The health of our families and communities is hot on the agenda at the moment. In our latest webinar ‘Growing Healthy Families
’, we uncovered all you need to know when it comes to family health, from nutrition, exercise and fussy eating to what makes a healthy child and their nutritional and exercise needs.
If you missed our live webinar, you can catch-up and listen below, but we’ve also included a few highlights, handy hints and top tips below!
So, why is good family nutrition important?
Children’s Nutritional Needs
Our children have lots of needs, especially when it comes to nutrition and diet. Their needs vary too during particular stages of development, from infants and preschool children, to school age and adolescents.
Infants are totally dependent on other people and they have high needs. Infants also develop rapidly and require lots of nutrients in their diet:
Lots of protein (did you know that infants need more protein per unit weight than adults?)
Fats should be 30-50% of an infant’s energy intake.
Carbohydrates, predominantly lactose, should be at 40%.
Did you know the brain of a preschool child is nearly adult sized?
Our preschool children need lots of new nutrients. They also require a movement from a milk-centred diet towards one of around 35% fat, 11% non-milk extrinsic sugars and plenty of starch. During preschool, it’s crucial to establish good food habits too, and growth spurts are often accompanied by a surge in appetite. Don’t forget your child’s appetite is the best guide to overall food needs.
School-age children become more exposed to outside influences. School can be physically and emotionally taxing too, which will impact food intake, and growth spurts require vitamins and minerals for bone, muscle and blood cell synthesis. Always ensure their water intake is adequate at school.
In adolescents, dieting can be a problem. Our adolescents are also generally knowledgeable about healthy eating but that knowledge does not always translate into behaviour. As they approach the later stages, we may also find our adolescents experimenting with cigarettes and alcohol, which both impact nutritional status, in additional to certain beliefs such as vegetarianism.
One thing is for certain though, our children are getting bigger and obesity is on the rise. Many adults view their overweight children to be a healthy weight too and weight is still a great concern, with overweight children more likely to become overweight adults.
The myth of “puppy fat”
In a child’s first year, the amount of fat in their body rises but soon falls again, with their body fat being at its lifetime lowest around the age of 6. A child’s body fat then rises again until puberty.
It is thought that the number of fat cells we have are largely set in childhood, so fat mass development must be controlled early on.
Mealtime battles are often common for many families, with some children picky eating, limiting food groups, refusing to eat, becoming fearful of new foods and often completing activities while eating. There are a few ways to counter bad eating habits however, and we’ve included a few ideas below:
Avoid pressure and do not make an issue of it.
Make food fun through making faces on a plate, telling stories, using colour and fun food names.
If your child likes a healthy food, let them eat it and offer the food as long as they want it.
Always ensure your child is hungry at meal times.
Do not offer snacks and drinks such as juice near meal times. If your child needs a snack, offer fruit, vegetable sticks, rice or oat cakes and water.
Use ‘time out’ where required and do not use food as a reward.
Encourage your child to be involved in food preparation and choices.
Turn off the TV during meal times and make eating a family event.
Do not force your child to try new foods. Instead offer without pressure, be innovative and encouraging.
Introduce new foods in small portions, one new food at a time.
Ensure your child sees you enjoying your food too and always lead by example.
Exercise for a Healthy Child
Exercise should be a normal part of your everyday life and there are a few basic guidelines for maintaining health.
Encourage your baby to be as active as possible, including reaching, grasping, moving their body and engaging in supervised play.
Children who can walk on their own should be active for 3 hours each day, both inside and outside. This is lots of fun when incorporated with active play!
School Age and Adolescents
For children at school and older, at least one hour of moderate to intense exercise is recommended. On 3 days each week, this exercise should include muscle and bone strengthening activities.
The Healthy Family Environment
Growing a healthy family requires a healthy environment, and this includes creating an environment which is happy, healthy and free from any additional factors. This may include creating an environment which is free from smoke, child-proofed and safe from any toxic products (such as cleaning materials).
Allergies are also on the rise so try to remove any allergy triggers, which may be causing a reaction, and monitor children for new symptoms, even if they do not have an allergy. Always have a clean, hygienic and safe attitude to pets too.
Practice sleep hygiene as a family: associate the bedroom with sleep, ensure adequate access to natural light and exercise, and avoid stimulants in the evening. It’s also helpful to avoid napping in the day (unless you have young children) and large meals close to bedtime, which will create a relaxing bedtime routine.
Emotional and Mental Family Health
Healthy families have a healthy attitude towards mental health, and this can be achieved through:
Managing stress in yourself and avoid stressing your children
Watching for any mental health concerns (e.g. eating disorders, depression etc.)
Not allowing things to escalate
Asking for help where required
Always look after your mental health too, with lots of exercise, sleep, eating well, talking about feelings, taking a break when required and using your support structure.
Help your child to understand you are there to support them and help them navigate the complex path to adulthood.
Setting the Example
The best thing you can do is to set a good example to your children too, especially when it comes to being healthy. Some great ideas include:
Share meals as a family and be seen eating the same healthy foods as the children. They do not know enough to make healthy choices themselves and will often follow your lead.
Be careful with how you use language regarding food and exercise, e.g. avoid talking about weight or diets, use positive language about exercise etc.
Let your children see you exercising and let shared exercise become the norm as a family.
Ensure your children meet the exercise guidelines for basic health. For more information, click here
Consider your environment: exposure to stress, both internal and external.
Take time to consider and address the mental health of your family.
Try not to worry! A balanced and positive attitude to health in you will be reflected in your children.