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By Guest Contributor Amanda Henderson

Healthy living is more than eating vegetables and getting in a daily workout. It is a comprehensive lifestyle that nourishes minds, bodies, souls and the environment. Learn how you can encourage healthy living while avoiding common parenting missteps.

1. Don’t Make Your Kids Clean Their Plates

While a desire to not waste can be appreciated, requiring kids to eat everything on their plates teaches them to ignore natural hunger cues. Instead, try starting with smaller portions and add more as necessary. Another option is to serve meals family-style and give children agency over what and how much they eat.

2. Don’t Use Food as a Reward

One of the oldest parenting tricks in the book is to bribe children with dessert to get them to eat vegetables. This tactic is harmful for multiple reasons.

The food used as a reward is usually highly processed and loaded with sugar. Since humans already have a biological tendency toward sweets, using sugary foods as a reward can increase cravings, leading to obesity, tooth decay and other health issues.

A food-based reward system also interferes with a child’s ability to self-regulate. Receiving a treat as a reward teaches children to eat more for pleasure rather than nourishment.
Once children are offered treats as rewards, they learn to associate these nutritionally-deficient foods as desirable and healthy options as a necessary evil. Promote healthy food choices by offering a variety of nutrient-rich vegan options and empowering kids to follow their bodies’ signals. These recipes include ingredients that are more affordable for families than plant-based alternative meats or dairy products.

3. Do Support Dietary Preferences

There are countless types of diets and reasons why individuals adhere to a specific one. Some do so out of medical necessity while others choose dietary practices that align with their value system. 

Your child may adopt a diet that differs from your own. Aim to support that choice so long as your child is getting adequate nutrients. For example, a child who is a budding animal rights advocate may commit to veganism. Collaborate to find and prepare vegan recipes. Take the opportunity to learn more about your child and why following a vegan lifestyle is important to him or her.

4. Do Encourage Outside Time

Experts recommend that children of all ages spend at least 90 minutes outside each day. In reality, the average American child plays outdoors for only four to seven minutes daily. Adequate time spent in nature is found to develop confidence, boost creativity, reduce stress and anxiety and promote a sense of environmental stewardship. Try the following ideas to increase outside time:

  • Plant an edible garden
  • Create art projects using materials found in nature
  • Build a bird feeder
  • Take a hike to a scenic spot like a waterfall

5. Do Seek Help From a Medical Professional

If you find that your child is struggling to develop healthy habits, reach out to a medical professional for help. Instead of waiting to get in-person appointments or dealing with long travel times, seek virtual medical care. Online services are continuously expanding, giving you access to affordable, high-quality care and treatment from primary care providers, dieticians and any other pediatric specialist your child may need.

6. Do Model Positive Behaviors

Inspire your children to lead healthy, meaningful lives. Model positive behaviors and traits, such as mindful consumerism. Leading by example, for example, will help your children to not only make healthy choices for themselves but also be forces for positive change in the world. Teaching them leadership skills can help them develop traits such as integrity, which can last them a lifetime.

7. Help Make the World Wonderful for Them

Lastly, take steps whenever possible to help make the world a better place for your children to grow. Organizations such as Fair Start Movement, for example, strive to help provide support to policies that help kids from all walks of life have an equal opportunity at success in an ecologically sound world. Learn more about The Fair Start Model and look for ways that you and your family can donate or volunteer to help.

Teaching your child to make healthy choices is an action that will impact generations to come. Start early, be consistent and grow together.

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