9 Must-Do Tips To Raise Fit Kids
I get asked a lot about how I "get" my kids to eat salmon. People exclaim in surprise when they exercise of their own free will, because they think it's fun... or that they'll walk 5K with (hardly) a complaint. Here are my secrets.
Don't Talk. DO.
From one mama to another, I know how much you want your kids to grow up healthy and happy.
As my kids get older and busier -- and seemingly more hard of hearing -- I am aware I have two decades to teach my littles everything they need to carry them through the rest of their lives. Every mama who's repeated a command 483 times without a response knows bossing someone around isn't the best way to get their attention. And, if bossing your children around is counter-productive, well, bossing your spouse around is a one-way road to "Resentmentville."
Don't just talk to your kids about healthy eating or suggest to your husband that he might like to squeeze in a workout. I've done these things. They don't get you anywhere.
Here are 9 "Do's" to get you and your little tribe on the path to living well.
Do plan your meals.
Every week, sit down with your favourite cookbooks or food blogs and plan healthy dinners (ideally, with a little extra in the pot for simple lunches the next day). Plan slow-cooker meals for nights you have after-school sports or late meetings. We like to plan simple meals once or twice per week, like a quick homemade soup or homemade pizzas, to build in a "cooking break" and make it less likely we'll pick up the phone and order in. Keep a variety of fruits and veggies on hand so you can easily make healthy lunches for office and school.
Do eat dinner together.
Eat dinner together as many nights per week as possible. Rituals around meals teach children how important it is to fuel their bodies with care. Children who eat with their families consume more vegetables than children who eat without their grownups. Plus, children will experience the preparation, serving, and cleaning up of the meal, giving them skills for adolescence and adulthood.
Do serve veggies at every meal.
Offer a variety of vegetables at each meal so even the pickiest eaters (big or small) can find foods they like that offer vitamins and antioxidants their bodies need. Even a few bites of each will make a substantial serving of veggies. Stick with it: you'll impart a love of veggies while also getting more nutrients into them, even during the picky years. For the truly picky eaters, I recommend to my Online Training clients to set out a plate of vegetables their kiddos will eat -- even if that means cucumbers & baby carrots seven days per week, ad nauseam -- as you finish prepping dinner and call them to the table. It's a great trick to squeeze in a few bites of veg before the distracting mashed potatoes or pasta hits the table!
Do ditch the "kid food" culture.
Stop making "kid food" and offering separate meal options. Meals are to be enjoyed and shared, and one meal should be appropriate for all family members. Avoid offering frozen nuggets while you eat salmon, or running through the drive thru for the kids before soccer, then grabbing a piece of toast for yourself at 9 p.m. Teach your kiddos that a meal is chosen based on what's nutrient-rich, flavourful, and practical. Food should be respected.
Do the housework together, old-school style.
Make chores a family activity based on teamwork. Have bigger kids make their own beds and clean their own rooms -- and try not to let your Type-A side stress over their imperfect final products. Choose a time for housecleaning where everyone can get involved. Many of the exercises we do in the gym simulate movements we did more regularly in days gone by: reaching, scrubbing, kneeling, squatting, shoveling and organizing. Daily activity actually contributes significantly to caloric burn and helps prevent disease, so you'll kill two birds with one stone, checking to-do's off your list while you all reap the physical benefits. We purchased kid-sized shovels so our little ones can come out to help every time we shovel snow, we do our housework together on weekends, and we walk our errands after school when we can. Mow your lawn the old-fashioned way, take your dog for a walk instead of tossing her in the backyard, and walk your local errands. Make life your gym!
Do let your family see you exercise.
Let your children (and partner) see you exercise. Showing your little one that you take the time to enjoy a fitness DVD, a bootcamp class, or a pre-dinner jog will teach them exercise is normal and a part of a regular routine. When you can, invite them along. Children as young as five can jog with you, and they will naturally break your jog into intervals and embrace short "races" to provide variety and interval training to your workout! Bodyweight exercises like lunges, squats, planks, jumping jacks, crawls and balancing can be safe and fun for everyone. Even an after-dinner walk can become a cherished family routine & the foundation of exercise "hygiene" as natural as brushing your teeth before bed.
Do embrace the outdoors as a family.
OK, it's Canada not Brazil. The days can be short & cold, and it's okay if you're not the ice-fishing-snowshoeing-camping "outdoorsy" type. If you're not super sporty just choose simple outdoor activities on weekends and simple active adventures like hikes, bike rides, or "urban hikes" around your city, which are easy to coordinate even when the weather is rough. Summer lends itself to leisurely outdoor activities...you can choose an appealing destination, like a favourite lunch spot or a picnic in the park to help motivate. Even just hitting the local playground counts as 'getting outdoors.' Watch a baby roll or a toddler dance & you can see how fun movement is for them. Let them remind you that walking, climbing, running, playing, and exploring are fantastic ways to blow off steam and bond with one another.
Do maintain a healthy body image.
You don't need to look like a fitness model to be a "healthy weight." A little padding is perfectly healthy, while too much can affect your metabolism, be hard on your joints, and increase your risk of diseases. Know what's right for your shape and avoid wild fluctuations down OR up on the scale. Respect your body by putting whole foods into it and moving it regularly. Find your comfortable weight and stay there. If weighing yourself induces stress, pay attention only to how your clothes fit and how you feel and move. Celebrate your body for all it can do and treat it to foods that help it to grow stronger. Without ever stepping on a scale, you'll know you're headed in the right direction.
Do right with your words.
Talk positively about your body and in terms of its health and strength, not its size. No matter how many positive body-image messages your little one hears in the media, the classroom, or coming from your mouth, it's how you ACT that will have the greatest effect. Restrict negative influences such as mainstream TV, women's magazines, and your own self-deriding remarks about your physique. This message will be the foundation of their healthy lifestyles as adults.
Positive motivation has the greatest effect. Don't chide your partner for any poor choices, yell at your children to eat their peas, or complain about your saddlebags. Take care of yourself and you will inspire your loved ones to do the same. Promise.