Focusing on healthy habits for the family this year

How to start the year off on a healthy foot ...
How to start the year off on a healthy foot ... Photo: Getty Images

Many of us have made New Year resolutions for ourselves and I’m betting if you did several of them involve your personal health and well being. Perhaps you have vowed to get to the gym more, lose weight, give up smoking or take up yoga. But what about your kids? A New Year is a great time to give some thought as to our kids health and wellbeing. Are we doing we can to help them feel their best, perform their best at school, develop healthily and foster the habits they need for a healthy life? Just as we stop and evaluate our own lives from time to time, it’s a great idea to do the same for how we are guiding our kids. Here are some of my ideas to consider:

Fall back dinners 

Unless you are Mary Poppins, we all have fall back dinner options for the kids on those nights we get home tired and cranky with nothing in the fridge. Whether it’s fast food, other takeout, frozen pre-prepared meals or baked beans on toast – and some of these options are better than others - we know it’s not the same as a balanced home cooked meal. If it happens once a week it’s not a big deal, but if life gets manic and this is happening more regularly it is certainly impacting on your child’s nutrition.

What to do?

  • Be more prepared. At the start of the week have a plan as to what the dinners will be, even if it’s a rough plan. Then make sure the fridge is stocked with the fresh ingredients you will need.
  • When cooking anything that can be frozen, make extra and freeze in the portion sizes you need to feed the kids. That way you have something homemade and nutritious to pull out of the freezer on those nights you do get caught short.
  • Ensure your pantry is stoked with foods such as wholegrain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, cans of beans, lentils and chickpeas, jars of passata or cans of tomatoes, cans of tuna or other fish, and that your freezer has some frozen vegies. That way even when the fridge is bare, you can still throw together a quick meal. E.g. Pasta with tuna and vegies in a tomato sauce, or a brown rice, beans and vegie pilaf.
  • When chopping vegies for a meal, chop extra and store them in the fridge in ziplock bags or containers. It makes throwing a meal together the next night a whole lot easier so you’ll be less inclined to reach for the takeout menu.
  • It is great on the odd night to not have to cook, so suss out the local takeout stores around home.  There are healthy options to be had. A BBQ chicken and steamed veg with perhaps a few potato wedges is infinitely better than most fast food, while a local shop making their own burgers in a grainy sourdough bun with salad is a far cry from most commercial outlets. These options may cost more, but place value on your families health. Source the highest quality and most affordable options near you.

Too many electronics

We know that too many hours in front of the TV and playing electronic games is not good for kids intellectual or emotional development, their social skills, and tends to lead to weight problems. The recommendations are that our kids should not engage in more than 2 hours of total screentime – that means TV combined with computer, DS and other games, iPads and so on. With two boys ages 7 and 9 I know how easily those 2 hours can rack up – and how easy it is to let them play when I’m trying to get that deadline met. But we absolutely must be on top of this.

What to do? 

  • I’ve found one of the best features on the computer is the time limit settings found in parental controls. I can set this to how many hours they are allowed to be logged in each day, times when they cannot log in eg before 7am and not after 7pm, and I can allow access to only certain websites.
  • Don’t allow them to play with these electronic games in their bedrooms with the door closed. You’ll lose them for hours without realising and you won’t know what they are up.
  • Play a little yin and yang. For every hour on an electronic device they have to do an hour of something more physical such as kicking a ball in the yard.
  • Get into the habit of doing something active together. Walking the dog after school, going on a family bike ride, heading to the beach or the park with a Frisbee. We often intend to do these things and busy lives get in the way. In reality however there are often times we all sit in front of the TV when we could in fact get outdoors. 

Using food as a reward, to cheer them up or hush them up

It might seem perfectly natural to give your child a chocolate bar to keep them quiet while you’re on the phone, or take them for an icecream because they hurt their leg. We learn these associations ourselves as children and so they tend to replay in our roles as parents. They might seem insignificant and harmless, but if it happens all too often think about the stage we are setting. I have seen so many adults who now have weight problems because they continue to cheer themselves up with sweet treats, or reward themselves with a rich meal because they ‘deserve it’.

What to do?

  • Think of other ways to reward your kids other than food. I still think it’s OK to all head out for icecream on occasion as a treat, but on a daily basis there are other rewards. Spending time with them doing something they love is one of the best things us busy parents can do. Eg Taking them to the beach on the weekend, going ice skating or some other activity.
  • Sticking to an eating plan of meals and scheduled snacks can help to stop all the unnecessary extra eating. While very young children certainly need to snack more often as they can’t eat much at once, older children need to learn to spread their meals out more. For most kids 3 meals and 2 snacks is enough and will encourage them to eat well at those meals. If you constantly give them food to keep them occupied and happy, it’s inevitable they won’t be hungry at mealtimes. 

In deciding what changes you want to instill in your family, think first about what the issues might be. If my points don’t resonate with you come up with your own. None of us are doing things perfectly all of the time and nor do we need to. But the start of a new year is a great time to evaluate and make adjustments to make sure we are doing the best we can to raise a healthy Australia.

How are your new year resolutions going? Have you made any for your kids? You don't need to wait for a new year to start making healthier habits.