There are certain well-researched health and nutritional truths that can improve your childrenâ??s health and overall well-being. Once implemented in your household, the following practices will optimize your childrenâ??s health and wellness, both physically and mentally.
The once popular Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song “Teach your children well” seemed to resonate with the consciousness of an entire nation. It seemed to eloquently identify what is truly important in our lives–the health and happiness of our younger generation.
As a new parent of a very busy 20-month old, I admit to the continual self-questioning of whether I am raising my child correctly. I have quickly realized that there is no single right way to raise kids. Moms and dads make mistakes. It’s part of the process of parenthood. But they can learn from those mistakes to find the most suitable parenting style. Following my instincts and staying consistent seem to be the best ways for me.
However, there are certain well-researched health and nutritional truths that can improve your children’s health and overall well-being. Once implemented in your household, the following practices will optimize your children’s health and wellness, both physically and mentally.
Help Them Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
The number of overweight and obese children has risen dramatically. Therefore, it’s a good idea for parents to keep a watchful eye on their children’s weight. That might be difficult because if there’s one thing children loathe, it’s being told what to do. Putting your children on an overly restrictive diet could be met with some resistance. Restricting calories or limiting snacks often results in feelings of deprivation and future food binges. The key is not to just cut calories but to switch to options that are calorie light, fibre filled, and nutrient dense.
A recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine supported this idea. Researchers divided a group of obese adolescents into two groups. One group was put on a diet with a reduced glycemic load. That group derived approximately 50 percent of their total daily calories from low-glycemic carbohydrates and had more fat in their diets (approximately 35 percent) than the other group. Calories were not restricted, and these subjects were told to eat when they felt hungry and to eat until they felt full. The other group was put on a reduced-fat diet. That group derived approximately 60 percent of their total daily calories from regular carbohydrates, and the amount of fat in their diets was reduced to approximately 30 percent of their daily intake. Calories were restricted to approximately 250 to 500 fewer calories depending on body weight. For both groups, the remainder of their daily calories was derived from protein.
The results of this preliminary study found that subjects on the diet with a reduced glycemic load significantly reduced their body mass index (BMI) and fat mass compared to those on the reduced-fat diet. In addition, those on the diet with a reduced glycemic load tended to show more insulin control. This study suggests that improved nutrition, not caloric restriction, is the most successful predictor of weight loss for adolescents.
Go for Colour
Nature is very wise and gives us clues about the health benefits of various foods. In terms of produce, the more colourful a fruit or vegetable, the healthier it is for us. The pigment of the skin or flesh of produce comprises plant nutrients called phytochemicals. These chemicals offer a multitude of disease-preventing and health-promoting effects. Unfortunately, there is very little variety and colour in the fruits and vegetables that are being eaten by children and adults. Children’s four favourite fruits and vegetables (which account for 50 percent of intake) are potatoes, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and onion.
When filling up your children’s plate, think of colour. Load up their plates with green (broccoli, peas, spinach), purple (blueberries), red (tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries) and orange (sweet potatoes, carrots). A neat trick is to try to appeal to children’s natural instincts for play. Try making meals fun by displaying food in a fun way, accompanying fruits and vegetables with healthy dips or spreads, or even serving them with a little dark chocolate sprinkled over top. Making homemade popsicles with a greens-drink powder (made of fruits and vegetables) mixed with natural juice, or pureeing vegetables into a tomato sauce and drizzling over pasta are also very good kid-friendly options.
Feed Their Brains
Sixty percent of a child’s brain is made of fat. It is critical for parents to ensure their children are getting enough omega-3 essential fats from their diets in order to support continual brain health and development. Omega-3 essential fats cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from the diet. Sources of omega-3 fats include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, omega-3 fortified eggs, yogourt, soymilk, and cold water fish.
Unfortunately, there are concerns with fish toxicity these days. There has been a dramatic rise of mercury in tuna–the most commonly eaten fish in North America. If your children are eating tuna, give them light albacore tuna, which has lower mercury levels than white albacore tuna. There is also a concern about the levels of PCBs (chemical pollutants) in farmed salmon. Therefore, you should always opt for the wild salmon sources, which are significantly lower in PCBs and are a good source of omega-3 essential fats.
It is also wise to give your children daily distilled fish oil supplements. They are available in capsules, or even in liquid forms, which are flavoured to hide the strong fish oil flavour from the young and the squeamish.
Reduce Screen Time
Our children are spending more time gazing at TV and computer screens. The dramatic increase in colourful and exciting television and computer programs, and the allure of online chatting and email are keeping our children inactive and inside.
This increase in sedentary, screen-gazing lifestyles is being reflected in the weight of our children. It is estimated that over one-third of Canadian children are overweight and over half of those children are considered obese. An excess of television viewing has been shown to have an effect on the development of attention deficit disorder (ADD). A study conducted at the Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center found that watching television can increase the chances of your children developing ADD. This study found that for every hour of television watched by children aged one to three years old, there was a 10-percent increase in the risk for ADD by age seven.
I am a firm believer that televisions and computers do not belong in the bedroom. I think that parents should outline viewing rules for their children so the children know what is expected from them. It might be a good idea to establish a rule that all homework must be completed before they can watch TV or use the computer. Maybe save movie watching and longer TV occasions for weekends or sleepovers with friends.
Last But Not Least…Set a Good Example
Children are mimics. They tend to pattern their behaviours after their closest examples–usually their parents. This imitative behavior shows in their socialization and play time with others, in their ability to follow instructions, and even in their eating patterns. Parents cannot expect their little ones to eat healthily if they themselves do not. Try making the practice of healthy eating and living into a family affair by including everyone in the process. Your children might enjoy helping you pick out groceries at the grocery store and will pick up on good eating habits if they help you to cook dinner. They might develop the habit of exercise if your family goes for a bike ride. By doing any of these activities, you will be instilling long-lasting health practices into your children that will ensure a lifestyle of health and wellness.
The Latest Statistics on Children and Television Viewing
- From age one to age three, the average amount of TV watched daily increases 63 percent, from 2.2 hours to 3.6 hours.
- 43 percent of children under the age of two watch TV every day and 26 percent have TVs in their bedroom.
- The average Canadian child watches 15.5 hours of TV each week and spends five hours per week playing video games and surfing the Internet.
- In Ontario the number of schools with physical education teachers has dropped 26 percent in five years.
- Only 18 percent of American elementary schools have a full-time physical education teacher.
- By high school graduation, the average teen will have spent more time watching television than being in the classroom.