Are our children becoming unhealthier? I think we can only really answer that about our own children, using our own experiences. So, here goes: in my best mama voice, ‘When I was a little girl, we never sat in front of the television, we played out after school and all weekend. We never had organised play, we never got bored.’ And I can tell you I moved a lot more than my kids do now. They do move but it’s systematic and coordinated: swimming lessons, Zumba, basketball, bike riding, walks in the woods together.
We never ate takeaways – I didn’t have one until I discovered freedom at 18. My kids can tell you their favourite pizza toppings and whether they want stuffed crust or cheesy bites. They know what a kebab looks, feels and smells like. They like their chicken burgers with cheese and always in a toasted sesame bun. We, on the other hand, ate three square meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner and nothing in between. Not ever.
My children have a much unhealthier lifestyle than I had growing up. But their world is different too. The disturbing statistics about tooth decay and childhood obesity are testament to the fact that eating habits have changed hugely since I was born in 1984. And, of course, it’s right that we have all the information – good and bad – but as a parent it’s easy to focus on the negative.
Two big things have changed in those years: lifestyle and accessibility. The pace of life is so fast now that, quite often, I feel choked on a Friday night from the sheer levels of activity through the week and not having stopped to come up for air. So many families can relate to living life at breakneck speed. Busy equals tired, tired equals the easy route and the easy route is accessibility. We can sit on our sofas, order dinner online and there it is, at our door. We can eat whatever we like, whenever we feel like it – all it takes is a couple of taps or a phone call. Easy.
Chilling statistics and alarming headlines aside, if we’ve become part of the problem we have to be part of the solution. If we change the way we shop, buy and travel we can all be a part of a remodelling of our children’s future – one family at a time.
We cannot stop progress, nor would we want to – progress is positive for our future. We just have to move forward with a side order of vegetables and a run/swim/workout first thing in the morning so when you do actually sit down to eat after a hard day’s work, you know it’s perfectly okay to have that pudding.
Top tips to help your kids eat more healthily
- A bowl of unsalted nuts or some dried fruit may tempt children. If unhealthy snacks are available, chances are that’s what they will eat. They may ignore the healthy snacks to begin with, but even little ones can’t ignore a rumbling tummy.
- Drink water. As a grownup, when I think I’m hungry I always question whether it’s thirst. More often than not I am just thirsty. So when my kids say they’re hungry I always ask them to have a glass of water and most of the time it works.
- Don’t give up. It isn’t always easy, but don’t think it has to be all or nothing every time. Little changes can make the biggest differences and, after all, nearly everything starts with baby steps.