As a women’s health, lifestyle and parenting journalist, I’ve learned a few healthy parenting hacks in my time.
Some, of course, have been harder to implement than others. But here’s a few tricks I’ve learned along the way …
Managing junk food at after school sports
It’s the biggest ‘health’ contradictory that ever existed! Kids getting active at footy, soccer, tennis, swimming or whatever, then loading up on jelly snakes and soft drink afterwards. At our tennis club, the coach awards slushies to the kids who tried the hardest while the other kids get a lolly. At 10am!
27.4% of Australian children aged 5-17 years are overweight or obese, according to the National Health Survey 2014-15
The football club canteen is similar – stocked with snakes, sour straps, chips and soft drinks. It’s not unusual for the kids to get a sugar fix post-training – just before dinner. I didn’t want to be a meanie mum but I had to play hard ball on this. After footy, I’d give my son, Maxwell a banana and water bottle. I’d rather buy him a pack of footy cards than feed him snakes before dinner.
An accidental change in the tide came when I was asked to drop a few kids off at home after a game. I told the kids – armed with their $5 from their parents to spend at the canteen – that they weren’t allowed to buy cans of soft drink and lollies. They had to choose the healthier options – which, admittedly were very limited. When I dropped the kids off I explained to the parents my sugar ban and they were surprisingly OK about it. Some even limit their kids’ junk food after games now too. Win-Win!
Getting a grip on party bags, Halloween treats and Easter chocolate
I’m not one to skimp on a sweetie, but I know my limits. When it comes to sweet celebrations, I manage Maxwell’s intake by spacing it out. He’s allowed to enjoy the treats, but not all at once. We even have healthy options like apples and fruity icy poles available for the trick or treaters when they knock on the door and yep, some choose an apple over a Freddo Frog.
Another great trick for little ones at Easter is to rotate the same eggs. The kids collect the eggs the Easter bunny hid, pop them in the basket, then Dad sneaks a couple out and hides them again elsewhere. Voila. The same eggs are rediscovered in the veggie patch! Little kids who can’t count won’t even notice.
Educating kids on good nutrition can be fun
Maxwell, 8, might be young but he knows how to read the nutrition labels on products! He actually enjoys it – it’s empowering and gives him control over some of the purchasing decisions we make. He looks for the energy/sugar percentage and salt/sodium content and knows what’s not ok (talking to you, so-called sports drinks!). He also recognises the ‘sugar rush’ effects – blood/sugar energy spike and slump – and understands the negative consequences of the ‘slump’.
Only 5.1% of children children aged 2-18 met the guidelines for the recommended daily serves of fruit and vegetables, according to the National Health Survey 2014-15.
Gelatine’s another good ingredient to teach kids about. Found in many kids sweets including jelly, marshmallows and some ice creams, gelatine is a collagen obtained from various animal body parts, and when the kids realise this, chances are they’ll pop the jelly back on the shelf!
Balancing outdoor fresh air with iPad time is still a work in progress…
Oh what a struggle. The scales tipped in favour of the screen a few months ago and I cracked – then set some pretty strict rules about time limits. We have a balance of constructive play, with LEGO for example, art, outdoor time and iPad play – which is only available AFTER all the chores and homework is done! There’s a total ban on electronics on school mornings – unless we’re ready early and decide to catch some Pokemon on the way to school!
The Department of Health guidelines recommend children aged 5–12 years, and young people, aged 13-17 years, should spend no more than two hours a day playing computer games, surfing the internet, watching TV or playing video games, for recreation and entertainment. And just FYI, this doesn’t include time spent using computers and other screen-based activity for homework and study.
Getting enough sleep is pivotal
I like my sleep. I need eight hours of shut eye in order to function efficiently the next day. Maxwell’s the same – only he needs 11 hours for optimum concentration. This, of course, is difficult when I pick him up from after school at 6pm and we need to sort dinner/bath/homework/story etc.
On top of that, my step-son who is the same age, is a night owl. And daddy lets him go to bed later because he requires much less sleep (not step-mummy’s rules!). The only solution is organisation, prioritising and being the strict mum. It sucks that one child stays up later than the other, I know, so I turned bedtime into an enjoyable event that involves stories and back tickles. It works, for now…