We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard parents and guardians tell us, “My child won’t eat anything but junk food!” or “I can’t get my kid to go outside, she just wants to play video games all day!”
You’re not alone.
Helping your kids develop healthy habits from an early age is very important – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Our team of pediatricians and child behaviorists are here to help.
Start by scheduling a well child visit at one of our offices. Then, read through our list of top 6 creative ideas for encouraging healthy habits at home.
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1. Go grocery shopping together
One of our favorite ways to encourage healthy eating is to turn a grocery shopping trip into a fun, educational experience for your kids.
We recommend taking a special trip where you focus on the healthy aisles – particularly, the produce section. Also, make sure to give yourself more time in the store than you normally would.
Here are our favorite “shopping” game ideas:
Shop the colors – Ask your child to name the colors of the fruits and vegetables. You can turn this into an “I spy” game, asking your child to find a yellow fruit or a red veggie.Where does it grow? – Pick a few fruits and vegetables and ask your child to guess where it grows. Or explain where an item grows as you add it to the cart.Pick your fruit and vegetable – Allow your children to pick any fruit or vegetable in the store – whether it’s a cucumber or a coconut. Then take it home and let them try it. Make sure you explain what it is and why it’s healthy!
2. Have some fun in the kitchen
It may be easier (and less messy) to keep kids out of the kitchen, but it’s also a great opportunity to teach them something new about cooking and encourage healthy habits.
There are nearly endless ways to get them involved. Here are a few specific ideas:
Shucking cornPulling stems off strawberriesToasting breadStirring a mixtureMeasuring ingredientsScrambling eggsTossing a salad
3. Plant a garden (or visit the farmers market)
Have you considered planting a garden? Most kids love getting their hands dirty and helping in the garden. It’s also a great way to encourage even the pickiest of eaters to try a new vegetable.
If growing a garden is not possible, visiting a farmers market is a good alternative and a fun family outing. Here in the Pacific Northwest, farmers markets are everywhere! A few of our favorites are:
Take your child around the market to taste a variety of farm-fresh foods. Start a conversation with the farmer and encourage your child to ask questions.
Both of these activities not only teach about healthy, nutritious food, but encourage time outside!
4. Be an active family
Here in the Pacific Northwest, there are so many ways to get outside with kids. Take advantage of this great opportunity!
If you can, spend at least one day a week outside together. Some fun ideas include:
A hike or going camping in the mountainsSwimming and kayaking in a local waterwayA trip to the Zoo or park
It doesn’t matter what the activity is, as long as it’s something your family enjoys.
5. Tell stories
Telling stories is an excellent way to learn something new, stretch the imagination, and build good communication skills. All these are important when considering the future health of your child.
Telling a good story takes practice. Here are a few ways to help teach your child to be a good storyteller:
Use paints or other art supplies to tell a storyCreate their own book (with illustrations)Use puppets or action figuresSticker or coloring story booksRead together
Dinner time is a great opportunity for storytelling. One of our favorite dinner time games is a round-robin style story. One person (usually the adult) starts the story, then passes it off to the next person to either add more to, or finish the story. Read more about round robin stories here.
6. Model good behavior
Encouraging your kids to eat well, get outside, and limit time in front of the TV isn’t enough. You also need to lead by example. Children are strongly influenced by the world around them, and as their parent or guardian, your actions and attitude have the strongest weight.
If you tell your child how bad soda is and drink an entire Coke every night during dinner, it sends a mixed message! If you don’t take time to exercise or care for your own health, you can’t expect your child to be any different.
Protect your child from making unhealthy choices in the future by setting a good example.
A few things to avoid
As you test out these ideas above and work toward helping your kids develop healthy habits, there are a couple things to be aware of and avoid:
Bribes – Bribing children to “eat their vegetables” (with money, junk food, or whatever) can actually have the opposite effect. The child may think the food really must be bad since they’re getting something for eating it.Completely banning junk food or TV – Balance is key. Remember, it’s natural for your child to want sugary foods and screen time. When children feel completely deprived, they may start sneaking food or video games and overindulging whenever they have access.Stressing food quantity – Never get upset that your child is eating too much or too little. Talk about these things with their doctor, not your child. You don’t want to enforce a negative body image.Talking poorly about your own body – Watch how you talk about your own self image around your child. For example, always talking about how you need to “lose weight” or have to go the the gym because you’re “too fat” can make your child feel insecure about their own body.
Above all else, be realistic. Instilling healthy habits in your children is a long-term journey that takes time and consistency. Don’t expect your picky eater to suddenly love vegetables or choose a hike in the woods over video games.
Do your best to make healthy living a family lifestyle and you’ll help your child make healthy choices into their teenage years and beyond.
What’s your best trick for encouraging healthy habits?
What creative ways to do you encourage healthy habits in your home? We’d love to hear your ideas!
If you’d like more information about helping your child lead a healthy lifestyle or have concerns about your child’s health, contact us. We’d be happy to hear your questions and schedule your child for an appointment with one of our experienced, friendly pediatricians.