Maintaining the health and happiness of your family isn’t always easy. From their diet to how much exercise they’re getting, it takes a lot to support a healthy and active lifestyle – so you should never feel embarrassed about asking for help when it’s available.
To mark World Health Day 2018, we’ve created a resource which offers practical advice on how you can improve the health and wellbeing of your family. Complete with tips on exercising, eating well and supporting children’s mental health, our guide is great for those looking for effective new ways to boost their family’s health, happiness and wellbeing in 2018 and beyond.
We’ve added links below to help you navigate the guide and find the information you need.
Eating Better for Children
Managing a child’s diet is difficult when healthy habits haven’t been enforced from an early age, and foster carers often face an uphill battle to get children in their care eating well. But with childhood obesity at an all-time high, it’s vital that you make smart choices when it comes to feeding your family.
Here are our top tips for improving your child’s diet.
1. Start the Day with a Proper Breakfast
The benefits of a healthy and nutritious breakfast are well documented; it fuels the body for the day ahead, aids concentration and reduces the likelihood of unhealthy snacking. Of course, some foods are better suited to the breakfast table than others, so swap sugary cereals (which are proven to cause dental problems, weight gain and behavioural problems) for healthier alternatives such as porridge oats, fresh fruit, poached eggs and granola.
2. Try to Hit 5 Portions of Veg a Day
There’s an enduring stigma attached to vegetables which make them unappealing to children, and this makes our job of ensuring they eat five portions of veg a day a real challenge. Getting children to eat their greens has long been a daily struggle for parents, but thanks to healthy eating initiatives such as Change4Life, it’s becoming easier to introduce vegetables into our kids’ diets. For smart and crafty ways to get them eating their daily dose of veg, read our guide on easy ways to achieve 5 a day for the fussy eater.
3. Introduce a Fruit Bowl
To bring you the most useful advice on healthy eating for kids, we asked experienced parent bloggers to contribute their best hints and tips. Donna of What the Redhead Said swears by the communal family fruit bowl to get her kids eating more fruit, saying: “Children love to snack and we found that the kids would never choose to eat fruit if they couldn't see it. So, we introduced a fruit bowl in the busiest area of our home that the children could help themselves to when they were hungry between meals. They now just snack on fruit and really enjoy it too.”
Eating Better for Parents
As a foster carer, everything you do has an impact on your family, so it’s important that you set a good example – from the food you eat to how you choose to exercise. Eating the right food will help bolster healthy habits in even the fussiest of eaters, so here are our tips on eating and dieting as a foster parent.
4. Always Read Nutritional Labels and Refer to Portion Sizes
Achieving the perfect portion size is difficult, and, fearing they’re underfeeding their child, parents and carers have a tendency to pile plates way higher than is necessary. To help you get an eye for the perfect portion size, always refer to nutritional labels, which give an indication of how much to allow per serving. Try to stick to these guidelines where possible, replacing an extra portion with a healthy after-meal snack like fruit or mixed nuts.
5. Include Kids in the Meal Planning Process
Educating the children in your care in the process of buying and cooking food will not only introduce healthy eating habits, it will encourage them to cook and help nurture a lifelong love of food. Try to include them in the complete meal plan process, from searching for new recipes and sourcing ingredients to getting their hands dirty in the kitchen. Seeing how a meal is brought together is a powerful experience for children, and is a great way of bonding with your foster child while ensuring they’re introduced to healthy food choices.
6. Choose the Right Snacks and Consider Vitamin Supplements
One of the most challenging aspects of fostering is adapting to the needs of different children who may come into your care – be it their dietary requirements, fitness level or personal food preferences. Of course, wherever possible, children should adopt your eating habits, but there does need to be some give and take. Choose healthy snacks that will give your child plenty of energy without being overly fattening, and, if necessary, look into vitamin supplements which can fill any nutritional gaps in their diet.
Exercising as a Family
Exercise is absolutely vital in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but with so much to distract children from keeping active (games consoles, smartphones, TV to name a few), it falls to you to encourage the children to take part in healthy activities.
Here, we look at ways you can improve your child’s health by exercising as a family.
7. Look Out for Family-Friendly Sports
While many children choose to play sport with schoolmates or as part of a club, it’s rare that families play sport or exercise together. Rosie of dedicated parenting blog, Truly Madly Kids, believes that the key to encouraging kids to be active is to take part in sport as a family, whether that’s running, swimming or cycling. She says: “My tip to keep the family healthy is to actively encourage exercise. We take part in some sport, and when we can, we like to do Park Run as a family. I feel if sport is a normal thing that your family do, they will make it part of their lives always.”
8. Stay Active at Home
Keeping the kids active doesn’t always mean going outside to take part in strenuous sports and activities; even the smallest amount of physical activity around the home can quickly build up into a healthy level of exercise. Limit sedentary time spent watching TV or playing computer games and swap it for physical activities such as doing chores, playing or gardening. While they might not sound all that appealing at first, these activities are a great way to get active and bond as a family.
9. Always be an Active Role Model
While it’s fine to veg on the couch after a hard day, spending too long being lazy could promote bad habits in children. As with eating, you can set a good example to children by exercising regularly and making smart lifestyle choices, like parking the car further away to walk places instead, taking the stairs instead of the lift, and keeping active around the house. These things may sound trivial, but small changes can make a difference, and children will notice.
Supporting Children’s Mental Health
For foster carers, maintaining and understanding a child’s mental health is a fundamental part of looking after their physical health and wellbeing. Given the diverse and often turbulent backgrounds of children in care, supporting their mental health can be challenging, but it’s also one of the most rewarding and worthwhile aspects of fostering.
Here are our suggestions on how you can support a child’s mental health.
10. Understand the Signs of Deteriorating Mental Health
Whether you’re caring for a young child or a teenager, mental health problems can affect people of any age, with a recent study finding that children as young as four have shown signs of mental health conditions such as depression. If you’re concerned a child in your care may have a mental health problem, there are lots of resources available to help you understand the condition, including the NHS’s comprehensive Moodzone. By understanding the signs of poor mental health in children, you can get help before the condition disrupts the child’s life, health and wellbeing.
11. Act on Bullying
Bullying, both physical and cyber, can have a detrimental impact on the mental wellbeing of children, causing anxiety, depression, self-doubt, loneliness and other social problems. It’s one of the leading causes of mental health issues in young people, so it’s vital that you act decisively after spotting any of the signs that your child is being bullied. As a foster carer, your first port of call when you suspect bullying should be the school or local authority, as well as the child’s social worker, who can advise on the best course of action.
12. Spend Time Doing a Quiet Activity with Children in Your Care
Encouraging an open dialogue with the child can help them to talk through their feelings, mitigating the risk of their mental health disrupting other areas of their life. But don’t force the conversation if they’re not ready to have it. Instead, spend time with them enjoying a quiet activity such as drawing or gardening, which will make it easier to have a more informal chat and encourage them to open up to you naturally. In short, always try to lend an ear to the child, and encourage a ‘my door is always open’ environment in which they feel supported.
At NFA, our foster care experts are here to offer advice and support 24 hours a day, so our foster families can access the help and training they need. To find out more about becoming a foster carer, visit our homepage or call us now on 0800 044 3030.