Children need to be active. The NHS recommends that children under the age of 5 (who can walk unaided) should do three hours of exercise this includes light activity (moving about, gentle play etc.) and energetic activity (anything where they are increasing their heart rate and getting a little out of breath such as running, swimming, skipping etc.) In fact, according to the NHS, sitting for long periods of time (including travelling and being strapped into a seat) is not good for young children except when they are asleep. At this age - kids need to be active!
As children get older, they need different types of activity. Children over 5 years of age need to do at least 60 minutes of activity each day and this includes a mix of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as fast walking, and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as running. They should also do muscle strengthening activities such as push ups and bone strengthening exercises such as running – although these can often be combined in a sport such as football training.
Kid sized – enough is enough:
Children are smaller than adults, but many parents make the mistake of creating ‘big people’ portions for their children. Whilst it’s important for children to eat well so they can develop healthily – eating too much can be really unhealthy as well.
In terms of babies and toddlers - there are a few different schools of thought. Some people believe children naturally stop eating when they’ve had enough, but there are, as we know children who will go on eating and eating until they are stopped. So when is enough enough?
Some thinking also suggests that that children who serve themselves will portion the correct amount of food for themselves nutrition wise. However, this may not be practical or realistic for some parents.
The general line of thinking nowadays that most experts agree on is not to force your child to eat or finish their entire plate; feeding children excessively in early years may lead to bad eating habits later on. If you find leaving food on the plate offensive, you may want to consider giving your child smaller portions so they can finish what is set before them and then ask for more if they need it.
Making simply switches to your usual diet can do great things for the overall health of your children. Some ideas include:
- Switching from sugary and fizzy drinks to ones with no added sugar drinks such as water, milk (ideally semi-skimmed - but remember children under 2 need full-fat milk) or unsweetened fruit juice
- Switching from deep fried foods to ones that are shallow fried or preferably oven cooked (e.g. over cooked chips versus fried chips, or grilling sausages rather than frying them)
- Switching from high fat foods to lower fat alternatives – e.g. frozen yoghurt or sorbet, or eating lower fat cheese instead of full fat.
Make it a family thing:
Eating together is not only a great social experience, it also helps children to understand how to eat healthily. Make sure your meals include a range of vegetables on the table for children to try from. Even if they are not always willing to try at the time, setting a good example will help good habits for later life…
Snacks versus treats:
Today’s on-the-go lifestyle and intense television advertising means that its often hard to avoid on foods such as sweets, chocolate, crisps and biscuits. But remember, these foods are high in both fat and sugar and are not going to have any nutritional benefit, nor keep them full for very long. If your child is hungry, consider healthy snacks such as:
- Banana and peanut butter
- A yoghurt
- Dried fruit and nut mix
- Healthy crackers
Remember, there is a difference between a snack (for when your child is hungry) and a treat (something your child gets for being good). Giving your child treats as snacks is a slippery slope and can mount up to a unhealthy level, leading to excess fat and sugar consumption, obesity and other health problems.
Remember – snacks keep hunger at bay. Treats do not.
The 5 a day recommendation applies to children as well as adults. Remember this doesn’t have to be five raw fruits or vegetables – it also includes any fruits and vegetables that are included in a meal. This could include:
- Banana in cereal or porridge at breakfast
- Some cherry tomatoes as a snack
- Carrot sticks and hummus
- Any types of salad
- Vegetables included in stews, curries, stir fries
Make it a lifestyle:
Children love games. Try incorporating a reward chart to help motivate little ones to eat more fruit and vegetables. Have a fruit or vegetable of the week - teach your children more about the food they are eating will help them not only to understand more about where the food they eat came from, but also why eating them is good for them.
Include your child in the preparation of the meal – let them taste flavours as you add them to the food so they can experiment with tastes and sensations. Making eating enjoyable and healthy is the best way to instil healthy eating habits for your children.