Starting this week, Alex has been on a mission to educate parents in Yangon about healthy habits for their family. This has inspired me to think back to my favourite childhood activities and meals.
Am I ageing myself too much to say I remember the “best days” were those where I came home from school, grabbed a snack from the fridge and then headed out to bike around the neighbourhood with my friends? Not that I didn’t love to relax on the couch while watching TV, but I remember the fun, active afternoons much more than the lazy ones.
It’s hard to imagine that plenty of kids now spend their free time playing (and/or watching) video games and scrolling through social media. They’re also surrounded by processed, sugary/salty/fatty foods on every corner. This makes it easy for them to miss out on important nutrients, fill up on less nutritious foods, and sit around. With more sedentary lifestyles and screen-based activities, they’re at risk for taking these habits into adulthood and developing chronic diseases.
However, the good news is that this routine can easily be reversed! With a few simple changes inspired by the 5210 Program, we encourage parents, children, and families to:
Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day
Get 2 or less hours of screen time daily
Exercise for at least 1 hour
These easy steps are meant to engage families to take charge of their behaviours and habits. Small changes really do add up, and by including more fresh healthy foods, sitting less, and moving more, our bodies and minds gain so many benefits. From getting better sleep, having more energy, better mood, productivity, and focus, we all win!
Some of our suggestions for making 5-2-1 successful at home are to:
Eat at least 5 servings of fruit and veg per day
Be a role model: One of the biggest factors that influence what children eat is what their parents and caregivers eat. If they see you eating and enjoying healthy foods, they will too. Keep fruit and veggies on hand for snacks: When hunger strikes, it’s almost impossible to waste time washing, peeling, and cutting fresh food when packaged, ready-to-eat snacks are quick and tasty. However, when fruits and vegetables are prepared and easy to see in the refrigerator, you’ll find that kids will happily reach for these colourful snacks. Remember they don’t need to eat a lot reach their 5-a-day goal. Children’s bellies are small, and a perfect serving or portion size is about the size of their cupped hand. Let kids have a say: Children like to feel involved and helpful. Next time you go to the market, ask them to join and pick out a few different colours of fruits and vegetables they like or they’d like to try. If they are picky and refuse to eat fruit and veggies with meals and snacks, continue to offer a variety, in different presentations without pressure to eat. It often takes at least 15 times for a child to try new food and possibly longer to develop a taste for it.
Limit screen time to less than 2 hours
Don’t use screen time as a reward: When an extra game or hour of screen time is used as an incentive, screen time becomes more desirable. Kids see it as something they should want and learn to rely on for pleasure and fun.Have planned family activities and turn off screens: Again, role modelling is so important. Try to watch how you’re spending free time or moments of boredom. Instead of reaching for your phone, get the family doing something fun together. Consider scheduling family game nights or walks throughout the month.Do not eat in front of a computer, tablet, phone, or TV: When we’re distracted, we don’t pay attention to what we eat. Especially in front of a screen, it’s much too easy to overeat without realizing it. Since we’re also on screens most of the day anyway, use meals as a chance to give your eyes a break and focus on the food and company.
Get at least 1 hour of exercise daily
Involve the whole family in activities like walking and biking: Exercise doesn’t need to mean going to the gym to lift weights. Enjoy what the city and nature have to offer, and get out to explore. It’s an easy way to involve all ages and fitness levels.Set aside time to get active: Even with the best intentions, life gets busy and activities may get postponed to tomorrow. Try building in time for movement, just like you might for events and tuitions.Make it fun: Whoever said that exercise is boring has never trained with us! While working with a personal trainer or joining a fitness class is a great way to enjoy physical activity, there are many other ways to have fun while exercising. Most ways to be active involve games and sports, but could also be an obstacle course or race.Join team sports or lessons for after-school activity: Aside from giving children a way to be active, sports are key for developing leadership, self-esteem, teamwork, and communication skills (among many others.) Take advantage of the options provided at school and see if there may be a new activity your child is interested in trying.
We respect and appreciate that families have different routines, habits, and obligations. However, striving to make healthy choices as a family benefits everybody involved. It may not be easy to make a change, but try starting small with one action at a time. Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection.