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Physical activity helps children grow strong bones, maintain a healthy weight and discover the world around them. Best of all, it's great fun.
All children should be physically active for at least one hour a day. You can help by encouraging your child to find activities they enjoy, and by building physical activity into family life. Most children love running around a park or playing in a playground.
One reason why physical activity in childhood is so important is because it helps your child to maintain a healthy weight.
But that's not the only reason. Physical activity is a part of the way children discover the world and themselves. It helps to build strong muscles and healthy bones, as well as to improve self-confidence.
You can find advice on eating well and getting active as a family at the Change4Life website.
Bristol University’s professor of exercise and health sciences, Ken Fox, has 10 suggestions that can make exercise fun for all the family.
Ten activity tips for children
1. Walk or cycle to and from school with the kids as often as possible. Read about the health benefits of cycling.
2. Build a den or treehouse with them in the school holidays. Or, under supervision, encourage them to climb a tree or two.
3. Go roller skating, roller blading or skateboarding, indoor or out. In winter, go ice skating. Kids also love scooters.
4. Do an activity challenge together, such as working towards a fun run or a walk for charity.
5. Take the dog for a walk. If you don’t have one of your own, ask to borrow a neighbour’s or friend’s dog and take it for a walk.
6. Support your kids in sports, clubs or any other activities that may interest them. Joining a weekend club sport ensures commitment to a team and regular exercise. Find all kinds of sporting facilities in your area.
7. Find time every weekend to do something active with your children. Play frisbee or football in the park, go trampolining or try indoor rock climbing.
8. Fly a kite. The Kite Society of Great Britain's website lists a number of groups that regularly meet for special flying days with experienced members who offer advice and assistance. Some also run kite-making workshops.
9. Try a beach holiday. When they hit the sand, children find a multitude of ways to exercise, including games, swimming and plenty of running around. Or try an activity-based holiday. Read more about healthy holidays with children and activity holidays.
10. The National Parks website has lists of events such as guided walks and children’s fun days, for fresh ideas for active days out.
It’s just as important to make sure the lunchbox your child takes to school provide a healthy, balanced lunch as when they eat at home.
This means plenty of foods that contain the nutrients that children need, and fewer foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat.
You can learn the healthy foods basics in Good food and diet.
Packing the lunchbox
A balanced packed lunch should contain:
- Starchy foods. These are bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, and others.
- Protein foods. These are meat, fish, eggs, beans and others.
- A dairy item. This could be cheese or yoghurt.
- Vegetables or salad, and a portion of fruit.
Starchy foods are a good source of energy, and should make up a third of the lunchbox. But don’t let things get boring. Instead of sandwiches give kids bagels, pitta bread, wraps and baguettes. Use brown, wholemeal or seeded bread, not white bread.
Get ideas for healthy starchy foods.
Children often like food they can eat with their fingers, so chop up raw veggies such as carrots or peppers, and give them houmous or cottage cheese to dip the veggies in. Breadsticks and wholemeal crackers are great finger foods and they can be spread with low-fat soft cheese or eaten with reduced-fat cheddar and pickles.
Replace chocolate bars and cakes with fresh fruit, dried fruit.
Vary the fruit each day and get them to try new things, like kiwi or melon.
Unsalted nuts are a great snack food for children to have at home, but it's best to leave them out of your child's packed lunch. Many schools ban nuts to protect pupils with a nut allergy.
Here are more ideas for healthy food swaps.
You could also make up a tasty fruit salad. Be inventive and encourage your children when they try something new.
Making healthier food
It may take a while for your children to get used to a healthier lunchbox. But it will be worth it for their health, so keep trying.
You can help by eating a wider range of foods at home, as a family. For ideas on how to introduce more fruit and vegetables into your family’s diet, read 5 A DAY and your family.
Reading supermarket food labels can help you to buy healthier foods for your child's lunch, and for family meal times. Learn more in Buy healthier food.
Save chocolate and cakes for occasional treats. Remember to praise your child when they've tried something new, to show your encouragement.
You can find lots of ideas for healthy lunches at Change4Life: healthy lunchbox ideas.
There are more ideas for healthy packed lunches from the Children's Food Trust.
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