Right so first off let me make it clear that I’ve not come here to get all preachy and smug and show you how perfect my own little family is, I am totally winging it like the rest of you mums and dads out there. These little people enter our lives, filling our hearts with love and consuming our heads with worry, stress and there’s that ever niggling question of “am I doing it right?”, so let’s not kid ourselves folks this parenting lark is tricky business!
And I will hold my hands in the air right now and confess that I am by no means an expert, trust me I am very much still making mistakes, but along the way, I have managed to pick up a few tips to make life that little bit easier, to save time and to ensure that I’m doing the best I can for my family.
I wanted to share what I’ve learned so that you too can have a go at trying out some of these things with your own family. Making some healthy changes to your family’s lifestyle, no matter how small those changes, can have huge benefits and will see your child grow up having developed healthy habits that will take them through to adulthood, and hey if it makes that bumpy ride go ever so slightly more smoothly, that’s gotta be a good thing, right!?!
Focus On The Positives
So first things first, kids are basically little versions of you and up until a certain age they see you as their main role model. I know they might not always show it, but they think you’re great and actually, they’d quite like to be like you, which means they will mimic your behavior. Children learn by example, so if they see you pinching your thighs and moaning about how much Christmas weight you’ve put on, you are inadvertently teaching them to become self-conscious of their own bodies.
Rather than focusing on the negatives, it’s really important to talk openly about the positives. So instead of talking about weight, shift the focus onto health instead. Keeping up a balanced healthy lifestyle doesn’t involve obsessing over the numbers, it should be about educating you on how certain foods make you feel better than others, how some will fuel your body, give it more energy, and others will cause you to crash and burn and not necessarily enable your body to do the things you’d like it to.
The earlier you start forming healthy habits in your children the easier it is, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still make changes…it will just take more time, more patience, and maybe a bit more moaning!
Try sitting down as a family and ask the kids questions such as:
- What do you think the word healthy means?
- Do you think we are a healthy family?
- What changes could we make to be healthier?
Kids are far more likely to be open to change if they feel they’ve had a part to play and that it is their idea, so getting them involved is absolutely key. And of course, we all know kids will do most things for a sticker, even when they’re a little bit older, so there’s nothing wrong in setting up a family reward chart for when you achieve certain things each week.
Start As You Mean To Go On
OK so we’ve got our positive pants on, we can do this folks, and I’m going to continue as I mean to go on by talking about the journey to school. I and the kids walk the 20-minute route to school every day; come rain or shine we’re there pounding the pavements. Yes sometimes the kids have a right old moan about it, especially if it’s tipping down, but we’ve got wellies, we’ve got umbrellas…a little bit of rain ain’t gonna kill anyone!
Walking to school is something I feel really passionate about, for a variety of different reasons, but for the most part because it is a simple way of getting in some gentle exercise without you really realizing it. It’s an exercise with a purpose if you like – you need to get to school and in our house, the only way you’re going to get there is if you walk. And I tell you what, you might not think it makes that much of a difference, but honestly, when it’s the school holidays and we’re not doing the school run, my waistline sure doesn’t like it!
I get that the working parents among you need to do the whole car ‘drop and run’ thing, but does that need to be the case every day? And yes I also get that morning is a manic whirlwind of trying to get everybody out of the house on time, fully dressed, breakfasted, and looking at least half awake, but seriously just set the alarm 5, 10, 15 minutes earlier.
For me, that morning walk helps set us all up for the day – it’s a great opportunity to talk, learn about road safety, or even play a few games (we love ‘would you rather’ and ‘make up a story), and hey if they haven’t found time to do all their homework it’s the perfect chance for some times table practice!
Give it a go and see how you get on. I’m willing to bet that after a week you and the kids will start to notice a difference in how you feel both physically and mentally – I know how much more productive and energized I feel after a morning walk, so let’s get our kids in that state of mind too.
Oh and before we move on my final tip is for the walk home after school…bring snacks. Both my two come out of school completely hangry (hungry angry if you wondered) and we’ve come to a mutual understanding that I hand over the snacks and let them eat whilst walking for a good 5 minutes I’d say before even attempting to get decent conversation from either of them. After that time they’re an absolute delight, but if we don’t stick to this plan…let’s just say it ain’t pretty!
Mealtimes can be a right old battle, can’t they? Trying to come up with something that everyone will eat, whilst also trying to make it vaguely healthy can at times be difficult and when you’re tired and faced with screaming kids, those frozen chicken nuggets are deffo the easier option. We all know frozen, processed, beige food is not the answer to a nutritionally balanced diet, but what if your kids are out and out vegetable dodgers?
My kids are relatively OK with veg, they’ll eat stuff like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, etc., but they wouldn’t eat mushrooms or tomatoes for love nor money…unless I hide it in the sauce. Yep my friends, if they aren’t going to eat it then it’s time to get clever! If there’s one bit of kit I would recommend having in your kitchen it’s a slow cooker, it has literally been my lifesaver on so many occasions. My fail-safe slow cooker recipe is tomato sauce and the best bit about it is that it can be used in so many different dishes. I simply bung the ingredients (chopped carrot, onion, garlic, celery, red pepper…and the dreaded mushrooms and tinned tomatoes) in the slow cooker first thing, then leave it to cook on a low heat throughout the day. Come 4 pm, I blitz it all up with a hand blender and et voilà homemade tomato sauce containing 6 ‘hidden’ portions of veggies. It can be used as a sauce for spaghetti bolognaise, meatballs, pizza, pasta, lasagne, shepherd’s pie, literally a ton of different meals, and it can be frozen in portions so you don’t need to use it all at once. Sometimes if I’m feeling fancy I chuck in a bit of Marmite (you either love it or hate it!), or some dried herbs, curry powder, or Worcestershire sauce. Zero effort but a delicious, healthy way to get some goodness into the family.
Listen, I’m not saying banish the chicken nuggets for good, jeez we all need a convenient breadcrumbed dinner option every once in a while, and don’t for one minute think that mealtimes around my house are the epitome of health because they most definitely aren’t. But I do like to make meals from scratch as often as I can and I also think it’s important that kids see how food is made so that they have an understanding of food, have a healthy relationship with food, and get involved with food. Kids can be fussy little blighters and once they’ve decided they don’t like something it can be a nightmare to convince them otherwise. I remember the only meat one of my kids would eat as a toddler was chicken, so we had to tell them that beef was ‘brown chicken’ and ham was ‘pink chicken’, then they would happily eat it. Sometimes what they don’t know doesn’t hurt them, and actually, we look back and laugh at ‘chicken gate’ because now said child loves both beef and ham.
One final thought is to stop using food as a reward; it’s difficult I know because as adults we do it to ourselves. I’ve had a bad day…oh I’ll have a glass of wine, I’ve been to the gym…oh I’ve deffo earnt that chocolate bar, sound familiar? Don’t make the same mistake with your kids. Food shouldn’t be a reward for good behavior, because be honest when it is given as a reward the chances are it’s the unhealthy stuff right? And all that does is teach children that unhealthy ‘treat’ food is better and that healthy food is somehow less appealing and less special than junk food.
Make It Fun
Doing exercise and eating healthily needn’t be boring, you just need to get creative, make it fun, and most importantly work as a team. Things like washing the car, dancing in the kitchen, pushing a trolley around Tesco, or taking the dog for a walk are all great ways to get kids moving, and they love an opportunity to help out, especially if they think it’s a game. I occasionally subject my two to a game of ‘lucky dip chores’ which basically involves me writing down a list of jobs such as dusting, sorting the washing, hoovering, etc and mixing it up with some fun ones like bounce on the trampoline, read a book, eat an apple. They then take it in turns to pick one out and do whatever it says – honestly, if you haven’t tried it go take a read of my blogpost (‘ Ever Felt Like You’re Doing It All? ‘) and find out more.
That’s the exercise element covered (oh and a big bonus is you get your housework done – that’s a win to team parents!) but what about the food?
Again, it’s all about getting the kids involved and making it fun. I love watching the kids get creative in the kitchen and actively encourage them to experiment with food, as I believe the more kids know about food the less alien it is to them. Here are a few ideas of things we’ve done in the past that have worked really well:
- Invent your own smoothie – kids choose three fruits and then chop, peel and whizz it all up, before getting to drink their culinary creations.
- Kids restaurant – instead of the usual Friday night takeaway we’ve had home made potato wedges and burgers served in boxes made and decorated by the kids. They’ve also made menus, set the table, come up with a restaurant name, been waiter and waitress, and even presented us with the bill at the end!
- Blind taste tests – Think ‘ I’m a Celebrity Get Me Outta Here ‘ without the fish eyeballs!
- Pizza faces – Homemade pizzas, using aforementioned tomato sauce, decorated by the kids.
If kids see adults excited about food, then they too will share the same passion. Likewise, if they see you eating veg with your dinner then that becomes the norm and they’ll (over time) do it too.
And finally, I’m going to utter the words that will fill all parents with absolute dread…decrease the screen time!! There is no doubt in my mind that too much screen time goes hand in hand with bad behavior, poor sleep, and a reduced attention span; I’ve seen it in my own children and we have taken some very drastic steps to reduce the amount of time they spend sat in front of screens. It’s hard I know; as parents, there are times when the electronic babysitter feels like the only escape when the kids are doing your head in, but in the long run, it’s doing them more harm than good. I’m not saying ban it altogether, but certainly put a limit on the amount of time they spend on them and be aware of the apps and games they use on them. We use a really good app called Screentime which is downloaded onto the child’s device as well as onto the adult’s phone or laptop. It then monitors all usage on the child’s device and can be controlled by the adult on their device. For example, you can set time limits in which the device shuts down after the set time, it blocks inappropriate apps (as set by the adult), it can be set to be unable to be used between the hours of bedtime and morning, and it allows you to set up a task list which grants extra minutes for completion of tasks, so, for example, an extra half hour for finishing homework, or an extra ten minutes for making their beds.
Make it a rule that screentime stops at least an hour before bedtime, as this will help children unwind and prepare themselves for sleep. The blue light from digital devices and the adrenaline that comes from playing computer games have been proven to have a detrimental effect on the amount and quality of sleep that we have and this is no different in children. Replace evening screentime with a bath, a book, and a chat as this is the time when children’s worries are most likely to surface and they are most likely to want to discuss them. Yes, we parents aren’t stupid, of course, there’s a bit of bedtime procrastination going on too – hey we were kids once, we know all the tricks in the book – but use the time before bed as a chance to listen, reassure and help them wind down so that they feel fully energized the next day. We are all so overwhelmed with digital devices, social media, and technobabble these days that there is very little time to fully switch off. It’s hard enough for us adults to deal with it, so imagine how much our little people are struggling!
Look, none of what I’ve said is rocket science and I’m sure most of you reading this know it all already, but life gets in the way sometimes and it can knock us off course and leave us feeling a bit lost. Ultimately, our kids need us to set the right example, they need us to help them help themselves, and they need educating that a healthy life is a happy life. I hope that you’ve found some of these things useful and that you will have a go at trying some of them out to create some healthy habits in your own family’s lifestyle.