Happy World Health day! Our health is something we’ve all come to see the importance of these last few years – together with the fact that we can’t take it for granted. While a lot of things are out of our control, what we can control is making sure our bodies are as healthy as possible so that we can deal effectively with any illnesses we may face in the future. The most effective health habits start in childhood – so if you have young kids, it’s never too early to start teaching them about healthy living. Here are five simple ways you can start instilling healthy habits in your kids…
5 Ways to start teaching your kids about health:
1. Grow a veggie garden.
Growing your own fruit and vegetables is an excellent practical way to teach your children about nutrition and where fresh food comes from. Growing things like lettuce, spinach and tomatoes or herbs like rosemary and basil are simple and easy for kids to get involved in – and it can be very rewarding when they harvest what they’ve grown and help you cook with the resulting produce. Even if you don’t have a garden, growing your own greens can be as simple as planting microgreens or sprouts in pots on your windowsill. Besides being educational, getting kids involved with growing plants also helps to cultivate caring, responsibility, self-confidence and a love of nature.
2. Remove sweet temptations.
Many children have a sweet tooth and avoiding the sweet aisle in the shops or the sweet table at birthday parties can be challenging to say the least. But out of sight, out of mind: if sugary foods are removed from your children’s immediate environment, there’s far less temptation to indulge in them. Commit to stocking your kitchen with healthy alternatives – rather than buying juice, stick to having only water available to drink, and replace that drawer of sweets and chocolates with healthy snacks like nuts, popcorn or fresh fruit. Overall, try and teach your children that if they’re hungry, a healthy snack will keep them fuller for longer and give them far more sustained energy rather than a quick sugar high (and the crash that inevitably results).
3. Teach them to listen to their bodies.
The more in touch we are with our bodies, the quicker (and more effectively) we can respond to what they need. Specifically when it comes to eating and drinking, encourage your child to pay attention to when they are thirsty, when they feel full, or how they feel if they eat a certain food – or too much of it! Teaching kids to pay attention to body signals with things like digestion can pave the way to healthy eating habits like overeating and making good food choices as they get older. It’s also key that they listen to their bodies if something feels “off”, as recognising an illness in its early stages often makes it far easier to treat. If you’re a member of a medical aid like Fedhealth, being on a plan geared to families means you can get the early medical intervention your child needs, rather than worrying about costs of doctor’s visits – and in doing so, delaying treatment.
4. Make physical activity part of their day.
As important as nutritious food is, moving one’s body is a key factor in long term health. Kids are naturally energetic, so harness this natural tendency by making sure they get enough exercise outside each day, even if it’s just getting them to run around the garden or climb a tree near where you live. Cultivate an attitude of getting outside even when it’s cold and rainy – think gumboots and anoraks! Even if you’re in mid-summer, time your outings to the early morning or evening. Even better, try and make getting outside and moving part of your routine that you can do together with your children: walk to a playdate, visit a community pool or park, or ride bikes together. Check out some things to do in Cape Town with kids to get your kids active.
5. Make sure they get enough sleep.
In South Africa’s movement guidelines for children up to five years old, it’s recommended that toddlers get between 11 and 14 hours of sleep per night, and pre-schoolers between 10 and 13 hours, which may include a nap. The reality, though, is that many children get far less sleep than they need, which can lead to poor concentration, mood swings and poor eating habits. To ensure regular good sleep for your kids, make sure your bedtime routine is firm and predictable – make bedtime roughly the same time each night, stick to calming activities and remove screens several hours before they go to bed.
Children model themselves on the behaviour of adults around them, so by far the best way to ensure your kids adopt healthy habits is to set an example yourself. If you don’t want them to eat junk food, prepare healthy meals that you enjoy with them. If you want them to be active, make sure you lead an active lifestyle too. Above all, making healthy habits and routines consistent, fun and flexible means that your children will see the benefit for many years to come. If they can enter adulthood with a solid outlook on what constitutes good health, you’ll have given them a gift they’ll value for the rest of their lives.