Fitness goals for kids: Tips to improve nutrition, physical activity in children | Health

ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi

There is a lot of peer pressure coupled with rampant commercials in the digital space that entice children with a wide range of junk food. Coupled with the hectic schedules that working parents must follow throughout the week, getting children to have a healthy home-cooked meals might seem like an uphill task.

However, it is important to remember that a healthy diet is essential for every growing child as it helps them maintain a healthy weight, stabilize their moods, sharpen their minds and simultaneously positively affect their mental and physical well-being. In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Anil Bhoraskar, Senior Diabetologist at SL Raheja Hospital in Mahim and Secretary at Diabetic Association of India (Scientific Section) suggested some tips that parents and caregivers must keep in mind while planning a diet for children include the following:

  • Focus on a well-balanced meal right from early childhood so that the child’s taste buds get used to a wide variety of food and textures
  • Encourage children to eat by themselves, pay sufficient attention to the food on their plates, and get into the habit of eating independently
  • A balance between varied and exciting foods, and the necessary nutrition will help children eat & like various food types
  • Junk food indulgence should be reserved only for special occasions
  • Eating meals on time and at regular intervals with other family members must be encouraged. Also, whenever possible, children should eat the same food as the rest of the family
  • Switch off all digital devices during mealtimes and use this time to connect and communicate with family members

Helping Children Understand The Value Of Good Nutrition:

Good nutrition and healthy eating habits must be taught to children at a very young age. It can also have a massive impact on their health throughout adolescence and adulthood, while at the same time preventing a host of health issues.

According to Dr Anil Bhoraskar, some tips to help you teach a good and healthy diet to young children include the following:

  • Media promotions and peer pressure from friends will always drive children towards fast food items like burgers, chips and pizza. To reduce this from happening, it is essential to teach them the value of homemade meals so that they understand the relationship between food and their health. Policing them and preventing them from going to a fast-food joint is not a very good idea.
  • Snacks and sweets are not bad food items, and it is okay to indulge in them occasionally. However, it is essential to refrain from having them regularly, as too much sugar can impact a child’s performance in both their academic and sports arena. While it is okay to head out to a restaurant occasionally, their daily meals should be consumed at home, focusing on food that builds their brain power and immunity. These include food items like bananas, carrots, eggs, nuts, ghee, milk, yoghurt, seasonal fruits, and healthy masalas like cinnamon, cloves, pepper and tamarind. It is best to avoid green and red chillies till children are a bit older.
  • Some children like smoothies made from yoghurt and fruit, which is a good breakfast option, along with sprouted moong or matki idli, moong dosa and vegetable paratha made with very little ghee or coconut. It is best to avoid farsan or any food fried in Omega-6 Fats as they tend to be high in calories and saturated fat. For cooking at home, it is best to use oils rich in fatty acids with a low ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3.

Nutrition and Exercise – Two Sides To The Same Coin:

Dr Anil Bhoraskar said, “While the importance of nutrition has already been established, there is no doubt that exercise, especially in a child’s growing years, plays a vital role. Exercise and physical activity are essential because they help improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, and reduce symptoms related to various health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.”

He listed some pointers that will encourage you to help children become and stay physically active:

  • Children need to be physically active for at least one hour every day. This should include going out to play with moderate to intense physical activity with games like Football, running, swimming, cycling and volleyball.
  • Children need to have a balance between structured and unstructured activities coupled with free play. They should be able to play alone without the parent’s interference.
  • Children’s play up to the age of five should be free play, after which sports can be introduced to them at a slow pace.
  • Children must be taught the value of competition but also, at the same time, they must enjoy the playing process as well.
  • Kids under ten years should learn through instructional play, which means a coach should team them the basics, and they should spend time learning more about the game through actual practice and playing.
  • Once the child reaches the age of 11, a blend of cardio, body weight/weight training and flexibility training can be introduced to them.
  • Children should get at least eight hours of sleep daily. They must not stay awake late into the night and sleep as early as possible.
  • Unstructured free play can include running around, informal play with the ball and sports like Kabaddi, Pakda Pakdi, Langdi, among others.
  • A combination of structured and unstructured play will inculcate values like sportsmanship, leadership, adjustment, compromise, confidence, communication, dedication and dealing with disappointments.
  • Regular play also reduces growing children’s behavioural disorders, stress and mood swings.

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