Rules for kids – healthy habits start young

Obesity rates are on the rise among children, and the facts are clear – overweight kids are more likely to become overweight adults. Along with obesity come a host of negative health problems you don’t want your kids to deal with. While a small percentage of obese children are overweight due to a medical or genetic condition, the vast majority have been raised simply eating too much of the wrong types of foods, while living an inactive lifestyle.

Attitudes toward food and nutrition start at an early age. By your words and actions, you set the stage for the eating habits your kids will carry into adulthood.

What rules should you make in your home regarding food? Here are a few suggestions.

Given the choice between soda and water or a snack cake and apple, what do you think a child would choose? Chances are, a child would choose unhealthy options the majority of the time. So make it a rule in your home to keep the junk food out. Fill your refrigerator and cabinets with a variety of healthy snacks and meal ingredients so your kids don’t have to choose between the good and the bad.

Kids constantly begging for another cookie and parents constantly saying ‘no’ is not a fun situation. You don’t want to be the mean parent always on pantry patrol. Let your kids make their own healthy choices by leaving the junk food at the grocery store. A few treats now and then are a smart idea, too, but every day is too often.

A meal schedule doesn’t mean you have to eat at the same times each day, but it does mean each meal is important. Our bodies and metabolism function best when they know what to expect. Your kids may be cranky in the morning and running late for school, but don’t let them skip breakfast. Regularly going without breakfast is closely tied to obesity, low energy, and a lack of mental focus.

Offer your children healthy snacks at regular times during the day. This will prevent grazing and ensure they’ll be hungry at meal times.

Eating on the go or in front of the television will not create healthy eating habits. The busyness of life can easily get in the way of family dinners but make them a priority several days a week. Sharing a meal together as a family improves communication skills, provides a sense of belonging, builds strong family bonds, and gives you the opportunity to ensure everyone is eating nutritious foods and reduces the likelihood of obesity.

Children and teens who are allowed to eat whenever and wherever they want may develop unhealthy eating habits. When you’re distracted, it’s hard to notice when you’re full. Snacking while watching television or doing other mindless activities can easily lead to overeating. Unless it’s a special occasion like family movie night, keep the food in the kitchen.

Using food as a way to punish or reward children will not foster a healthy attitude toward food. Sending children to bed without dinner or withholding food for bad behaviour will only lead to hoarding or overeating.

When sweets and treats are used as rewards, children will learn those kinds of foods are better and more desirable. Telling children they must eat all the vegetables before they can have dessert teaches a child that sweets are good and veggies are bad. Children who view sweets as rewards often carry this view into adulthood and find comfort in junk food.

Create a positive eating experience at mealtime so your kids will associate food with good memories rather than stress. Teach your children that the goal of eating is health, not weight loss.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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