One of the beliefs that my Prime Nutrition family holds is that their products can “benefit anyone; from an elite athlete to a high school student.” As a fit parent, it is this forward thinking mind frame that I carry from my training over to my family. Eating healthy, being fit, and making fitness a priority in life isn’t only for adults. It is a lifestyle that I instill in my children every day, at the tender ages of 5 and 7 years old. Some may ask, why start them into fitness so young? That’s easy to answer; one of the greatest strengths of childhood and of the human brain and body is that it is most flexible and quick to learn and adapt when it is young. From the way your children will think as adults to the growth of particular muscle fiber types, many traits can be influenced the most during childhood. If you had the opportunity to ensure that your children would grow up to become healthy adults, wouldn’t you take it? What if you could prevent your child from developing obesity, diabetes, and a host of other diseases as an adult?
The simple truth is that you can and if we want to create ever-lasting change in America regarding our health, fitness levels, and high levels of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, we must address the issues where they are created...in childhood and our children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity has more than doubled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. More than one third of children and teens are overweight or obese in America. Immediate health effects include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and psychological problems such as poor self-esteem. In addition, childhood obesity can also lead to the long-term health effects of adult obesity, heart disease, type 2 Diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that we are on a slippery slope regarding obesity, rising healthcare costs, and the future health of America. Unfortunately, health and nutrition is not a topic that is highly emphasized in our education system and until it is, this lifestyle and knowledge must be learned by parents and passed on to our children as early as possible.
I realize that getting children to eat their broccoli and put down the PS3 remote is easier said than done! But the earlier you start them, the better. Here’s my favorite top 10 tips for getting children more interested in health and nutrition:
1. Bring your children grocery shopping with you (there will be more than a few screams initially but I promise it will be worth it!) and point out and name different fruits and vegetables. Allow them to hold and smell them, answering any questions they might have. Active participation and learning gets them more interested so teach them how to choose quality food that’s ripe. Remember, children love positive feedback so praise them for being interested and for asking questions.
2. Allow your child to choose a fruit and vegetable or healthy snack to purchase. Giving them control over what they have available to eat at home can make them more likely to eat (or at least try) what they chose.
3. Have your children involved in the preparation of meals. Even the littlest ones get enjoyment from simply handing you ingredients. Help them pull up a chair and put on a cute, kid-sized apron just for them. They’ll be proud to say that they helped create something and this pride can go a long way at the dinner table.
4. Browse kid-friendly recipes online or in cookbooks and let your children choose a recipe to make each week. Sometimes, all you may need is the same food but just a more fun way of eating it! You can use animal or any theme shaped cookie cutters and decorating eyeballs to completely transform a meal. Start here: Kid friendly recipes!
5. Grow your own herbs, fruits, and/or vegetables and allow your children to help you plant and care for the garden. The excitement of growing food can make them more likely eat it.
6. Teach your children about macronutrients and the foods fall into each category, as well as the role that supplements can play. My children now have fun picking our their “carb” and are learning key concepts to create a healthy future. The sibling rivalry will continue but when the arguing is over “whose plate has more protein” I somehow don’t mind as much!
7. Educational books on the human body, organ systems, and how diseases change them teach the importance of respecting and caring for the body that we have. They may not grasp the concepts at the earliest ages, but learning about the human body and its health will create more awareness that sets the stage for later. Trust me, your kids will be fascinated by seeing illustrations of what the body looks like inside. Here's a human body book my kids enjoy, just click!
8. Make time for family activities that incorporate fitness but that are also fun. I can still remember racing my siblings in the backyard, having push-up contests, or playing flashlight tag with neighborhood families. Get back to the basics! Keep it simple but keep it fun!
9. Involve your kids with your own fitness. Merely accompanying me to the gym has set the tone for the importance of fitness in my lifestyle that they will carry over into theirs. At home, I always allow my children to do a few sets of bicep curls or shoulder presses with the 1.5 or 3 lb dumbbells whenever they are interested. At 5 and 7 years old, their attention span is short but the main goal is to foster their interest. Body weight exercises are safe for any age so, even if you’re at home following an exercise video, let them join in!
10. Encourage involvement in sports. They may stumble at first but with so many activities to choose from they will eventually find one that they are interested in. Each sport will require a different level of attention span and personality type so considering whether it is slow or fast paced with less down time, individual versus a team sport can help steer you in the direction of the sport that suits them most. Whatever you choose, always make sure to give them positive reinforcement after each session. Helping them practice their sport is also a great way to strengthen their interest in the sport itself and to provide children with the parental approval and bond that they are often seeking.
I wasn’t always a health and fitness advocate and it took myself being overweight to lead me to becoming one. Educating myself and changing my lifestyle opened my eyes to the information that was missing from my own childhood and school education. Now, as a parent, educating my children on these topics is not only leading me to be a responsible parent, creating a healthy and fit future for my children, but I’m also contributing to a healthier America. What I teach my children, they will teach to their children and so on. The future health and fitness of America starts with its future leaders, our children, and that in turn, starts in the home. With so many adult physical transformations being publicized on social media, it’s very popular to see the phrase “it’s never too late” in regards to fitness. Now, I think it’s time that we start focusing on the belief that “it’s never too early.”