To kick-off the start of another school year, we’ve enlisted the services of our friend and healthy living expert, Joyce Haddad, to bring you this special feature article. Joyce is the Director of A Dietitian’s Mission and is an Australian based Dietitian, Nutritionist, Scientist and Master Personal Trainer with a passion for health and wellbeing. Joyce aims to help us all to make more informed and realistic nutritional choices, and to ensure everyone has a healthy relationship with their body and with food.
Have you ever wondered which setting is more important for children to learn healthy habits – the home, or the school? Do you wonder if the lack of nutritious food served at school or at day-care is ruining your child’s health? Or maybe you’re the one packing your kids’ lovely nutritious meals for school, but when they get home, you allow them to help themselves to the junk food in the cupboard?
These are very important questions to ask, and scientific research has helped find some answers. My name is Joyce Haddad, and I am an Accredited Practising Dietitian, a Personal Trainer and a scientific researcher from South Australia. My passion for children’s health has led me to do research into this important question:
Is it our HOME or the SCHOOL that has the biggest impact on our child’s eating and exercise behaviours?
By ‘behaviours’, I am referring children’s eating and exercise patterns. How much nutritious food they eat, and how much exercise they do. Here’s what I found…
The home environment is, in fact, a stronger influence on children’s eating, physical activity, and weight, compared to the school environment. In fact, recent research has shown that children are gaining most of their weight during summer holidays, when they are mostly at home!
By ‘the home environment’, what we really mean is how parents are role modelling healthy eating and physical activity. So, the more positively parents are role modelling, the healthier children eat, and the more physical activity they will do.
I’ll give some tips on how you can be a positive role model shortly.
Although children spend a lot of their time at school, most of their day is actually spent at home. This means that parents at home still have a very big influence on children of that age, even if parents think they’re not spending much time with them.
It is important for parents to be positive role models if they want children to do more activity and eat more fruit and vegetables.
So, here are a few things you can start doing which can help positively influence your child’s healthy behaviours:
It is important that as parents, you know that your children need more than 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This way, you can start encouraging them to do some running around. Summer school holidays, after-school activities, and weekend activities are the perfect times to get more active. Make use of any chance you can get: grab your children and go outside!!
- Instead of driving to the shops, try walking there (if you can) or some of the way.
- If the children want to go to their friend’s house nearby, take some time to walk them there.
- If it’s a hot day, go to the beach or go to a swimming center.
- If you’re taking the dog for a walk, grab your children too – after some time, they can start walking the dog themselves.
Now let’s be honest, if parents aren’t eating enough fruit and vegetables, then the child is very likely to do the same thing. So it’s important that children see you eating your fruit and vegetables!
As a guideline, the recommended minimum amount of fruits and vegetables is two serves of fruit (1 serve = 150g or one medium piece), and five serves of vegetables (1 serve = 1 cup salad or ½ cup cooked). The more fresh food is available at home, the easier it will be to meet these recommendations. So let’s walk that talk…
- Fill your fridge up with fresh fruit and veg: If it’s there, it’s going to get eaten! But here’s the catch – don’t stuff an uncut watermelon or a whole bunch of celery in the fridge because no-one is going to be bothered cutting it. So, as soon as you get home from the grocery store, cut up all your fruit and your veg.
- Store carrot and celery sticks in a container filled with water – they’ll stay fresh and crunchy.
- Spread broccoli and cauliflower florets on a plate with your favourite dip in the middle – this can be a snack ready to go.
- Pack your stir-fries, curries and pasta sauces with an abundance of vegetables. If you cut up the vegetables into small pieces, they’ll be more likely to be accepted and chewed by little teeth.
- Cut up watermelon into fun shapes (triangles are fun enough I think) – and store them in a big container. Everyone loves cold watermelon on a hot day!
- Make fun fruit skewers – layer a mix of cut up fruit on a wooden skewer and call it a “fruit kabab!”
- Always, always, always have a fruit bowl on the kitchen bench – when you’re hungry, it’ll be the first thing you see, therefore the first thing you reach for.
These are just a few tips for you, as a parent, which can really make a difference in children’s eating and exercise.
And remember, it is never too late to be a positive role model!!