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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 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 part of the way children discover the world, and themselves. It helps build strong muscles and healthy bones, as well as improve self-confidence.
You can find advice on eating well and getting active as a family on 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, rollerblading or skateboarding, indoors or outside. 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. Find out about charity walks in your area.
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 can point you to 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.
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 provides as healthy and balanced a lunch as what they would eat at home.
This means plenty of foods that contain the nutrients that children need, and fewer foods high in sugar and saturated fat.
Learn about the healthy foods basics in Food and diet.
Preparing your child's lunchbox
A balanced packed lunch should contain:
- starchy foods – these are bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and others
- protein foods – including meat, fish, eggs, beans and others
- a dairy item – this could be cheese or a 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.
Low-fat snacks for kids
Children often like food they can eat with their fingers, so chop up raw veggies such as carrots or peppers and give them hummus or cottage cheese to dip the veggies in.
Breadsticks and wholemeal crackers are great finger foods that can be spread with low-fat soft cheese or eaten with reduced-fat cheddar and pickles.
Replace chocolate bars and cakes with fresh fruit. Vary the fruit each day and get them to try new things, such as 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.
You could also make up a tasty fruit salad. Be inventive and encourage your children when they try something new.
Note that dried fruit is no longer recommended as a between-meal snack as it's high in sugar and can be bad for teeth.
Here are more ideas for healthy food swaps.
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 veg into your family's diet, read 5 A DAY and your family.
Reading supermarket food labels can help you buy healthier foods for your child's lunch and family meal times. Learn more in Food and labels.
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.
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