Written by: Cynthia Innes, Teacher at Junior College Preschools Sandton.
A healthy lifestyle consists of various factors that contribute to healthy living, specifically eating habits, physical activity, emotional intelligence and a well-balanced activity schedule. Co-ordinating all these factors can be challenging for a child however, it is possible to achieve with guidance and a good routine.
All parents face the challenge of encouraging their child to eat healthily, the trick is to create a healthy lifestyle for the entire family. Toddlers are influenced by those with whom they spend most of their time, whether it be at Preschool, at home with the nanny or parent. Children need continuous guidance to develop a healthy lifestyle, a child’s preschool years are an important time to teach children how to eat well and exercise their bodies. Parents and teachers can work together to encourage healthy eating habits and lots of physical activities.
Always have healthy snacks readily available
Replace fizzy drinks and processed juices with water. Have this easily available. Have freshly cut vegetables or fruit ready to eat as a snack. A whole wheat sandwich with a fruit or veg is also a good snack between meals. Snacking regularly is beneficial to children as they have smaller stomachs and they burn energy faster. Eating healthily between meals provides their little bodies with the nutrients and hydration needed for a healthy lifestyle.
Educate your child
Instead of force feeding undesirable healthy foods to your children, educated them as to why it is healthy and beneficial to their bodies. Forcing your child to give into something they don’t agree with teaches them that forceful behavior from others is acceptable, this could lead to falling victim to peer-pressure situations. Reasoning and explaining why eating healthily is important, not only gives your child the power to make decisions but also develops their reasoning skills.
Lead by example
Children learn from their surrounding experiences, they do what you do so lead by example and they will soon follow. Having healthy snacks with your children is a great way to encourage healthy eating. Children see their parents as role models and will imitate what their parents do.
Create a food schedule
Creating a weekly food schedule beforehand is extremely beneficial to the cook and the family. Placing a food schedule in an area where every family member can read it will allow them to prepare themselves mentally for a meal. Explaining to toddlers what’s on the menu gives them a sense of involvement and is more likely to eat the meal. Involving the entire family in scheduling meals for the week will encourage them to finish their meals.
Introduce new foods gradually
Young children are more likely to eat new foods if you introduce tiny amounts in an attractive manner. Do not worry if they resist the first few times, keep trying without force but encourage a taste. It is natural for all of us to detest some foods, so allow your little one to do so if a few tastes have been tried. Try again a few months later, maturity brings change.
Include the children in meal preparations
Allow children to help you prepare the meal. Little ones can fetch vegetables and fruit, bring you the pots and pans and help with stirring. This also develops their counting and perceptual skills. As they get older they can learn to chop, measure and mix. A child who has helped with the cooking will generally be keen to eat it
Don’t be too strict
As above, a taste is all you need to encourage. Serve tiny portions attractively so the child can finish and ask for more if necessary. After 20 minutes, if the child is not keen to eat, remove the food with a cheerful statement, “I see you have had enough” Do not serve alternatives or filling snacks between meals. No punishment for not eating. The more fuss you make, the more resistance you will have. Eat meals with your children, talk without TV or phones. Meals can be a family bonding time where food is celebrated and enjoyed.
Physical activity for Young children
Children should be actively playing, preferably outdoors on bikes, jungle gyms or just imaginative play with the toys they have. TV or tablets should be limited to a maximum of half hour daily. Lead by example and go for walks, swim, garden play ball games or take them to the gym with you.
To create a healthy eating habit, the above tips need to be implemented over time and on a continuous basis for successful results.