We all seem to be busy these days and we often don’t make time for eating healthy meals together as a family. Rushing, 'making do' and grabbing food on the go all lead to unhealthy eating habits such as snacking, skipping meals, eating fast food, TV meals and fussy eating.
Children can miss out on essential nutrients if they adopt these kind of habits so it’s important to make regular, healthy family meals part of your daily routine. It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Here are some top tips from Change4Life (the NHS campaign to help people get fit and healthy for life).
Sticking to regular meal times really helps keep you and your kids happier and healthier. Try to organise the day around three regular mealtimes. It’s easier to keep kids from pestering for snacks if they know when their next meal is coming.
Start at breakfast
A healthy breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it’s certainly a great way to give kids the energy they need. Don’t let them skip breakfast! Try low sugar cereals or toast, and if you add chopped fruit or a glass of diluted unsweetened fruit juice then that counts toward their five-a-day (portions of fruit and veg) as well.
Children like to copy their parents, brothers, sisters and friends. So if you can get them to eat with others (ideally with you), they can see and copy others eating a variety of foods. Plus, the kids enjoy it and it can save a bit of time too.
Make mealtimes fun!
Get the kids involved and make a real occasion out of your meals so they look forward to sitting down together and eating. Let them lay the table with placemats, napkins and maybe even hats or balloons! You could go a step further and get them making menus which particularly appeal to them, and choosing music to listen to as you eat!
Make a date
If you don’t have time to eat as a family all the time, try setting aside a particular day that suits everybody, and make it a time you all keep free. So whether it’s Sunday lunch, a relaxed Saturday morning breakfast or teatime on a Friday, get everyone involved and start having a special meal every week with family or friends.
Turn off the telly!
Try and use family meal times to get everyone talking. If the TV is on, you can guarantee they’ll watch it instead of having a conversation - so try and get them into the habit of TV-free dinners. If that seems like a step too far, you could put the radio on instead and let them choose the station.
Eat well and save the pennies
Enjoying healthier meals together needn’t cost a lot of money either. You don’t need to buy piles of fresh produce to get your family their five-a-day - canned, dried and juiced fruit and veg all count. Frozen produce is fine too. It can be cheaper than fresh, is quick to use and lasts a lot longer, so you save money in the long run.
Plan your meals
When it comes to the weekly shop, the secret is to plan, plan, plan! Thinking about meals in advance means you can make ingredients go further during the week. It also helps you remember to use any coupons you’ve seen advertised or been sent.
Get up and about
Don’t forget, children aged 2-5 need 3 hours of activity every day in order to stay healthy, and adults need 2.5 hours a week. So why not try getting up and doing an activity together after dinner, like playing on a dance mat or going for a walk, rather than heading straight for the sofa.
And if you’re looking for more inspiration…
Change4Life has teamed up with CBeebies superhero Sportacus from LazyTown to inspire children around the country to get active and ditch the junk food. So if you’re stuck for ideas, try downloading a Sportacus Wall Chart from the Change4Life website and have a go at trying a food or activity idea from the wall chart each day.
How CBeebies can help
The CBeebies website is full of useful games, stories, recipes and songs about cooking and eating. Have a look at the ‘I Can Cook’ and ‘Big Cook Little Cook’ recipes in the cooking part of the Make & Colour section for loads of great ideas for healthy fun meals.
When it comes to getting active and staying fit and healthy, head over to the LazyTown web pages and have a go at playing the ‘Work Out With Sportacus’ game. Watch the superfit superhero demonstrate some nifty moves and get inspired to get active! If dancing is more your thing, click through to the Boogie Beebies pages and select ‘Song Time’. There are lots of tunes to choose from and each one has a really fun dance routine.