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So how to give your child a good start in life?
To begin with, children need routine. In fact they thrive on it and are happier when they know what to expect even if it is not what they would ideally choose.
At the heart of a routine are the three staples for health - food, exercise and rest. The earlier routines are established about meals, play and sleep, the easier it is to lay down more detailed ground rules such as what sort of food they should eat or when a little indulgence is okay. It can be hard work at first but persistence really will pay off. Once you have a routine, there should be fewer arguments when you need to get something done. A routine about food also helps to develop a child’s palate. For example, if asked to eat a small amount of a vegetable every day, a child soon grows used to it and may even begin to enjoy the taste. You just have to be a little persistent.
Secondly, make sure the whole family is involved. It’s no good telling the children to eat more healthily or get some exercise if you are lazing on the sofa tucking into a bowl of chips. Young children look to their immediate family as role models, although teens respond better to older friends (with the right habits, of course) as shining examples of healthy living.
Grandparents can also play a special part
Grandparents can be of great help in showing the rest of the family the way to a healthy life. With fewer competing pressures on their time, they may be able to offer guidance to their own, grown-up children and develop a special relationship with their grandchildren.
Time spent with grandparents should be built into a child’s routine. For example, they might pick the children up from school once a week and take them for tea - a great chance to encourage other healthy routines, try some new foods or get into action by doing some sports. It’s not just the child who benefits!
Make meals a family event
At least once a day mealtimes should be a family event when adults sit down with the children to share the same healthy food and make an example of table manners. This is a chance for the grown-ups to sort out their own diet too. Meal times are also a great opportunity to talk to the children and get to know more about them and their day.
Childhood is a time of rapid growth, so kids need plenty of nutrients and energy. To achieve this, they require a balanced diet with a combination of different food types, including grains and pulses, fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy products, fats and oils. But how much of these different foods should you have? Critical to the idea of a balanced diet is getting the proportions right, with a little of some foods and a lot of others. You need only a small amount compared to foods such as fruit and vegetables, or complex carbohydrates, such as cereals, potatoes, pasta or rice. Fresh fruit and vegetables are low in fat, calories and salt and are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Most of us simply don’t eat enough to meet the current recommendation of three to five servings of vegetables and two to four of fruit every day.
Think about supplements
Give some thought to the particular nutrients that children need. For example, calcium and vitamin D are vital for growing teeth and bones and can be provided by milk, cheese and other dairy products. Very fussy eaters may benefit from a multivitamin supplement. A constant supply of essential fatty acids such as DHA (omega 3 fatty acids) is vital for the development of the nervous system. So if you can’t persuade the children to eat oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, then you may want to consider supplements.
Get the family moving
Regular exercise should be part of everyone’s routine. Half an hour out in the fresh air every day, taking a walk in the park or kicking a ball in the garden, will help keep young and old fit. Good rest is important too - lay down the rule about a regular bedtime to keep children fresh and give grown-ups time to themselves.
Tips for healthy kids
- Talk to your children constantly - find out what they do like and why they don’t like other things.
- Try to keep a regular routine.
- Give them choice - let them compare one healthy option with another.
- Make meals and activities fun.
- Get all the family involved, eating healthy food and joining in activities together.
- Explain your reasons - help them understand why it is important to be healthy.
- Put the kids in charge - let them choose menus and do some of the cooking.
- Invite friends around to set examples.
- Try and try again - persistence pays off.
- Don’t forget the treats. A healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean foregoing every pleasure, but indulgence such as chocolates or sweets should be kept as an occasional extravagance.
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