If you’re the parent of a toddler, you don’t have to listen to the news for long before concluding that there’s a lot wrong with the way modern children are being brought up. Consider these reports, for example:
On an average day, some one-fourth to one-third of six-month-olds eat no fruits or vegetables, according to the 2002 “Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study” (FITS). Youngsters also eat too much sodium, sweetened beverages, candy and fast foods such as French fries.
Twenty-six percent of children under the age of 2 have a television set in their bedrooms.
The typical 3-year-old is eating more and exercising less than 25 years ago, a British medical study found. The result: an extra 200 unburned calories per day.
Increasingly, youngsters are getting less activity because they’re being driven places instead of walking, or are placed in bouncer toys rather than being encouraged to move around freely. That’s building bad habits, when you consider preschoolers, for instance, need to be active at least 90 minutes each day, according to Steve Virgilio, a physical education professor at Adelphi University in New York.
In 2004, the advertising industry spent $15 billion a year marketing to children, up from $100 million in 1983, according to Juliet Schor, author of “Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture.”
One in five American children will be obese by the end of this decade, warned a recent report by the Institute of Medicine.
So what’s a concerned parent to do? Start building healthier, more sustainable habits now. Food preferences, for example, can be established as early as age 2, so don’t waste any time:
Ã?Â· Turn off the TV. Almost every study around agrees kids watch way too much, and the habit starts far too early. Read a book, color pictures or do a puzzle instead.
Ã?Â· Take your toddler to a local farmer’s market regularly, and talk to him about how each fruit or vegetable is grown and harvested.
Ã?Â· Opt for no-cost entertainment whenever possible: a trip to the playground or beach, a picnic at the local forest preserve, a visit to storytime at the public library.
Ã?Â· Plant a garden with your child, even if it’s just a few pots of herbs on the windowsill. Spend time together learning about the plants you’re growing, weeding, watering and – eventually – harvesting and enjoying your produce.
Ã?Â· Make water the beverage of choice between meals. Sodas and fruit drinks are loaded with sugar and calories children can do without.
Ã?Â· Buy a reusable sippy cup (even metal ones are available now, which are better than plastic) and fill those with water instead of buying and disposing of endless store-bought water bottles.
Ã?Â· Take your child for a walk around your neighborhood as a way to wind down after dinner.
Ã?Â· Make a toy instead of buying one. There are numerous craft books for young children available in libraries and bookstores; make use of them, and teach your tot to do instead of simply buy.
Ã?Â· Involve your child in meal preparation. Even a three-year-old can stir a bowlful of dry ingredients without too much mess (maybe!). Cooking involves children more with the food they eat, and encourages them to try a wider variety of foods.
Ã?Â· Eat real foods made from fresh ingredients instead of frozen, processed or – worse of all – fast-food meals. If you work during the week, prepare a few fresh meals over the weekend, and freeze them for later in the week.
Ã?Â· Make homemade ice-cream with your child, using organic milk and whipping cream, along with fresh fruit. You don’t even need an ice-cream maker, just a couple of plastic zipper bags, ice and salt. For instructions, see here:
Ã?Â· Don’t get your toddler used to sugary cereals and processed sweets for breakfast. Instead, opt for toast or plain oatmeal with a little maple syrup stirred in, along with milk and fresh fruit.
Ã?Â· Read food labels when you’re out shopping, and explain to your little one why certain ingredients are not healthful. Things to avoid: high-fructose corn syrup, transfats and items with high sugar or salt content.
Ã?Â· Make a regular trip to a recycling drop-off center with your child, and talk about why you try to recycle glass, paper, cans and plastic.
Ã?Â· Teach your youngsters that “No” means “No,” and that they can’t always have what they want.
Ã?Â· Involve your tot in charitable acts: donating a no-longer-used toy to charity, trick-or-treating for UNICEF, or collecting canned food items for a food pantry.
Ã?Â· As much as possible, eat meals together as a family Ã¢Â?Â¦ at home.
Ã?Â· Teach your toddler not to waste, whether it’s paper that’s barely drawn on or not colored on both sides, or a sandwich that’s only nibbled on because there’s yogurt waiting for dessert (save the sandwich for later).
Ã?Â· Use natural cleaning products – lemon juice, vinegar and baking soda are ideal – at home so your youngster can safely help you clean floors, tables and countertops.
Ã?Â· Buy organic fruits and vegetables when you can to cut down on the amount of pesticides you and your child ingest.
Ã?Â· Offer healthful snacks: raisins, apples with natural peanut butter, whole-wheat crackers or yogurt with fruit.
Ã?Â· Connect with nature: make regular trips with your toddler to the beach to collect seashells or pebbles, or walk in the woods to pick up pretty leaves. Visit the library or search the Internet to learn more about the shells, rocks and leaves you find.
Ã?Â· Encourage your tot’s curiosity, and learn the right answers to the questions she has. One excellent resource that’s been around for years, and is informative for parents and children alike is the “Tell Me Why” series, which includes the “Big Book of Tell Me Why: Answers to Hundreds of Questions Children Ask” by Arkady Leokum.
Ã?Â· Teach your child to regularly save some of his allowance or gift money, and to give a little to charity too.
Ã?Â· Encourage creativity by helping your child to design her own birthday and holiday cards for relatives, and by decorating her own wrapping paper.
Ã?Â· Enjoy simple pleasures together: sitting outside and watching the sunset, dancing inside on a rainy day, curling up on the sofa to read together.
Ã?Â· And, most of all, lead by example. Kids can tell when parents send the message, “Do as I say, not as I do,” and they learn to behave the same way.