They say the responsibility of rearing good, kind, ethical, responsible human beings is the biggest job anyone can embark on. They also say parents are the last people on earth who should have children.
Despite these paradoxical impossibilities, we march on with our endeavours to give our kids the best upbringing possible.
From both a personal and Accredited Practising Dietitian standpoint, these are my nutrition and physical activity must-haves. (Warning: there is a good dose of opinion here!)
1. Enjoy a happy and healthy mealtime routine (especially in the evenings)
Amidst the hurricane of parenthood, and especially during the ‘witching hour’ in the evenings – a time where the bath, evening meal and bedtime routine becomes somehow apocalyptic – it is understandable that mealtime enjoyment at the dinner table can sometimes be lost.
With long working hours and after school care, for some families the evening meal may be seen as the one opportunity where parents and kids can sit and celebrate their day, and do so by enjoying a wide variety of food.
This author’s evening meal vibe is usually one of curiosity – both about the food we are eating and also about what has happened in our day. It is almost definitely a time to have a laugh and it nearly always ends on a good note.
2. Encourage food play
Just like being curious around our food, it is essential for kids to play with their food. For fussy little ones, it is well known that we should patiently persist with serving up those ‘disliked’ (read: unfamiliar) foods over and over again, until the fear of the new is worn down. For toddlers and children, experiencing, interacting with and touching unfamiliar foods is pivotal in wearing down the fussiness.
Because one child’s nutrition can be seen as a blank canvas starting with limited variety, it is paramount that each meal and snack involves a new food experience. And this is usually done through playing with their tucker. Many a Lego man has been covered in food in this household!
Sometimes ending the meal on a high can be a child taking a lick or a bite of an unfamiliar food, usually a vegetable. Another food experience – tick!
“For some families the evening meal may be seen as the one opportunity where parents and kids can sit together and celebrate their day.”
3. Get the kids involved, from garden to plate
Living in the country, we have the luxury of having a big veggie garden full of seasonal produce. Apart from the long hot summers which sizzle anything in our patch, we get a good harvest and the kids enjoy being involved in production. From watering (or should I say water fighting?) to picking and proudly bringing in the vegetables to the kitchen, our little ones love it.
In a consumerist, globalised food environment, it is so important that we continue to grow our own produce where possible. From pots of herbs to small transportable veggie patches, anyone can do it. And to involve our youngsters in home-growing vegetables and fruit is to plant the seed for a rosy, semi-sustainable future.
4. Limit screen-time, especially during daylight hours
With so much technology around these days, it’s easy for all members of my family to get bogged down with screen time. Thus we try to have set windows for screen-time before school, before bathtime and before bedtime.?This coincides with getting our little jumping beans to get dressed and do other chores in the morning, and also to enable lots of active play during daylight hours.
Where we live, we are just coming out of another mean winter. Short days, mostly grey, and a lot of rain for the crops around the area. To help our little ones get their vitamin D, to blow off some steam, to enhance their life experiences and to give Mum a rest, the kids usually head off outside after school until sunset. We find this mostly achieves all these aims and then some.
It’s too easy these days to get lost in the grind of careers and timelines. And these things matter, no doubt. But the importance of growing healthy kids supersedes, as best as possible, any of this. If you have any queries about the nutritional health of your little ones, be sure to check in with an Accredited Practising Dietitian. There is most likely one at your local hospital or community health centre.