In the past I’ve talked about the importance of childhood development and being aware of important developmental milestones as well as what to do when you notice your child isn’t meeting critical milestones. Today, I’m going to be addressing the importance of a healthy diet and exercise in early childhood development as well as the effects it has later on in life.
Healthy Diet For Early Childhood Development
Photo Source: American Psychological Association
The impact of an unhealthy diet on young children does not just jeopardize their health but it stints young children’s development, readiness for school, as well as affects their productivity as adults and has lifelong consequences on their future health (Child Trends). So what can we do to improve our children’s overall well-being? For starters an adequate amount of critical nutrients is essential for growth development, and learning. Children who do not get enough of these critical nutrients are affected in a variety of ways but one of the most precarious is how it affects their ability to learn (Child Trends).
- Vitamins A, C, D, and E, and phosphorus and magnesium are essential in a young child’s diet
Children who are deficient in these vitamins (above) are also “reported to have higher rates of hospitalization, iron-deficiency, anemia, and other chronic health conditions”(Child Trends). Studies have also shown that children between the ages 0-3 have higher rates of behavioral problems due to lack of nutrition in their diets (Child Trends). So what are a few ways we can promote a healthy diet and exercise early in our children’s lives? Well, lets start with healthy eating!
- Regular Family Meals
- Cook Meals at Home that are rich in nutritional value and meet macronutrient requirements
- Get Kids Involved in Cooking & Teach them about how to choose healthy options
- Have a variety of healthy snacks available such as vegetables, fruits, whole grain snacks, etc.
- Control portion sizes-Do not insist your child clean their plates
- Limit sugar and salt intake (see regulations here)
Where and when your child eats is an important factor to consider as well. While studies have shown that majority of meals are eaten at home, the quality of the food is generally poor or “convenient” such as fast food or frozen meals(Child Trends). Food such as this is generally high in caloric intake but lacking in nutritional substance. Skipping meals has also become a prevalent indicator of health in the home—studies show that “more than one in eight children report to rarely or never eating breakfast, and one in four skip dinner at least some of the time” (Child Trends). All of which can have serious negative implications on their learning abilities and overall health. So, it is critical to remember to not skip breakfast or other meals throughout the day.
The Importance of Exercise For Early Childhood Development
Photo Source: Let’s Move Campaign
You may think that young children get plenty of natural exercise especially with how much energy they have- however recent studies suggests this might not be the case (Child Trends). Due to the vast variety of passive entertainment (television, video games, iPads, computers, etc.) available to young children, more and more are spending more time with passive entertainment than they are with physical activities. This has had a tremendous impact on the amount of activity children are participating in as well as their development and overall health.
- American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children 0-2 should avoid screen-media and children 2 years and older should watch no more than 1-2 hours of “quality programming” per day (Child Trends).
- AAP advises parents to not have televisions in their children’s bedrooms
If their suggestions do not convince you, maybe this report will; “each incremental hour of watching television at age two was associated with corresponding declines in school engagement, math achievement, and weekend physical activity, and with increases in bullying by classmates, consumption of soft drinks and snacks, and BMI at age 10” (Child Trends).
Another factor to consider is exposing your children to high levels of media sends “powerful advertising messages that tend to encourage an unhealthy diet” (Child Trends). So, we’ve already discussed ways to promote a healthy diet, what are some ways to get your child involved in exercise?
- Help your kids participate in age-appropriate activities
- Establish a regular schedule for physical activity
- Incorporate activity into daily routines (i.e taking the stairs instead of the elevator)
- Be a positive role model to your kids
- Remember to keep it fun so they will come running back for more!
But what if your state tends to be raining or snowing for over half of the year? What are some great ways you can get your children to exercise indoors? Here are a few ideas for all ages to get your kids moving while they are stuck in the house.
Overall, it is critical to remember that while you may not be going out to dinner every night you still have to pay attention to the nutritional value of the food your children are consuming as well as their activity levels or lack of. A healthy diet and exercise are the key components in childhood development as well as later on in life productivity in adults. What are some of your family’s favorite healthy meals? What are some great ways you get your kids to exercise on rainy days? What are some of the ways you get your kids to turn away from their passive entertainment to more interactive and constructive forms of entertainment? We would love to hear your comments below.
Curious to see how healthy your family eats? Track what you eat here and print out your results here!
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*Important Note: I’m not a nutrition or medical professional. The opinions expressed are solely my own and the information comes from research I’ve compiled about Child Development in relation to a healthy diet and exercise. If you fear your child is not meeting their nutritional or exercise needs consult your pediatrician. The information contained on this blog post should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.