We all know the benefits of having a healthy lifestyle and '5 a day'; here's some useful information on how to help your child eat well and start being active from a young age, in the hope that they'll continue with their good practices into adulthood. What better gift can you give your child than healthy habits for life?
FRUITS, VEGETABLES, 5 A DAY
The amount that children should eat depends on their size and age – there are no set rules. However, the government recommendation of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day should be adhered to and can easily be achieved with little effort. Change 4 Life suggests that a good guide to a portion for a child is the amount they can fit into the palm of their hand, i.e. a handful or grapes or a couple of broccoli florets is one of their 5 a day.
5 a day includes all fruits and vegetables, except potatoes (sweet potatoes DO count). So, when your child tries to claim they have eaten a portion by having chips, they haven't! It's worth noting that fresh juice, no matter how much you consume, will only count as one of your 5 a day. Orange juice is best served with a meal, as vitamin C helps the absorption of iron, but keep it to a smaller glass, as it is high in sugars. Encourage your child to eat a variety to reach their goal; 5 apples isn't as good as a clementine, a handful of grapes, a portion of sliced red pepper, a pile of sweetcorn and some cucumber strips! You need over 40 different nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) every day for good health. Since there is no single food that contains them all, it is important to balance your daily choices.
A useful tip is to buy frozen and canned fruit and veg in water, without added sugars and salts. Frozen vegetables are great because you can use only what you need. Buy loose fruit and vegetables, they tend to be cheaper and less likely to be wasted by spoiling. Cook extra of homemade, family favourite meals that freeze well, such as bolognese (sauce only), chilli con carne, casseroles and soups and store in the freezer in portions ready to reheat....this makes busy evenings a lot easier to eat nutritious home cooking.
KidsExercise.co.uk make a valid point when talking about 'stealth foods' (sneaking vegetables into a pasta sauce, for example), although this can be a great option if your child really is a fussy eater. "Some people advocate hiding fruit and vegetables, perhaps in a curry, but then when your child is served them elsewhere they will still be reluctant to try them. Instead, get them to help you make fruit salads and vegetable pizzas where they see what is going into their food and realise how tasty they are. Above all – make it a natural part of their diet from the very earliest age."
HOW MUCH OF WHICH GROUPS TO EAT?
The foods we need to eat can be divided into five separate groups. Firstly, we need fruits and vegetables (including fresh, frozen, juiced, dried or tinned) and this group contains vitamins, minerals and fibre, as stated before, it is recommended that we consume 5 portions every day. Secondly, our bodies need starchy foods, which includes bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. These provide us with energy, fibre, and vitamins and minerals and should make up a third of everything we eat. Next, we have meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses supplying us with protein, vitamins and minerals and it is suggested that we aim to eat two to three portions per day (one portion is an egg or a serving of meat/fish the size of a deck of cards). The milk and dairy food group includes milk, cheese and yoghurt and the recommended two portions a day provide us with protein and calcium. Lastly, we have foods containing fat and sugar (cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks, etc), which provide the body with energy. Although this is the group many of us find the most desirable to eat (especially children!), we should only consume one portion a day to maintain a healthy balance. One portion is the equivalent of two biscuits or a small chocolate bar.
WATER, WATER, MORE WATER!
It is recommended that you drink at least 5 glasses of fluid a day. Did you know that more than half of your weight is water? Usually, your body will tell you it needs water by making you feel thirsty, however, it is particularly important to have plenty to drink if the weather is very hot or if you have done lots of exercise. Plain (tap or mineral) water is best, but you can try flavoured and sparkling if it helps you to get your daily quota. Fruit juices, tea, soft drinks, milk and other drinks all count, but should only be consumed in moderation. Fruit juices are often thought of as a healthy option, however, they are not good for dental health because of their high sugar content and they also put a strain on the body, particularly the kidneys.
BUPA states that 'Children over the age of five need to do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity of physical activity every day. This can be one session of activity or a number of sessions of 10 minutest or more. Activities should also include exercises that strengthen their muscles and bones, such as climbing or any activity that means children are lifting their own body weight. Try building activity into everyday life, such as walking or cycling to school or playing with other children. Do activities together as a family, for example, going to the park and playing football. Help your child to choose more structured activities that they enjoy, for example, dancing, tennis or swimming.'
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Watching TV or playing sedentary games should be limited to two hours per day/14 hours per week. When children play with other children outdoors, it encourages their social development. Play gives children opportunities to learn how to work in groups, including learning how to share, how to negotiate and how to resolve conflicts, the AAP reports.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says childhood obesity rates more than doubled from 1980 to 2010. One way to combat obesity is to allow children plenty of outdoor playtime. Outdoor play gives children the opportunity to run, jump, climb, swim, dance and more, all of which provide aerobic exercise and strength training. Outdoor physical activity also strengthens the immune system and improves vitamin D levels, which can provide protection from osteoporosis and health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
A little sunshine is a good thing for everybody's well being, but it's important to protect children from the sun's harmful UV rays with careful application of sunscreen and sensible clothing. Regular exposure to a controlled amount of sunlight helps produce Vitamin D in the body, which promotes strong bones and teeth and boosts the immune system. Which is why Rocky's Munchkins love to be outdoors - it's not just great fun, it's really good for you!
Useful links and further reading: