Getting kids to embrace a healthy lifestyle is no easy feat – after all, what child voluntarily eats broccoli?
But with the right amount of fun, creativity and guidance, it’s possible to set your children up for a healthier future.
With childhood obesity on the rise, the need to encourage children to adopt healthy habits has never been more important.
A study by the World Obesity Federation stated that child obesity cases in the UAE are projected to increase, and will affect 14.62 percent of the population aged 20 years old and under by 2020.
When it comes to exposing children to healthy habits, parents play a vital role in changing their children’s sedentary lifestyle and diets. But with modern technology, a lack of time and proliferation of fast food chains, it’s easier said than done.
So how can mums and dads encourage their little ones to get active and adopt consistently healthy habits while making it enjoyable at the same time?
We like to move it
Keeping the focus on ‘fun’ is the primary way to get kids’ attention, particularly when it comes to physical activity.
“Exercise has to be fun for children,” begins Maria Inglis, co-owner of sports and fitness company, Advantage Sports. “There is nothing fun about asking children to perform a squat jump. But if you ask them to pretend they’re jumping like a frog, that taps into their imagination.”
To keep children active, it’s recommended that they get exercise at least three times per week: “This is due to many reasons,” Maria explains, “including promoting healthy growth and development, helping to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, building strong bones and muscles, improving cardiovascular fitness, improving balance, coordination and strength, maintaining and developing flexibility and improving posture.”
While the benefits are obvious, it’s important to balance your child’s schedule and avoid putting too much pressure on them in order to maintain the element of fun.
“Encourage children to try new sports early on with their friends and keep them as active as possible in a fun environment,” Maria adds. “It is all about changing the mind-set and making kids understand the purpose. Once they understand this, then the rest will just come naturally.”
Encouraging your child to exercise doesn’t mean taking part in strenuous or complicated activities. Simple but enjoyable family outings such as strolling on the Corniche, walking the dog in the neighbourhood, skating in the park, creating a home obstacle course using furniture or playing on the beach are all simple but effective ways to keep children off the couch.
If time and budget permit, skip the movies and plan an active day out instead. Looking for ideas? We recommend the trampoline park, Bounce, in Marina Mall, or the outdoor adventure park, Xtreme Zone, in Deerfields Mall, which has a variety of attractions including an adventure rope course that leads to a zip line.
Another way to get little ones active is to sign them up to camps offered during school breaks and holidays, including Easter, summer and winter.
Camps organised by Zayed Sports City, Advantage Sports, Abu Dhabi Country Club and various nurseries, among others, provide a range of group sports activities in a safe and supervised environment. Camps such as these also mean your child can experience different sport disciplines, which may lead them to discover a new passion.
There are also dedicated children’s fitness centres including Junior Gym and My First Gym that offer classes such as swimming, martial arts, gymnastics and dance for children of all ages and abilities.
The upcoming Yas Fitness and Wellbeing Festival on 1st and 2nd March is also a great way for parents and children to enjoy being active together. The whole family can try different activities and seek advice from health and fitness experts so you can learn tips, work out together and find a sport or fitness routine that works for you and the little ones.
Most parents know all too well the challenge of incorporating healthy eating habits into their children’s lifestyle. The general consensus is that children dislike vegetables and will willingly trade greens for sweet treats whether it’s ice cream or candy.
But there’s a way to avoid this dilemma, according to Bodytree Studio’s clinical nutritionist and holistic health coach Suzan Terzian, who points out that one of the best ways to make healthy eating fun for the little ones is to involve them in the kitchen, from selecting and chopping ingredients to mixing the meal.
“Get your children to decide what they want to eat – I think that’s one of my biggest tricks,” laughs Suzan.
“Generally, kids don’t like to eat vegetables. I say maybe we need to think outside of the box. Maybe the size of the vegetables matters and we need to slice them into small pieces to make it more appealing to them.
“Let’s say you’re making spaghetti,” Suzan adds, “You can hide tonnes of vegetables in the sauce; you can put zucchini, carrots, garlic, capsicum and onion – there is a lot you can add without making it obvious to them. Just combine everything and use a hand blender to blend it all up without the vegetables overpowering the taste of the sauce.”
Feeling extra sneaky? You can even treat your children to dessert while packing in extra nutrients. After all, it’s about thinking of innovative and fun ways to entice children to try healthy food options.
“How about making brownies and using sweet potatoes instead?” Suzan suggests. “You can avoid using regular white sugar and maybe use a bit of maple syrup and coconut sugar, but still in moderation.”
Other ways to encourage children to eat well is to get creative when it comes to the presentation. Make your children’s school snacks or lunch more attractive by cutting sandwiches into heart shapes or arranging their plate to look like their favourite animal.
When it comes to junk food, Suzan says it’s about not depriving your children, but rather about finding balance.
“Let’s say a family orders Domino’s three times a week,” Suzan muses. “I’d like to overhaul that process and would say that the family culture needs to change.
“You can’t blame children for that so that is something from the parents. I don’t want to give a recommendation on how often you can eat fast food but every once in a while is fine.
You just have to monitor [the habit] and keep in mind the [dietary] needs of your child.”
As with most habits, parents play a crucial part in setting an example. Mums and dads are a role model for their children, and should lead by example when it comes to diet as well as exercise.
“Children will do what you do, and I know every parent out there loves their children and only wants what’s best for them,” says Suzan.
“We need to do our best as a family to always make healthy choices and that should be the norm.
“If a family isn’t there yet, it doesn’t mean that they’re doomed,” she adds. “Wherever you are in your quest for health, start there and take steps to make it better.”
WORDS Ferdinand Godinez