While your children are young, you are in charge of every decision. You choose what they eat and how they spend their time, and you know that you are making those choices based on your understanding of what’s best for them. However, from an early age, you should be planning for the future, and for the choices they will eventually have to make for themselves. To do this, you need to both educate and empower them to make decisions under your guidance.
The best way to teach your child to eat well is, quite simply, by eating well yourself. Raise them in an environment where healthy food is not only normal, but also exciting. Include them in cooking from an early age with child-friendly recipes and learn how to make vegetable-based dishes that they can genuinely enjoy.
It can seem difficult to shop for a whole family on a budget and keep the meals healthy and filling, but the key is planning ahead. Plan out your meals for the week by looking up what produce is currently in season and what deals are currently on at your local supermarket. Remember to plan snacks as well. Then, head to the shop with your list and do not deviate from it, ignoring any tantrums.
You should understand that kids will always be attracted to sugary foods. Not only is this an evolutionary response – our ancestors looked for high-energy foods – but also in the modern world it is almost impossible to fully avoid advertising targeted at children or their friends bringing sweets to school.
Instead of banning sugar entirely, teach them the importance of balance. They need to eat certain foods because they make their bodies healthy and strong, but they should also be allowed the occasional treat. The Food Rush suggests learning their favorite healthy treats, like grapes or peanut butter and using them as a way to “treat” them semi-regularly without negatively impacting their health.
Exercise does not have to mean lots of extracurriculars. If your child approaches you with a sport they’d like to try and you can afford it, that’s wonderful news, but there are other ways to get them used to moving from a young age. Walk with them as often as possible and encourage active play wherever possible. Live Science recommends a half-day per weekend at least dedicated to family and fitness. Take this opportunity to take them into the outdoors as contact with nature is incredibly beneficial to their development.
While most kids won’t like coffee until they are older, it is easy for them to drink quite a bit of it through sodas. The caffeine in a can of soda can have a negative effect on blood pressure and heart rates, and that’s not even thinking of the sugar. A regular habit can also create a dependency very early on.
Limit your child’s consumption of caffeinated sodas. In an ideal world, you should be replacing this with water, but sometimes you’ll want to give them a treat. Look out for caffeine-free (and sugar-free) versions of popular sodas for those times.
Drugs and Alcohol
When you have a small child, it is easy to think that you have a long time until you need to address subjects such as drugs and alcohol. However, adolescence will come before you know it, and in the meantime they are forming opinions based on what they see on TV.
Have frank conversations with your children about drugs and alcohol. If they ask you why you drink a beer sometimes, don’t just change the subject or tell them that it’s because you are an adult. Explain that adults like drinking alcohol because it can relax them, but that it should always be consumed in moderation. Explain that drugs are not allowed because they are dangerous and could hurt them. Be willing to answer any questions honestly and openly.
Ultimately, you can’t push your children to anything. As they grow older, they will start exploring their independence and that is a healthy part of growing up. The best thing you can do while they are young is to educate them on what healthy choices look like, and to lead by example.