborative:
1) Get creative.
Humans are visual creatures, and children, especially, are drawn to bright, colorful foods – bonus points if they can eat with their hands! Try mixing up what you usually make for the kids:
- Puree vegetables, such as zucchini and broccoli, and add to pasta sauce.
- Drizzle nut butter and chia seeds on morning oatmeal. You can even put the nut butter into a squeeze bottle and the chia seeds into a bowl and let the kids serve themselves!
- Sprinkle flaxseeds and a handful of spinach into fruit smoothies.
- Cut up assorted berries and bananas for a fresh fruit salad.
Serving basic foods that also pack a nutritious punch is a great way to make moderate changes to their diet. Taking advantage of the natural sweetness and flavors found in fruits, vegetables, and healthy nuts, and adding these whole foods to your recipes is a great way to get your kids to try new foods while demonstrating that taste doesn’t have to be compromised! Teaching your kids the value in eating that side of broccoli, too, will help them realize that nutritional eating can be powerful for their mind and body.
2) Get the whole family involved.
Inspire your child’s love for home-cooked meals and fresh ingredients by getting them involved in the process from the start. Allow them to pick out recipes one or two nights a week. Especially if they’re picky eaters, this can help them explore new foods while also helping prepare them. While you’re baking, have them do the stirring or pouring. These are great opportunities to teach how healthy home-cooked meals can be tasty as well as a fun learning activity.
You can take this even further by purchasing a stepstool to let children feel more in control in the kitchen. When they are “up high” with the adult, seeing and helping prepare everything, they are more likely to eat the food being prepared. There’s a sense of empowerment for children when they are brought into the process, especially if they are able to shop for the ingredients, too.
3) Set a time and place to eat your meals together.
Communal family meals may help your kids develop a healthier relationship with food. By setting daily meal times, you create an opportunity to bond, connect, and enjoy a healthy meal together as a family, helping them associate nutritious foods with primary food – the areas of your life that nourish you off your plate.
Eating meals together is also a great opportunity to introduce a variety of foods to children. Seeing their parents and even their siblings enjoying vibrant and healthy dishes can encourage them to love and appreciate these foods.
Make movement a staple in your home routine.
Find ways to get your kids involved in more physical activity through small household changes, family involvement, and organized activity:
1) Encourage movement of all kinds.
As children have been introduced to technology much earlier in their lives, they’ve become accustomed to using many forms of technology at all hours of the day, which likely reduces the time they spend being physically active. Encourage daily movement by reducing screen time and taking them for a walk around the neighborhood or to the local park, if accessible. Physical activity can also be peppered into their days, such as doing chores around the house, helping in the garden, or walking the dog. Daily activity is crucial for optimal physical and mental health, and children take notice when it becomes a component of the family’s routine.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children ages 6–17 require 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. This could include a bike ride to the park, jumping rope with friends, or a soccer match at the local field. As for children ages 3–5, physical activity is essential for healthy growth and development. This could include anything from a trip to an indoor playground, a swimming lesson, or a game of catch. Early physical activity acts as an important piece to help prevent child obesity.
2) Make movement a family affair.
It’s never too early to instill a love for movement in your child’s life. Whether it be a Mommy and Me yoga class or a trip to your local playground, children benefit from these early encounters that challenge their balance and motor function and stimulate the senses. This is also a chance to bond with your child around a shared love for movement, helping them create positive memories around the experience.
As your children grow older, take advantage of the summer months and gather the family for an outdoor hike, bike ride, or even a rock-climbing adventure. Regular family outings can make healthy movement a ritual that your kids look forward to.
3) Aim to provide opportunities to take part in organized movement.
If possible, try getting your kids involved in a local organized physical activity or team. Whether a sports team or dance class, this is a great way to couple physical movement with a social outlet. An organized physical activity can also give children room to explore their passions and express themselves in a healthy outlet.
Children thrive off organized activity and healthy competition as it can challenge them to put in their best effort and grow their self-esteem. It also helps them learn how to cope and move on from failures, such as losing a game. Children also build friendships that can last a lifetime as organized sports foster comradery and teaches the value of supporting teammates.
Be a role model for a healthy, holistic life.
When your home is centered on health, other pieces of your life will start to align with this core value. As a parent, guardian, or caregiver, it’s important to set a foundation where children see and understand the value and importance of leading a holistically healthy life. Ultimately, we are each responsible for our bodies, so it’s important to equip young people with the best possible tools to reach optimal health on their own.
Relationships and home environment are key forms of primary food, the IIN concept that focuses on all areas of your health, not just the food you eat. Complete the IIN Circle of Life exercise for a visual look at how primary food can provide a balanced, holistic understanding of your daily life.