Being a fitness roll model for kids seems like it would be hard. Ever look at your kids’ face when you give them quinoa kale salad? Ever considered trying to change your family’s food preferences? Or maybe you think what you feed your kids doesn’t matter that much. After all, they have a high metabolism and need to eat a lot of food. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way.
According to LetsMove.org, “Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, one in three children in America are overweight or obese. … If we don’t solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.” I see this around me and it’s scary. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. However, it starts with you being a good example for the younger children!
First, you need to be aware of the following fitness myths:
1) What they eat doesn’t matter because they’re young.
2) Your family can’t change.
My eating habits all started with my mother. She would make good home cooked meals daily and we didn’t eat a lot of processed foods. Things like hot dogs and chips were only allowed on special occasions. Or when my dad would buy them at the store!
Truth be told, my parents where fortunate with me. Unlike typical kids, I liked most foods, including vegetables, as well as trying new ones. Something that helped with that was our garden and orchard. We had the opportunity to help plant, maintain, and pick fruits and vegetables. The more you’re involved in growing food, the more likely you’ll enjoy eating it. To this day I still enjoy many vegetables we grew, including Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and even beets. So with few processed foods and a good example to follow, my parents made a huge impact on my life! That’s exactly why it’s so important to be a fitness role model for your kids. If you want them to grow up healthy, you have to model it for them. As they say, values are caught, not taught.
According to naturalnews.com, children will develop their food preferences by the age of 2. Their food preferences will come from whoever feeds them their food. So don’t wait for them to have to change their eating and fitness habits later in life. It will always be easier to start teaching kids healthy habits at a young age … the earlier the better.
Even though I don’t have children yet, I have experience with kids. My 12-year-old brother, for instance, knows I enjoy eating healthily. So he will ask me if something is good for him or not. Or he’ll want to try what I am eating. He’s open to me suggesting healthier food options for him to eat instead of foods with little or no nutritional content. After a little while, he even started asking if a certain food was high in sugar. They watch what we do, pick up what we do, and try to be like us, for better or worse.
There’s also this 4-year-old girl I love to watch. When we’re together, I’ll eat some sort of protein like chicken or fish and vegetables. Without fail, she asks what I am eating and if she can try it. She does not understand that vegetables are important for her health. Again, it’s monkey see monkey do. She sees me eat it and wants to try it too. You don’t have to have kids to see firsthand how being a fitness role model makes a difference.
Now what if you yourself don’t enjoy healthy food? You can still be a good example for children. You can actually change your taste buds within a few weeks. Nutritionfacts.org says “Our tongues appear to become more sensitive to fat if we eat less of it. And the more sensitive our tongues become, the less butter, meat, dairy, and eggs study subjects ate. We also get a blunted taste for fat if we eat too much. This diminished fat sensitivity has been linked to eating more calories; more fat; more dairy, meat, and eggs; and becoming fatter ourselves.” Basically, think of changing your taste buds as an experiment. Eat healthier for a few weeks and then see if there is a difference in your taste buds when you are done.
We also get a blunted taste for fat if we eat too much. This diminished fat sensitivity has been linked to eating more calories; more fat; more dairy, meat, and eggs; and becoming fatter ourselves.
If you have not always set the best example and want to “unlearn” something it might be tough, but doable. Here’s how.
Fitness Role Model Tip #1: Show Me Don’t Tell Me
When eating with kids, be sure you’re practicing what you preach. Show them you like eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Eating healthy foods in front of them gives you credibility.
Fitness Role Model Tip #2: Make It Fun
Make healthy food a fun activity. Start a garden. Let them cook with you. Heck, let them create their own recipes. Smoothies are a great place to start (check out the Smoothie Wizard tool). Most kids like fruit and you can get in some healthy stuff like spinach and flax seed without messing with flavor.
Fitness Role Model Tip #3: Start Slowly
If “healthy” is new to your family, doing a complete overhaul will likely overwhelm them. Furthermore, they’ll be on to you. They’ll know something is up and revolt. So maybe sub in steamed broccoli with salt and a little butter instead of broccoli casserole, but keep the other accompaniments the same. Or try oven-roasted sweet potatoes instead of that bag of crinkle cuts in your freezer. Doing too much too soon will not go well for you.
Fitness Role Model Tip #4: Be Adventurous
Don’t limit your foods to the standard fare. Try quinoa or couscous instead of white rice. Give star fruit a try instead of a boring apple, or asparagus instead of a can of mushy beans. Fresh or frozen is almost always more likely to please the pallet.
Fitness Role Model Tip #5: Be Prepared
Having healthy foods on hand will go a long way to succumbing to quick fixes, like drive-thrus, quickie marts, and delivery. Keep protein bars in your glove compartment and fresh fruits at eye level. The easier they are to see and less prep involved, the more likely they’ll get eaten.
Fitness Role Model Tip #6: Allow for Occasional Treats
Reward their progress by establishing reasonable guidelines for enjoying treats. Living under a dessert Nazi is no fun and quite frankly, no way to live life. So give them a weekly treat night. That might seem harsh, but know they’ll still get occasional stuff at school lunch, birthday parties, and holidays.
Fitness Role Model Tip #7: Stay Active
Find exercise that they enjoy and encourage it. They may not like ChaLEAN Extreme like you do, but riding their bike or playing kickball is always a good time. And it’s even more fun if you do it with them. Monkey see monkey do. If they do like traditional exercise, register them in a 5k and run it with them.
Fitness Role Model Tip #8: Get Your Zzzz’s
Sleep is the third leg of the fitness stool. You and your kids are better equipped to make better decisions when running on a full tank. Furthermore, your body needs its sleep for hormone regulation and tissue repair, among other things. Plus, nobody likes feeling tired all day. So turn off the TV and go to bed!
Overall, being a fitness role model for the younger generation is as important for their health as it is for yours. They may not thank you now, but you’ll have a huge impact on them. My guess is they’ll thank you later.
So, let’s be trendsetters. Be a fitness role model for your kids. They’ll be healthier and happier because of it.