From a young age, you can teach your children about good nutrition. By laying the groundwork when they are young, you'll not only keep them healthy now but prepare them for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. A well-rounded, healthy diet consists of calcium-rich foods for strong bones, lean meats and/or other forms of protein and an array of colorful fruits and veggies for vitamins and antioxidants. Most kids also need beans and legumes, whole grains and some healthy fats in their diet.
Keep in mind, however, that children have different taste buds, says Peggy Hall, a health-and-wellness expert.
"Some foods that we consider healthy, like veggies, many not appeal to them," she says. "Don't force kids to eat foods that they don't like — that will just backfire."
Instead, Hall suggests having healthy foods available that they can grab when they're hungry.
"Things like hard-boiled eggs, apple slices, oranges, hummus and crackers are all easy to have on hand and are kid-friendly," she says.
In addition to talking to your kids about healthy foods and how they fuel the body, get them involved in shopping and in preparing and cooking their food. Hall says that even young kids can get involved in helping to prepare meals.
Sit down at the table together for family meals whenever possible as well — and practice what you preach. You shouldn't expect your children to eat healthy meals if you aren't doing the same yourself.
For kids to grow up strong and healthy, they need time outside. Outdoor family activities are great for bonding, plus they are the perfect way to get your kids moving. Take young kids to the park on a regular basis or at least get outside in your own yard to soak up some vitamin D–generating sunlight and get some exercise. Make it a habit to take walks (or jogs) around your neighborhood. And when the weather is good, take advantage of the opportunity to go hiking, biking, swimming and more.
From the time kids are toddlers, they can get involved in organized sports. From gymnastics to soccer and from tennis to football, your children are sure to find an activity or sport they love. School isn't the only place for kids to be involved in athletics. Explore other leagues and programs offered by your local parks-and-recreation department, community center and other organizations.
No matter what, Hall says it's important to focus on fun. Sports may be great for some kids, but she advises parents not to force kids into organized sports if they don't like them.
"They might prefer dancing, or playing outside or just an individual sport," she says. "Not everyone is competitive, so don't make your kids live out your own sports dreams."
Strength isn't only about your body — it's also about your mind. Though you can't turn your child into a world-renowned artist or Nobel Prize–winning scientist, you can put her in a position to tap into her creative side. Expose your children to art and culture through local museums, festivals and other events. You might be surprised by how many free events are available in your area for kids and families. In addition, encourage your kids to explore their creative side by providing them with art supplies, puzzles, science kits and more.
Inner strength comes from self-respect and self-esteem. Regular praise will help build self-confidence in kids of all ages. Read about the importance of praising your kids and ways to encourage and empower your children. Self-esteem is vital for your child to grow up into a strong, independent and respectful adult.
While all children are different and present unique challenges, parents can certainly influence their kids' growth and strength — both inside and out — with patient, thoughtful and healthy nurturing.
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