Is it possible to raise kids in a healthy environment without dieting? Absolutely.
How we talk to our children about food and exercise has become such a loaded topic. There seem to be two “camps”, and I’m part of the camp that believes that we don’t need to discuss food and exercise in detail with our young children. We need to keep it simple and focus on healthy habits for kids instead of encouraging a diet focused on weight loss.
I think when we share too much information with them it’s hard for them to understand, therefore leaving them confused and uneducated about what it truly means to be healthy.
There is an age (and that’s different for everyone) where it is appropriate to begin discussing why healthy balanced meals are served, but it’s important to do so in a nonjudgmental way and without linking it to their weight.
A few weeks ago WW released a new app that is geared towards children 8-17. I was (am) horrified that this is actually out there for children to get their hands on. Instead of shaming parents for considering this option though, I want to offer some help to parents who want to assist their children in becoming healthier, without putting them on a diet or referring to an app to tell them what they should of should not eat.
*I also recorded a podcast with Balance365 founders Annie & Jennifer and you can listen to it here.
Here are 11 simple healthy habits for kids that you can do without a diet.
- Limit screen time
I don’t think it’s realistic to say that TV should never be turned on. The TV is on every day in our home, BUT, I also believe that children need time to use their imaginations and either play outside or with toys for independent play.
I can always tell when my kids have been watching too much TV. They are more argumentative and they ask for lots of snacks. They zone out. They aren’t eating out of hunger usually, rather they are relaxed and possibly a little bored. It’s always interesting to me how if they are engaged in an activity outside or playing inside they are less likely to ask for snacks in comparison to if they are watching TV.
- Get outside
My kids thrive when they are allowed to play outside. They are happier and more active when they have some fresh air.
We try to have outside play time every day and if I notice they are “vegging out” in front of the TV and snacking mindlessly, I encourage them to go play outside to boost some energy. I have certain toys that are only allowed outside as well and this helps get them excited to go out and play.
- Have them help you plan the weekly meal plan
Do you feel like you sit down at dinner and your kids never like what you make? Have them help you! Afraid they’ll only pick Mac & Cheese or chicken nuggets? So what! Add it to the meal plan and serve with some fruits and veggies and they will be so excited.
Food should be fun and if they don’t ever enjoy their meals we are telling them at a young age that food is not meant to be enjoyed.
- Let them be responsible for packing school snacks
My 2nd grader has to take a snack to school everyday and I have decided to give him the responsibility of packing his snack each day. We discuss things he enjoys and I make sure they are located somewhere he can reach so he can pack them.At 7 years old he is able to decide whether he packed a big enough snack to tide him over or not. This is encouraging him to listen to his own hunger cues and how he can take care of his body. I have been so proud of him taking responsibility for this this school year. He has learned what is enough and what isn’t and in just a few weeks has learned how to pack an appropriate snack for his hunger mid-afternoon.
- Encourage them to try a new sport
This doesn’t need to be an organized team sport, (though I think that’s a plus because it’s important for kids to learn to work together on a team). This can be something as simple as teaching them hopscotch, croquet, bocce ball, basketball on the driveway, etc. My son is playing flag football for the first time this year. I was a little nervous about it but he LOVES it. He looks forward to every practice and game and does the drills all over the house. You never know what your kid is going to thrive doing!
- Go on a family walk
You know that time between dinner and bedtime? What a perfect time for a family walk! It doesn’t need to be long, and it can be just around the neighborhood. I find I can get my kids to really talk to me when we are walking and we have some special conversations when we walk with each other. Don’t miss out on those little moments that could end up making a big impact on them… and you.
- Ask them to help you prepare a meal
My boys really enjoy helping me in the kitchen. I know it is quicker and easier to just make the meal, snack or dessert, but when they are part of the process I find they are more willing to eat what I am serving.
They will also learn what makes up a balanced meal simply by watching. My boys love to make these protein balls with me!The goal is that they will naturally incorporate all food groups simply because that’s what they are used to and what feels good to their body. It’s not something they’ll have to figure out later because they’ve been taught how to prepare balanced meals growing up! Healthy lifestyles should come easy and don’t need to feel like a chore.
- Walk to school instead of driving or taking the bus
If you live close enough to the school, walk there! For 2 years I’ve done the car loop and I hated it. I figured up that I wasted almost 3 HOURS every week sitting in the car loop at school. Not this year. This year I am walking him to and from school as often as I can. I LOVE our walks home together. He’s usually in a great, talkative mood and it’s one of my favorite parts of the day.
- Insist of good sleep habits
Sleep is so important. I know it’s not realistic to have the kids all in bed at the same time every single night, but try to have a bed time routine that gives them plenty of sleep as often as you can. I like to put my boys to bed between 8-8:30. They both are happier when they get that much sleep and it is so important for their bodies to have that time to rest and recover since they are growing kids!
- Eliminate diet talk in the house
Kids don’t need to hear about the latest fad diet. They don’t need to see before and after pictures of people who have lost weight and they don’t need to hear people talking about how they are unhappy with their bodies either. They pick up on everything. They hear EVERYTHING. The more you can have a neutral stance on food in a society obsessed with diet culture and bodies, the less likely it will be an issue for them.
- Be their best role model.
Actions speak louder than words. Are you setting a good example? If it’s important for your kids to eat a balanced meal, make sure they see you eating one as well. If exercise is something you want them to do more of, instead of harping on them about moving more, why don’t you show them how much you love an activity.
Our habits become their habits.
They are watching how we talk about our bodies and how we treat them every day. I don’t say that to add a ton of pressure, but I hope it makes you think about the legacy you are building.
There is so much we can do to help our kids have a healthy lifestyle, and dieting never has to be part of the solution. In my experience, dieting will only perpetuate the problem.
What are some ways you like to teach your kids healthy habits?