I read many articles about early childhood development for my profession. Monday, I was doing my normal perusing through new research and early childhood ed blogs when I stumbled across a statistic that made my heart stop:
The first years of life have a substantial impact on the disproportionate rates of obesity seen later in childhood, especially among racial and ethnic minorities.
- Among 2-5 year olds, Hispanic children have rates of obesity five times higher than non-Hispanic white children.
- Non-Hispanic Black children have rates three times higher than white children.
The article this statistic came from was about how the first 1,000 days of a child’s life can impact childhood obesity. You can access the full article here. I was astounded by the fact that black children are at such a higher risk of childhood obesity than white children. Once my shock subsided, I right away began to think of how important it is as parents to make sure that we are decreasing their chances of being obese. So here are just a few tips you can begin implementing right now with your children to lead them towards a healthier life from the beginning.
Give your toddler water instead of juice. Yes, we all have sweet decadent memories of the excitement that an ice cold glass of Kool-Aid gave us as children. And yes, I know that your baby would rather drink juice. But the amount of sugar in many of those drinks are giving our babie copious amounts of calories without satiating their hunger or thirst. You may think that natural fruit juice is better, but even those are chock full of sugar. You’d be better giving them an actual apple instead of apple juice. If your toddler says they are thirsty, offer water first.
Stop the “clean your plate” campaign. Woo, I know this suggestion is going to rub a whole bunch of people the wrong way. Many of us grew up in homes where if it was put on your plate, you had to eat it all. So we grow up thinking that we have to do the same thing. We have to stop this mindset. For one, a lot of the time, the serving size we give toddlers is way too much for their little bodies. Also, most doctors will tell you that a baby knows when they are full. Forcing them to eat beyond their fullness teaches them to ignore the satiety signals their bodies give them which turns into a habit of overeating. I know that part of the idea behind cleaning your plate comes from the fear of the child not eating enough. But I’ve heard a quote that changed my perspective, “a child will never starve if the food is available to them”. Basically, as long as food is there and the toddler is hungry, they will eat. No need to force them.
Adopt healthy eating habits yourself. Toddlers want what they see their parents have. Your toddler isn’t going to want to drink water if they see you downing a Pepsi every chance you get. When you snack, switch out that bag of Grippos for hummus and veggies. If you start these habits early, you’re setting them up to have healthy eating habits for life. Then they won’t have to be 30 trying to adjust their taste buds to healthier choices. Trust me, I’m currently learning how to make these changes and it’s hard. But my 1 year old loves foods like kale chips, rice cakes, and brussel sprouts because she’s getting that exposure to them now.
With that being said, don’t give up if they say they don’t like it. Of course they’re not going to like all of these new healthy choices right away. You probably won’t like all of them on first taste. We can’t let that discourage us. It can take a child at least 12 times of being exposed to a new food before they accept it. Stick with it, keep encouraging them to try it and one day they will!
Engage in active play with your child. Turn off the TV, get off the couch, and PLAY. Part of why this generation of children would rather sit around on their devices is because WE sit around on our devices. I know this because I’m guilty of it. It can be hard especially after working a full day to get up and do something active. There are so many benefits for both you and your baby of engaging in active play. Have a dance party, go outside and chase bubbles, or play tag. Just do something to get the both of you moving. Remember, children are looking up to you and want to do what you are. Be that healthy living role model.
The great thing about most of these tips are that they encourage collaboration between you and your child. As you’re teaching them to be healthy, it will also have a reciprocal effect on your own health. Building a healthy lifestyle as a family is a beautiful thing!