Children are more likely to keep to a healthy lifestyle if it's made fun for them. Here are some ideas for how to help them prepare, and even cook, their own meals and choose activities they enjoy.
As a general rule, children should aim to include in their daily diet:
- at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables (5 A DAY)
- meals based on starchy foods, such as potatoes, bread, pasta and rice – choose wholegrain varieties when possible
- some milk and dairy products – choose low-fat options where you can
- some foods that are good sources of protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, and beans and lentils
Educate your children about food
Whether your child is in reception or year 6, it's always a good time to teach them how to take care of their bodies.
- Take your child food shopping with you and help them prepare a meal by themselves.
- Get your children used to cooking healthy food by letting them help with these Change4Life healthy recipes.
- Explain to your child how to get the balance of their diet right using the eatwell plate. It shows how much you should eat from each food group.
- Show your child how to read food labels – for example, to check the sugar and fat in snacks. Even small children can understand the traffic light coding on some food packs.
- Cooking tips on Change4Life can be used by children to learn simple techniques.
- Young children (aged five to six) can make their own cookbook, choosing their favourite healthy recipes, getting tips on being a top chef, and even making a shopping list.
Make physical activity fun for children
Physical activity is an important part of achieving a healthy weight. It's recommended children have at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
For more on how much activity children should do and what counts as activity:
- if your child is under five, read physical activity guidelines for children
- if your child is aged 5 to 18, read physical activity guidelines for children and young people
If your child isn't used to being active, encourage them to start with what they can do and build up to 60 minutes a day.
They're more likely to stick to their new activity levels if you let them choose the type of activity they're comfortable with.
- Older children might like to use their smartphone to increase their activity levels. There are lots of great fitness apps. Map My Walk is a free app that counts your steps when going for a walk (or jog) and counts the calories used, too. Or they could use a pedometer or step counter to keep track of how many steps they're taking.
- Look for little ways to get your child moving throughout the day, such as playing hide-and-seek and tag (for younger children), and walking or scootering to school.
- Be sensitive to your child's needs. If they feel uncomfortable participating in sports, help them find an activity they will enjoy without feeling embarrassed, such as dancing, skipping or cycling. Some will prefer to take part in a team activity rather than solo pursuits.
How school can help keep your child healthy
The school your child attends should provide opportunities for physical activity and healthy food at lunchtime.
Some schools will help ensure your child does not bring unhealthy foods to school by working with parents to set guidelines on healthy packed lunches.
Schools also often offer a range of after-school activity clubs in football, netball, dancing, martial arts, gymnastics and so on. These are a great way for your child to boost their activity levels.
- Check with your child's school exactly how much time they spend on physical activity each day so you have an idea of the shortfall (if any) they need to make up on school days.
- Read about dancing for fitness and find out more about cycling for beginners.
- Join Change4Life for free and your child will get their own personalised activity plan full of good ideas for getting moving.