As a public health major, I spent a lot of my time studying obesity and its effect on our population over the years. While I am excited to see that there has been a shift into a more “health conscious” movement currently, there are still over 70 million adults who are obese (35 million men and 35 million women) and 99 million who are overweight (45 million women and 54 million men) in the US. Even more startling, the prevalence of obesity is 18.5% in children and affects about 13.7 million children and adolescents (ages 2-19). This can be attributed to many things including an increase in inactivity, the availability of fast food and other highly processed foods, genetics, and the list goes on. The consequences of the obesity epidemic are devastating: High blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke are more common than ever and not to mention it truly decreases your quality of life.
Why am I sharing this? This is scary! As Mom’s and as parents, we have a huge influence on our kids behavior! I get a lot of questions about tips on raising health conscious, active kiddos. It got me thinking a lot about our routines and the things that we do daily that are not only teaching them how important it is to take care of our bodies but teaching them exactly how to do it. In this crazy world we live in, while we cannot control all of the factors (like genetics), I want to give my kids the tools to have the best quality of life they can and that starts will leading a healthy life.
My goal as a mom is to give my kids the tools to live a healthy happy life, and also to teach them about balance and how important it is in life!
Modeling Healthy Behavior:
Our kids model our behavior and copy what we do, whether you want them to or not. That is why my first tip and most important one, is if you want your kids to be healthy and health conscious— you must model that behavior yourself. We all know the saying that “actions speak louder than words” and that could not be more true here. If our kids see us taking time to cook our meals and nourish our bodies well, they will. If they see us working out and enjoying it, they will. If they see us brushing our teeth, they will. If they see us taking the stairs, they will.
For example, I am huge into essential oils and use that as a way to teach my kids about the benefits of each one and the blends we make. No joke, my 2 year old asks for “essenchies” aka essential oils to put on or in her diffuser every night and picks the one depending on if she feels stuffy (sniffle stopper) or like she needs to relax (calming blend). It makes me so proud that she knows they help her and that they are good for her health.
Include the kids when planning and prepping food:
this one is also so important. It may seem like a daunting task, but with the right amount of planning, it can be done! Since Marlie was about 12-14 months, I have had her helping by cutting and spreading her avocado, helping me whisk eggs, write down our grocery lists (aka her scribbling down gibberish), and it has evolved into her now cracking eggs, chopping vegetables, cooking pasta and so on. She is also very active with me at the grocery store, helping me place all items in the cart and check them off our list. Jaxson is also now helping with spreading avocado, peanut butter on his toast and taking bites out of all the oranges and apples from the store before we even check out . It may take a bit more time, and you don’t have to do it every single day if it stresses you out, but try to include them as much as you can and it will make a lasting impact.
Be active as a family:
this is something that I loved about my family growing up, we were always playing sports, taking bike rides downtown and around the neighborhood. I wanted to be sure to do this with my kids and family and we truly enjoy getting outside and staying moving. Picking activities like hiking, biking, long walks, playing catch, at the park, hopscotch or a sport like basketball or tennis. Just one hour spent playing physical games rather than sitting around is much better for the body, mind, and soul!
Make working out fun rather than a chore:
This is huge, I think for some people, it might feel like working out is a chore and it is always a drag getting going. I challenge you to start thanking your body for the ability to move and workout and show your kids how good you feel after! I am not always ecstatic about working out, trust me, but I do try and talk about workouts positively and include them when I can. You have probably seen on my instagram my many workout videos with Marlie and Jax! We make it fun and move our bodies rather than thinking about it as a dreaded chore.
Talk about the body and what it does for us:
I don’t know about you, but I love anatomy and physiology and learning about how our body functions and works together. Maybe you aren’t as knowledgeable about the body or this excited to talk about it, but there are tons of books out there that teach kids about the muscles and different systems in our body. Whether it’s when we are working out, stretching, or maybe a bedtime story, I love to talk about different muscles, or things our body does and why we must take care of it. Marlie really loves to learn about what and how our body functions and is constantly asking questions about her body! It is really fun to see how much knowledge they really hold onto and how much they want to learn more.
Find a happy balance with “treats”:
One thing I recommend is to help your kids to find a balance between sugary treats and healthy food options. I tried as long as I could to keep my littles away from sweets, but eventually they will see them or get offered them and it is important to teach them what they are and that its okay to enjoy them, but if we eat too much it can hurt our tummy—this is how I explain it. Let’s be real, we all enjoy treats every once in a while, so reality is, we need to teach our kids that it is okay to enjoy a treat so it doesn’t backfire on you and they end up overdoing it when they get their hands on a treat. (I have seen that happen with people before). Another tip is to not keep unhealthy items in the house. Go out for treats and make it special. In our house, we keep things like protein bars, dark chocolate, and frozen veggie muffins for when we need a quick healthy treat. One thing to note here too, is that I do not recommend using food as a reward, because it can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. (more so if you use it as a punishment)
Offering otherwise off-limits food as a reward or special treat has been shown to be confusing. Children hear that they're supposed to enjoy foods that are good for them and avoid foods with little nutritional value. Being told that they can indulge in foods that are bad for them as a reward for doing something good sends a mixed message. Rather try using things like stickers, little toys, stuffed animals, or a special privilege.
Empower them to do it on their own:
I have shared before how we do the Montessori at home method and that includes mostly letting your kids do things on their own because we are teaching them to be adults! This really helps with their confidence and also building important life skills. For example, I love to let Marlie lead our workouts or create our workouts from time to time. Let me tell you, she loves burpees. She not only tells me what exercises to do, but also counts the reps. I love seeing how important and empowered she feels after this. Another example of empowering them to do it on their own, can be with decisions. You can give your kiddos 2 options for dinner or 2 options for snack and let them decide what they would like. This has helped stop a lot of tantrums and building the kids confidence to make decisions.
Let them be wild and explore (with safety limits of course):
I say this because I am a type of mom who lets my kids climb things, try things and sometimes fall doing it. I never purposely let them fall or get seriously injured, but by letting them explore their environment and run around, they are able to learn and try things without me constantly saying “no, no, no”. When it gets to the point where they may get hurt, or what they want to do is unsafe, I get down to their level and explain exactly what will happen if I let them do it and why I am not letting it happen. It doesn’t always go smoothly, but over explaining and giving them a heads up, helps! being outdoors and letting them have the ability to run and climb at parks is so good for their physical (and my mental) health.
Take care of yourself :
Mom’s I will say this again—Take care of yourself. I know we are talking about the kids here, but it starts with you! If your kids see you taking care of yourself, they will know that not only are you a better mom because of it, but they will see the importance of doing the same. Showing that it is good to stretch, to breathe, to meditate, to go do yoga, to workout, to take trips, etc. All of these things go back to my number one —modeling the behaviors—and it is so good to remind your kids why you are taking care of yourself! Another thing I do, and since I am in the health field, is continuing education courses. I love to share the things I am doing with my kids and one big thing I am doing is Yoga Teacher Training. It will require me to be away from the kiddos a lot more than I would like, but I am sharing with them an important skill—work life balance.
Have fun with it:
This is huge. You do not need to be perfect, but you need to try and have fun and be grateful which will intern create a joyful happy mom! When you are happy, your kids are happy (most of the time haha). I have a lot of people tell me that I am so calm when it comes to my kids and while that is part of my personality, I am not perfect and when I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed, trying to find the fun in the chaos helps. When your kids see you having fun and taking care of yourself and the family, they will do the same. That is why I workout, that is why I eat right, because it makes you feel good!!
While we live in a world where portions are too big, activity levels are low, and highly processed food are rampid, but there are things we can control to help our kids make more health conscious decisions. It all starts with you modeling the healthy behaviors and showing your kids how to lead a healthy active life. I hope these 10 tips give you some light into the things you can control and the tools you can give your kids to raise them to be happy, healthy and balanced!