We spend a lot of time in the early years (and the later ones too) telling our kids all the things not to do. Don't put that in your mouth! Do not climb on the bookshelves! Quit pulling on the dog's tail! Step away from the stove- HOT! And the list goes on and on. Our big concern is keeping our little ones out of harm's way. It's a given, and it's a must. We're instilling life lessons to carry our kids safely through the challenges of the everyday and ensuring they aren't munching on crayons or scaling the stacks at the library later in life. Along with the don't-do lessons, we need a healthy balance of must-do lessons with the key word being healthy. When our children start making their own choices about health and wellness, we want to make sure they do so with a clear-cut understanding of what those choices should be. These 5 healthy living strategies are a perfect starting point for steering our kids in the right direction.
Get Cooking: At this age, when kids are so eager to help, find ways to let them contribute in the kitchen. There are plenty of kid-friendly recipes that move beyond the dessert category. The Food Network has some tasty mealtime options1 that will have your kids donning an apron in no time. As they measure and stir, we're also building math and motor skills to boot! When we let our kids become a part of meal planning and preparation, they will begin to understand the importance of a balanced diet and the joy of cooking. If this becomes routine in the early years, it can cut down on trips to the drive-thru in later ones.
Prompt Policing: Kids will love becoming the Plate Police and ensuring that meals at home and on the go have a proper balance of all food groups. We need to have purposeful conversations about fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. and show them how to balance these. At a younger age, sectioned plates are an easy way to help kids start to visualize this concept. They can get into the habit of choosing proper quick additions to balance out a meal (e.g., carrot sticks, applesauce, string cheese). While it may seem like a corny title, it's a role I'd like to see them playing in the dining hall when they head off to college!
Keep Moving: An active preschooler is more inclined to enjoy and continue an active and fit lifestyle. There are so many ways to keep your little ones moving. From impromptu dance parties to organized sports, there are plenty of ways to get the blood flowing. Exercise and fitness are about more than following along while Mom does a Zumba DVD. Kids Health has some great ideas for Raising a Fit Preschooler2. Zap the boredom from a family walk by turning it into a scavenger hunt or switching up the pace/style of movement for set increments (i.e., hop to the next driveway, skip to the blue mailbox, jump 5 times before passing a fire hydrant). This will keep kids engaged in the environment and eager to continue the journey.
Start Planting: Springtime is the perfect chance to get kids talking about healthy eating by planting a garden. Being encouraged to play in the dirt will be an exciting change of pace! Earth Easy put together a top 10 list of crops to plant with kids3. Tending a garden and harvesting crops will create a sense of pride and accomplishment. It will also help kids appreciate all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into putting food on the shelves at the grocery store. The homegrown aspect may also encourage more vegetable consumption in picky eaters. Gardening and planting basics can happen during any season with a small indoor garden or herb garden. Watching something grow and thrive can help counter winter blahs that hit when the weather turns gray and gloomy. Check out Gardening Projects Kids Will Love4. From Eggshell Chia Pets to a Mason Jar Terrarium, you're sure to find a fun indoor idea to spark the gardening bug in your little one.
by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service / Public domain
Limit Viewing: After reading our post on Pulling the Plug on Pre-K Screen Time5, it's no secret that we think alternatives to screens are a must for kids. Cooking, moving, and planting are just a few options we've recommended that can spark a lifelong interest in healthy living habits. When kids are feeling the pull of a screen, we need to encourage a multitude of other activities. Blocks, books, and coloring, can transition to later interests of model building, reading, and sketching. Making screen-free activities the norm at an early age opens up the door for introducing many other healthier options that engage both body and mind. Trust me, squashing the need to flip a switch whenever boredom hits now will make limiting screen time during the tween years and beyond much easier.
While drive-throughs and electronic babysitters may be quick and easy, they teach our kids that convenience is more important than healthy living. If we want our children to develop healthy habits, we must pave the way for them to understand and appreciate the importance of making healthy living a priority. Incorporating our 5 healthy living strategies into daily life is the perfect introduction to placing a lifelong focus on health and well-being.
Additional Resources & Works Cited
1. The Food Network, Recipes Kids Can Make
2. Raising a Fit Preschooler
3. Gardening With Children: Top 10 Crops
4. 6 Indoor Garden Projects Kids Will Love
5. Pulling the Plug on Pre-K Screen Time