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How Environment Impacts Kids' Nutrition and How to Fix It: Four Non-food Hacks for Healthy Eating

               We all know the obvious factors that affect kids' nutrition--the food they actually eat. There are many other factors that influence how our kids eat. We call these environmental factors that affect nutrition. Here we will discuss some of these environmental factors and non-food hacks for improving healthy eating. These non-food hacks for healthy eating can help improve your child's nutrition without turning mealtime into a struggle.


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Four Hacks for Healthy Eating

Sleep


               Hack one for healthy eating is sleep. This is a tough one for parents! Children who don't get enough sleep are tired in the morning and may have behavioral issues. Inadequate sleep also is associated with increased risk of obesity and other metabolic issues. It is hard to make good decisions when you are tired, much less good decisions about food!


               It is super important for your child to get into a sleep routine. Establish a bedtime that allows for more than enough sleep for your child, and stick to it. Ask your pediatrician how much sleep your child needs, and use that to help set bedtime. Parents may dread bedtime if it becomes a struggle, but remember you can lean on your pediatrician for help, and they might recommend strategies for your family. Some families will work with a therapist to help bedtime become more peaceful. But the hard work will pay off!


Outdoor Play


               Hack two for healthy eating is physical activity. Some parents may assume their child gets enough physical activity in school, but many school only have physical education class some semesters. Phys ed is wonderful for what it is, but consistent exercise for kids, it is not.


               It's best not to rely on school-scheduled physical education class as reliable activity for your child. Even during the semesters that your child has phys ed, it is usually twice a week, not daily, which is the frequency you child needs physical activity.


               Many families find it helpful to build physical activity into their routine. Playing at the playground every Saturday; riding scooters outside after school every day; and yard work like gardening, raking leaves, and shoveling snow on Sunday are good ideas. Some older kids enjoy joining mom or dad for a run on the track or a hike. Most importantly, keep it fun and child friendly.


Having a Scheduled Daily Routine


               Hack three for healthy eating is having a daily routine. When kids do not know what is going to happen during the day, it is hard for them to move from one task to another. This makes mornings stressful, ending playtime stressful, bedtime stressful, and of course, mealtimes stressful.


             Having a daily routine is hard for some parents. Some people are more organized and some are more spontaneous due to their personalities. Still, having a daily schedule benefits all family members. Sit down with the adults in the home and make a plan. You can start with a portion of some days, such as having a morning routine on school days or an evening routine for days there are extra-curricular activities after school.


             This routine should include all the activities that should happen during that part of the day. Set a time or sequence for your activities. Includes activities such as waking up or going to sleep, getting dressed or undressed, bathing, homework, preparing meals, eating, feeding and walking pets, and play time.


             The reason this helps with healthy eating is that it allows kids to know when they will be fed. When kids know to expect meals at a certain time, they don't have to worry about when they will get food next and if they will be hungry. It also allows kids to decide what to eat based on what will happen later in the day, which is an important eating skill.


Teaching Your Kids Practical Skills


             Hack four for healthy eating might be my favorite hack ever: teach your kids practical life skills, such as preparing food and cooking. When children lack skills in the kitchen, they are fully dependent on their parents to eat. For parents of bigger kids, it can be stressful to stay on top of preparing every meal and snack your child needs.


             Children as young as two or three can start learning how to prepare. For little kids, this can be a simple as learning how to place cheese on top of crackers, opening their own yogurt, or even watching a parent cook. As children get older, teach them how to follow recipes, safely use a knife, and prepare more complex foods. Especially when children reach teenage years, allowing them to be more independent with their food preparation will ease them into adulthood with the skills they need.


             The reason this is important for good nutrition is because it exposes children to a larger variety of foods. The familiarity with more foods allows children to have a more diverse palate, which usually means a wider array of healthy foods. It also gives children the ability to prepare nutritious foods instead of relying on convenience food that may be less nutritious.


Non-Food Healthy Eating Hacks


             Focusing on non-food changes for your family can help improve their nutrition. These hacks for healthy eating can indirectly make good nutrition easier. Sleep, outdoor play, having a scheduled daily routine, and teaching your kids skills are ways to hack your child's healthy eating.

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