As a parent, the choices you make influence your children’s future health, including brain function, appearance, self-esteem,relationships, immunity, fertility, and vitality. We sometimes get lazy when it comes to our own health and fitness but as parents you’ve got to step up because the future of your children depends on it.
I didn’t grow up in a perfect family but I count myself as lucky because my dad did everything he possibly could to pass on a healthy, active lifestyle. What follows in this article is largely my own story but I hope that in sharing it, you will find inspiration for your own family.
Before we get started, let’s talk about excuses
My dad was a single man in his 30s raising three young children all by himself. He worked a physically demanding job and, even though he surely felt it, he never complained about being too tired cook a good meal or to play with us in the evenings. If my dad had excuses, we never heard them.
You probably have reasons you can’t implement a lot of the ideas that follow but when it comes to your children and their future, you’ve got to get over those excuses.
There are many ways to raise happy, healthy children but here are some simple ideas. Make a commitment to choose at least one of these ideas and try it out with your own children. My dad was pretty amazing, and you don’t have to do everything he did.
Remember small changes lead to big results.
1. Grow your own food
My dad loves to garden and he taught us how to plant seeds, nurture plants and harvest them when they were ready. To get us excited about gardening, my dad would always find fun things to grow like extra big pumpkins, giant beans that grew high up on poles, and purple carrots.
We knew that food from our garden was special and every night when my dad cooked a big pot of whatever vegetables were in season, we would fight for second servings.
What you can do: Give your children responsibilities for gathering, growing and preparing food. If you don’t have a garden, use planter boxes or take them to the local farmers market. They’ll be more excited to eat it and they’ll learn to appreciate real food.
2. Eat together
Sure we couldn’t sit down to every meal together. We had sports, after school jobs and sometimes my dad worked late. But all meals were at the table regardless of who was home that night. Meals were family time.
On Sundays we put in extra effort and we set out the good tableware while dad made buckwheat pancakes or homemade pizza after church.
We also couldn’t leave the table until everyone was done eating. I’m sure my dad got tired of reminding us to wait until everyone was done, but he did it anyway. We learned to eat slower and to appreciate the food that was in front of us.
What you can do: Sit down together to eat at least one meal a day. No phones, TV or other distractions. Make this a time to connect with each other and teach your children to eat mindfully.
3. Gather wild food
We grew up in an area of Canada where wild berries were plentiful if you wanted to put in the effort to find and pick them. Every berry season my dad would drive us up north to tramp through thick bush for what seemed like hours in search of the best blueberry patch.
How we dreaded berry season! The heat, the mosquitoes, the prospect of running into a bear, and the very small berries that were so hard to pick. I inevitably seemed to step in an ant pile every year and I usually managed to trip over some fallen tree and spill the small amount of berries I had collected. From my perspective, it was pure misery.
As children we didn’t appreciate the berries like my dad did. However, as adults, we truly understand that the quality of food matters. We also appreciate the effort it takes to get it.
What you can do: If you can’t find a wild berry patch you can always go fishing, gather wild herbs or mushrooms, or visit a dairy farm for fresh milk. You’ll not only be teaching them where food comes from but you’ll be building special memories as a family.
4. Get off the couch
I honestly cannot remember a night when we sat down to watch TV with my dad. Instead my dad took us rollerblading, ice skating, biking, walking, water skiing, fishing, and snowmobiling. He built us high jumps, stilts and badminton nets for the backyard. One winter we built a whole igloo, working on it every night for weeks until it was ready. We were always doing something outdoors.
It’s now counterintuitive for me to sit in front of the TV all night. My brothers are the same way. No one in my family struggles with their weight, because naturally we love being active.
What you can do: Cut back on screen time and teach your children to play. It will not only improve their physical and mental health but yours too.
What lifestyle will you pass on to your children?
I’m not sure why my dad did all these things but it’s likely because this is how his parents raised him. Genetics influence your health only in a small way – your lifestyle is by far more important. Have an honest look at your lifestyle and ask yourself if you are passing on the right habits to your children and giving them the best chance possible to be healthy adults.
Eating healthy and being active come easily to me because of the way I was raised. Living in New Zealand, I don’t see my family as much as I wish I could but not a day goes by when I don’t think of my dad in appreciation for this amazing gift.