As summer winds down, most children will head back to school this month. Are your children prepared? Do you tend to see this time as a way to instill positive habits in your children? Everything from school performance to quality of life depends so much on good health.
With one to three American children overweight or obese, it’s no wonder that Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other disorders that once only plagued adults now strike teenagers. Incorporating healthy habits in your children will reduce or eliminate their risk to chronic illnesses later in life and give them the best chance to rise to the top of their class.
Children who are physically fit do better in school. It’s extremely important that children exercise regularly since many schools have decreased the amount of time children are permitted to play and move about freely during the school day. A sedentary lifestyle will negatively impact behavior and the ability to learn.
Studies show that children who are moderately to vigorously active display improved concentration, creativity, learning, memory, and problem solving for up to two hours after exercising. A fit body leads to a fit mind. Physical activity is also an important way to prevent and alleviate obesity.
Nourish your children with healthy foods. As our cars perform best with good gas in the tank, children perform best fed healthy foods to fuel their bodies throughout the day. Nutrition and learning go hand in hand.
Children who eat fruit, vegetables, oily fish, nuts and seeds do best in school. The best foods for behavior are fruits and vegetables—children eating the most of both are much more likely to be well behaved than those children whose diets consist mostly of fried, processed, or fast foods.
Strive for the following nutritional standards when choosing healthy foods for your children:
- A natural-source plant, animal, or fish
- 3-5 raw fruits and vegetables a day
- Original nutrients not seriously altered or eliminated in food processing (e.g. whole vs. refined grains)
- No artificial ingredients (e.g. sweeteners, coloring)
- No bad fats (anything hydrogenated)
- No corn syrups
- No genetically modified (GMO) ingredients
- Little or no caffeine
- Organic foods as much as possible since research proves that children who eat conventionally grown foods are testing positive for pesticide residues while those eating organic foods are not.
It is so important to introduce healthy foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, early in a child’s life. Encourage children to help you select healthy ingredients at the store and prepare meals at home. The produce section lends itself to countless educational opportunities. Make it fun!
Use the scales to play a game, “Which fruit is heavier?” Talk about how different fruits and vegetables grow, and let your child have fun exploring the many varieties, feeling the different textures and describing the many shapes. By involving them in the selection and preparation processes, you’re giving them some control over what they eat.
It’s true that getting children to eat healthy can be challenging. It can be particularly challenging if they’ve become accustomed to junk food. If you don’t buy unhealthy, overly processed foods and plan ahead and stock your pantry and refrigerator with nutritious choices, your children’s health will reap the rewards. And they may learn something about nutrition in the process and establish healthy habits that last a lifetime!
Start the day with a good breakfast. Breakfast, especially for growing children, is the most important meal of the day. A wholesome breakfast is essential for a child to maintain their energy needed for learning. Breakfast should consist of whole-grain (instead of sugary) cold or hot cereal with added diced apples, berries, or other whole fruit or whole-grain bread, some protein (like eggs) and a few nuts or seeds. Breakfast choices should be fewer than four grams of sugar and consist of at least three grams of fiber per serving.
Staying hydrated for peak performance. Children are more prone to heat-related illness than adults. While playing, they typically don’t realize their body’s need for water. Children require a higher body temperature to trigger sweating, so they perspire less than adults. Keep plenty of portable water on hand outdoors, and teach children how important it is to take a break and get a drink of water if they start to feel weak, dizzy, or nauseated. Mild dehydration can cause headaches, low energy levels, and even poor concentration.
Invest in nontoxic, reusable water bottles (like stainless steel) for packing beverages. Limit the amount of juice your child drinks as many contain unwanted sweeteners so be sure to read the ingredient label.
Restrict exposure to electronic screens. Experts discourage exposure for children younger than age three and encourage limited exposure after that since these activities decrease a child’s imagination and attention span. Much worse, time spent playing video games and watching TV would be better spent reading with parents, putting together puzzles, scrapbooking, riding a bike, or playing with other children in vigorous physical activities to reduce the chance of obesity.
Choose nontoxic children’s art supplies. Numerous chemicals are common in everyday children’s art supplies, yet companies aren’t required to list these ingredients on labels. Paints contain potentially harmful organic compounds and markers and glues unhealthy solvents. Select art supplies that don’t contain synthetic preservatives, animal byproducts, or petroleum bases. Look for play dough, water-based markers and soy crayons, which all use natural vegetable, plant, and mineral pigments instead of artificial dyes and fragrances.
Cleanliness and proper hygiene is important for children. Hand-washing with plain soap and water has been shown to be the most effective line of prevention against the spread of germs and disease. Teach your children the importance of washing their hands before meals and after using the bathroom, sneezing, or taking out trash. The act of rubbing their hands together is essential to remove dirt. How long is long enough? The amount of time one spends washing is key. Train your child to sing “Happy Birthday” or the ABCs and actively wash for the duration of the song.
Children and adults should avoid using hand sanitizers containing synthetic antibacterial agents, especially triclosan, on a regular basis. Hand sanitizers should never replace proper hand washing with soap and water.
It is much easier to impart lifelong healthy habits to your children while they are still at home and you still have influence over their choices. Dr. David Katz of Yale University Prevention Research Center states is so profoundly, “We live at a time when children are more harmed by poor diet than by exposure to alcohol, drugs, and tobacco combined. Due to poor diet this generation of children has a shorter life expectancy than their parents!”
How well are your children? Do you and your children need to make some changes? Establishing healthy habits is a journey so introduce a few changes at a time. Once a new habit is formed introduce another one. Just imagine, if only one new habit is formed each month, over the course of a year, your children would have in place 12 healthy habits. That would be awesome!