It seems everywhere we turn, we see or hear a multitude of thing we cannot or should not do. There are guidelines for nearly everything, and every age group, that warn of everything not good for your health. We start at such a young age with lists of restrictions, but what about all of the choices in life that are healthy, good choices? Why aren’t we focusing more on what is good, healthy and enjoyable?
My crusade has been to create an environment for my children to be able to see, do and eat whatever options are available to them. Instead of constantly saying, “no, you can’t have that snack” or “no, you can’t do that,” I want to be able to tell them “Yes! Eat that if you are hungry for a snack” or “Yes! You can go run, jump, skip or climb that.” How much happier and frustration-free our days have been when I do not have to monitor all things in the house at all times. What a confidence builder it is for both kids to hear “Yes” more often than “No.”
I must say creating this environment has not been an easy endeavor. It has taken some trial and error, a little creativity and some good old-fashioned work to have everything set up and maintained in a way that works for both kids at nearly 5 years old and 18 months old. It was a challenge with the age difference because of the difference in both physical abilities and nutritionally. (My 18-month-old does not have enough teeth to chomp through all things her brother is able to eat.)
So where to start? In my mind, the single best way to influence what your children do, whether it is regarding food or physical activity, is to model the behavior you want to see. They pay closer attention than we think they do – most of the time. The answer to the question of where to start was, with me!
I have a set time of day very early in the morning to exercise. My son knows this is mommy’s time. I do not stop my routine very often, because this is my time to break a sweat and build up a little more sanity and strength in myself for the day ahead. My son is an early riser, so he often will join me to exercise. Occasionally, he will just color or draw pictures, but there are mornings he can break a sweat right along with me. We also have started a new routine where, either before or after dinner, we will go for a family walk around the block in our neighborhood. It is perfect to keep everyone moving, plus is great time for chatting about the day coming to a close or about the happenings for the next day. The fresh air is always nice too. I am hoping that with the colder months ahead, we can still get out and walk routinely.
We also talk about exercise often in our house about how it makes us feel great and have more energy. I have a couple structured sports for my oldest, as he loves both swimming and soccer, but his other break-a-sweat times are often with me or in the backyard with his sister or our puppy. I must say with my kids’ age groups, I don’t have to worry too much about getting them to get up and move. They are constantly on the go, and actually, I would love some times for them to just sit!
Now on to nutrition… I think creating the “Yes, you can eat that” environment for my kids was a bit more difficult due to their age difference. But, like with the physical activity, I needed to be a role model. If I want them to snack on things like fruits and vegetables, this is what I should be snacking on, if I even snack at all. If I want them to eat grilled chicken with vegetables at dinner, the same needs to be on my plate. It took a long time for my son to try new vegetables, but after seeing me eat them routinely and my putting them on his plate over and over again, he is now eating a variety of vegetables. No, he does not eat them with every meal, but I can always get him to eat fruits and a minimum of one full serving (or more) of a vegetable almost every day. I also have created spaces in our pantry and in the refrigerator where they can choose snacks or something to go along with their meals. If they are hungry, they can go to either place and choose what they would like to eat and know that, whatever it is, it will be a good choice. This is a bit tougher with my youngest who wants to imitate her brother. She needs a little more direction in what options are available for her to snack on. But what is nice is neither child goes searching for cookies or candy to snack on, because I do not buy them! This is the easiest solution for food. If it is not in the house, it is obviously not an option. We simply do not have it. The same method applies for drinks. I automatically fill cups with water for both kids in the morning and put their cups in places where they can see and reach them. This way, if they feel thirsty while they are playing, they just grab their water and go. Neither of them asks for milk or juice in between meals, since water is right there available to them. The water satisfies their thirst and if they can get it on their own, there are no arguments – which is really nice.
I want my children to have the ability to make healthy decisions about nutrition and physical activity/play. For them to learn what decisions are the healthy ones, I have to create and maintain the environment where the available options are the ones I want them to choose. I love every time I can say, “Yes, you can have XYZ,” because not only did they make a healthy choice, but they also received a nice boost in confidence and independence in their own decision-making.
Simple steps to create a nutritionally healthy home for your kids:
- Be a role model for what you want your kids to eat and be enthusiastic about it
- Make the healthy options available for them to choose from
- Do not buy junk food items in the first place. If it is not in your home, no one will be tempted by it!
- Eat only when hungry and stop eating when you begin to feel full – not when you feel stuffed
- Ask for help making your grocery list and input for what choices they want to have for snacks and with meals. I think the more they can be involved, the greater the success.
Simple steps to create a physically active home for your kids:
- Role model. Role model. Role model. If your kids see you doing it (and having fun), they will want to join you!
- Take a family walk every day
- Go to the park, pool, zoo, etc. – any place where you walk around or run around to play together as a family
- Plan some scheduled activities or team sports, like swimming or soccer
- Do chores in and outside of the house together