We live in a world where our children are bombarded with unhealthy food options from literally everywhere. Granny’s treat cupboards, supermarkets lines, tuckshops, playdates, restaurant kiddie menus, friends’ birthday parties… I can carry on and on. Those of you with older children will know what I mean. To avoid this, it is important to set rules for healthier habits in your children.
House rules for healthier habits in children
I have tried really hard to raise my children in a healthy manner, especially hoping that they will eventually make their own healthy food choices. At the moment it doesn’t look like I’ve succeeded in setting healthier habits in my children. My daughter is 7 years old, and currently, it’s a constant battle. She will sell her soul for a sweetie. Part of it is just her natural sweet tooth, which she may have inherited from me! But whereas I as a grown-up can (usually) control my sugar lusting, she doesn’t have that ability yet. It sometimes feels like she has compartments in her tummy, with the ones for healthy meals only able to accommodate a few bites, and the ones dedicated to the rest able to accommodate unlimited amounts.
Which brings me to the challenge – the huge responsibility that parents have to protect their children from this onslaught without creating issues and insecurities. With childhood obesity in the spotlight, we have to recognise that our children do not feed themselves. They do not buy their own meals and pack their own lunch-boxes. Many adults struggle with their weight; is this truly a battle that you want your 6-year-old to have to fight?
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Here are a few house rules for healthier habits in children that I believe parents have to enforce. Obviously you can adapt these to be age-appropriate.
- Lead by example. With how you eat in the house you are laying the foundation of your children’s lifestyle habits for years to come. Research has shown that obesity in a parent is one of the biggest risk factors for childhood obesity. This is not easy to do and you may have to seek help.
- Keep sweets and cool drinks away from your toddlers for as long as you can; there will come a day when you can no longer control what they eat. This is still easy to do with a first child, but a nightmare if they have older siblings whom they see snacking on unhealthy treats.
- Sometimes you should just not lead them into temptation. Don’t buy certain foods (hint: 2-minute noodles are not food!), as they cannot eat it if it’s not in your cupboard. Instead, ensure that there are healthy snack options available for when they feel like a nibble.
- If they refuse to eat their food, don’t end up giving them something unhealthy ‘just so that they have something in their tummies’. Children will realise very quickly that this is the case and are completely able to be manipulative to get what they want.
- Don’t force them to eat a whole plate full of food they don’t like, as this is usually counterproductive. However, you can expect of them to have a small spoonful so that they get used to the taste. And have one healthy option in a meal that you know they do like and will eat.
- Don’t use food as a bargaining tool or a reward. And this is one of the lessons I learned in a hard way. It’s easy to offer a sweet treat if they would behave in a certain manner or to keep them quiet right now, but you will end up eventually having to offer treats to get anything done. Plus you create an emotional link to food as a reward which can last forever. Rather reward them by spending time with them or by doing something fun (not that easy in a busy day, I know!).
- Limit portion sizes. A child’s body is physically a lot smaller than a grown-up’s, so proportionally any sugar they ingest is a lot more. For example, giving a can of coke to a 15kg size child equals 5 cans for a 75kg sized adult! So dilute your juice and pour smaller glasses, or give a few sweeties in a container rather than the whole packet full.
- Limit screen-time, as apart from all the harm it does to their intellectual development it renders them inactive in a time of their lives when they are supposed to run around and play.
- Encourage them to be active. When buying toys or planning outings, try to pick options that gets them moving. Occasionally even choose one that gets you moving with them.
- Completely ban soft drinks. These are addictive, and they offer calories in amounts that are difficult to eat otherwise. As a family, drink water when you are thirsty. And remember that fruit juice is a big culprit. It takes far more fruit to create a glass of juice than you would eat on your own.
By implementing these rules you will by no means win the battle, but it’s a good place to start. Good luck, and may the healthy forces be with you!