Children can be easy to mould and pick up habits very soon unlike adults who are way too advanced in terms of spatial thinking and intellect and some habits are really hard to change completely. The best way to inculcate healthy habits in kids is to do it yourself. The best way to learn in kids is by imitation and who are parents close to at all times, it is their parents. So it's best that you adopt those healthy habits which make it easier for your child to relate to. Here are some parental pearls of wisdom:
1. Raw vegetables are a must in meals
If you are unable to consume raw salads in your meals from a young age your child will find it difficult to inculcate it as a habit when he/she grows up. Raw vegetables are a reservoir of nutrients which are lost by the cooking methods which we use and ultimately becomes a mulch which lacks any nutrient which we consume as sabzi/vegetable. Vegetables like carrots, cucumber, capsicum, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, beets contain loads of Vitamin A, Fiber, Vitamin C, Lycopene, Iron, Calcium and Carotenoids, which are mostly lost by our extensive cooking. Raw vegetables can be made into interesting salads with dressings of curd, lemon, vinegar, small amounts of cheese, pepper, salt, oregano and chilli flakes. Always start by serving one vegetable per week so that your child gets used to the taste of the food item.
2. Fix meal timings:
A meal timing that adheres to a schedule, will hunger in your child at a particular time. With this being said all children are not three meal eaters they can consume only two meals too with one light snack in between, which is seen in picky and fussy eaters. Fixing meal timings also will help in the smooth flow of activities at home and ensure a good night’s sleep and effective digestion and absorption.
3. Involve the child in the menu building process:
There are various advantages to asking or taking consent of your child in what he/she wants to eat a day prior so that your child owes the accountability to consume what is served to them and there is less likelihood of the meal getting rejected.
Now, the trick here is to negotiate, there can be a higher likelihood that the child dictates his choice of meal that can be unhealthy, so the part that a parent should master at it make a list of dishes the child likes and are healthy and unhealthy and alternate them together or serve them in small amounts alongside each other. So the child eats all the items.
4. Never reward a child with food:
We all understand and execute the positive reinforcement for a child very easily, but what you use as positive reinforcement is very important. It's very common to see a parent rewarding a child with ice cream if he finishes his green leafy vegetables, thereby reinstating that ice cream is tasty and green leafy vegetables is not and slowly and eventually, this reward system becomes so deep-seated in the child that they would start despising the bad food. It's best to avoid reward with food and instead use physical activity or free playtime as a reward which can help engage the child’s mind and also be a way to get his body active and blood flowing.
5. Avoid being a couch potato:
This is becoming a trend these days where the kids are using Tv and mobile phones as a medium to keep their minds busy and entertain themselves. and this can in turn prove harmful as they avoid social and real-time interactions and instead prefer a device to entertain them as they have been built to increase the happy hormone levels by providing lots of variety in terms of content which real-life situations and people fail to deliver.
This has reduced physical activity levels thereby leading to early childhood obesity and attention deficit disorders and reduction in patience levels. Free play should be a part of your child’s routine every day at least for an hour to stimulate his physical, cognitive and emotional development.
6.Exercise is not an option:
When it comes to habit building it is very important to add 30-40 minutes of exercise into your child’s routine from an early age it can be simply walking, running, cycling, swimming, or any sport like football, cricket, dancing or any activity your child enjoys. This would ensure your child’s body doesn't store excess fat in terms of size and number of fat cells. Also, it improves the blood flow all through the body and especially if your child has an attention deficit it will help him release the extra passion and inquisitiveness that is a part of his unique personality and improve teamwork with other fellow children of his age group.
7. Avoid watching TV while eating:
While watching TV your body tends to pump more blood to the brain as you need to see clearly and feel and experience emotions and thinking while watching a screen and simultaneously you're eating food, which has to get digested as well.
Since the blood flow is directed to the brain the digestion process is put on hold so you tend to overeat, not feel hungry, tend to swallow food rather than chew food and also avoid consciously understanding what you're eating. The textures and taste of food are ignored. This is the major reason for childhood obesity, fussy eating, lack of weight gain, hyperactivity and lack of nourishment in kids. So the best bargain you can get from your kid if he is already a mealtime TV lover is; to establish a rule wherein he can watch TV after consuming his meals and not otherwise and this works more often always.
8. Avoid preparing separate meals for the child:
It's very common for mothers to over-stress themselves by making two different meals, one for adults and one for kids. This can be an absolute necessity until your child is about 3 years as his teeth development is yet to begin to bring him to start chewing food. Even if tooth development is in progress you can still make all foods that are served for adults into a mixer or pulveriser and make it semi-solid or liquid consistently and feed it to the child. This would ensure the child develops the tastes of all foods before he reaches the age of 5 and it becomes convenient for the parents to travel as well instead of worrying about the child not adapting to the different foods served.
9. Water intake has to be conscious:
As a nutritionist, this is a question that many parents get stuck at, being unable to say how many glasses or liters of water their child has all through the day. Many know it is less but they are unable to quantify it. Water is the one essential nutrient that helps in the transport of all other nutrients throughout the body and also prevents constipation and dehydration in children. The best way to ensure your child drinks enough fluids is by setting cues all through the day or by clubbing it with a very important activity in the day e.g 1 glass of water post brushing teeth, post having a bath, at school recess, post coming home, post every meal breakfast, lunch and dinner and post playtime and this would amount to at least 8 glasses or 2 liters of water per day.
10. Educate them about Healthy Vs Unhealthy:
This can be done in just a simple way by ensuring the unhealthy items like biscuits, chocolates, chips and street foods are less encouraged at home and instead your shopping list should have an array of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, etc so what you see is what you eat. This itself is a very strong way of educating your child between healthy and unhealthy foods Another simple technique you can use is by not completely avoiding unhealthy foods but serving them in small quantities as this is a mental technique that reinstates the child that some foods are supposed to be consumed occasionally and lesser in quantity.
These habits will leave a long-lasting influence on your child and would make you a proud parent for implementing them young
Vaishali is one of the top health coach/dieticians in India with over 10 years of experience. She holds a Master's degree specializing in Foods and Nutrition from SNDT Women's University, Mumbai. She holds various certifications as a sports nutritionist, diabetes educator & certified counselor.
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