As an individual, I place a great value on Wellness. Luckily for me, so does my husband. When we created our family vision, it naturally had the word wellness in it. But what does wellness mean? And how to we communicate wellness in a way our young children would understand? How do we create a wellness mindset in our children?
Moreover, we are a family that doesn’t really agree with how health and wellness is being taught in schools. We aren’t devotees of the USDA’s Food Pyramid. For example, when my daughter comes home and says “Mommy, we should eat fats and oils sparingly.” How do I correct her and educate her on the difference between fats from partially hydrogenated oils vs. fat from an Avocado? It can all get very confusing, very quickly.
We have other challenges too. Kids like chicken nuggets and ice cream in abundance. I have seen my kids eat like, well, dogs. No offense to anyone’s dog. My point is dogs will eat until they burst even if the food is harmful to them. I have seen them “belly up” to a dessert buffet and eat until they are physically sick. Then, I will put a healthy meal on the table and my son has told me, very seriously, “Mom, I only eat kid food.”
As adults my husband and I have eaten many different ways and use how we are feeling to gage whether or not the particular diet works for us. We have been vegetarian, vegan, high fat, low carb, blah, blah, blah.
Today we are heavily plant based with some animal protein, mostly fish. All we expect from ourselves and our children is that we eat REAL FOOD. Eighty percent of the time that means unprocessed. Twenty percent of the time that means minimally processed. Our favorite place to shop, the Farmer’s Market. It’s a fabulous place to teach kids about REAL FOOD.
My kids are 8 and 6 years old. When they were really young, preschool age, we decided to define what healthy means to us as a family. We established 5 Healthy Habits for Kids.
What you should know about our family is we are totally average. Nobody has health issues, allergies, or learning disabilities that would influence me to look at a more restrictive diet approach.
We are cautious not to make food a battleground for control. Establishing the following healthy habits allows us to give our kids a fair amount of autonomy when it comes to what they eat.
Get a good night sleep
- Establish a firm bed time for most nights of the week.
- Establish a bedtime routine. It doesn’t have to be perfect or ideal. It just needs to work for your family.
For older kids:
- Allow them some time in their room to read or do other quiet activities.
- Set a timer so they know when to put lights out.
- Remove electronics from your child’s room if they can’t self-regulate.
Drink plenty of water
- I don’t monitor how much water my children drink. Unless the child is sick, I just offer water with every meal.
- Limit the amount of “other drinks” you have on hand.
- Check juice labels for ingredients and avoid high fructose corn syrup.
Eat Real Food
- Have your kids help you put together your grocery list.
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store.
- Purchase items with limited ingredients or with ingredients you can pronounce.
- Have your kids read through the ingredient list on the product label.
- Identify the foods you should “never” eat (i.e. high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, dyes, products with added or hidden sugars, nitrates, nitrites, etc.).
- Add healthy foods to their day to “crowd out” the less healthy food.
Get Your Heart Pumping
- Unfortunately the recess kids get today at school isn’t enough.
- Create a screen time schedule that fits your family.
- Have a family dance party. It’s amazing how quick a half hour of dancing passes.
- Put on an exercise video. The second I press play I have a willing cardio tribe bopping along next to me.
- Have a family plank competition. Make it fun – record times and let the winner have some bragging rights.
- Play a fast paced game of Simon Says.
- Head to the local track for a family workout. My kids love to run the bleachers.
- Go to the bus stop a little earlier and let the kids run around before the bus comes.
- Don’t let cold weather deter you. Bundle up and head outdoors.
In my opinion, this is the most important one. Encouraging open, two-way communication around healthy habits is a way to create and sustain positive change in your child’s life.
- Find a message that works for your family. For my family, these habits work well. We created this list with the help of our kids. When you include them in forming the message, they will feel ownership and pride.
- Keep it simple!
- Be repetitive. Same message, repeated, on a loop. You can’t assume you child understood it the first time. Even if they understood it, they will need help applying the message.
- Use different methods of communicating. For example: checklists, posters, family meetings, a hands on experience, etc.
- Communicate from a place of confidence and patience.
- Enjoy your child’s point of view and listen intently to what they have to say. You are making memories and creating lifelong healthy habits.
- Have fun!
Things aren’t perfect. Kids will be kids and want what they want. It seems like everyday there is some negotiation over what they will eat and what they won’t eat. Sometimes we get sucked into the battle but most of the time we fall back to the above habits because we trust these will help create a wellness mindset in our children.
How do you create a wellness mindset in your children?