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Four simple steps to help your children lead a healthy lifestyle
February 16, 2016, 3:19 pm

As parents we all want to ensure that our children enjoy their childhood, whilst also learning some useful and important habits that will serve them well in adult life. Teaching kids about a varied, nutritious diet and an active lifestyle are valuable lessons that can also be fun for the child.

Why is it important?

Here in the Middle East, obesity is one of the biggest health concerns affecting our children and an area that the government and local health authority are actively acting on. According to the World Health Organization* (WHO), worldwide obesity has doubled since 1980 leading to 42 million children being obese by 2013. And, if this increasing trend continues, the number of overweight or obese infants and young children globally will reach 70 million by 2025. However, despite the worrying statistics – all experts agree that obesity is preventable, and educating children from a young age about healthy lifestyle habits can help ensure them a healthy childhood and eventually a healthier adult life.

So where should parents start?

Wafa Ayesh, Director of Clinical Nutrition Department at the Dubai Health Authority [UAE], says: “Parents have a valuable part to play in educating children on their health. One of the best ways for parents to do this is to be role models themselves and involve the whole family in enjoying a healthy, active lifestyle.

We recommend ensuring the following four simple habits are adopted by all the family to help sustain good health: managing portion sizes, ensuring daily meals and snacks are nutritious and varied, drinking water to stay hydrated and finally moving more and sitting less.”

1. More Movement

The first tip is probably the easiest – parents should get their children moving and active. Any physical activity is better than none at all and one way to get kids to move more is to challenge them to only sit down for a certain length of time each day – decreasing the time spent on sedentary activities such as playing on the computer. Finding alternatives tailored to a child’s interests from throwing games in the garden or park, to organised sports can help them not only to develop their motor skills, but also with decision-making, paying attention and teamwork.

2. More Water

Water is crucial to life. It hydrates and  helps regulate body temperature, this is especially important for children who are physically active or living in hot climates.– all without adding calories to the diet. But what if your child doesn't like water?
• Make it available and handy so when they see it they’re more prone to drink it
• Make drinking water fun with a coloured straw or specially designed water cups
• You might also try putting a little lemon wedge or squeezing a little bit of fresh orange into it

3.  More Fruits & Vegetables

“It is important children are encouraged to enjoy a variety of healthy foods from different food groups to ensure they have a nutrient-rich diet. Variety, after all, is so important when it comes to enjoying the sight, smell, touch and taste of food. Parents should also consider not just what nutritious main meals to make but other opportunities to instill good healthy eating habits. Examples of this could include ensuring there is always a stocked fruit bowl for after-school snacks or keeping chopped vegetables in the fridge to easily enjoy throughout the day.” continues Wafa.

Another way to encourage children to choose nutritious and varied food is by engaging them in purchasing and also helping prepare meals at home – this enables them to see how to create a balanced meal for themselves.

4.  More Managed Portions

Did you know that portion sizes began to increase in the 1980s and have been growing ever since? In fact, our perception of portions has become so distorted over time that, research shows, it's hard for us to recognize what a normal portion looks like. Parents should always ensure the meals served to their family contain the right balance of nutrients. Moreover, even when the quality of food offered is nutritious it is equally important to manage the portion sizes.

Here are some tips to instill healthier eating habits among children:

• What is a reasonable amount of food?

  • One easy way to size up portions for your kids is to use your hands as a guide. Kids have smaller hands than adults, so it serves as a reminder that kids should eat smaller portions.     
  • A clenched fist is about a cup — which is the recommended amount for a portion of pasta, rice, cereal, vegetables, and fruit.
  • A meat portion should be about as big as a palm.

• Encourage them to split their dessert with their sibling or friend
• Encourage the habit of eating at the table and to avoid distractions such as the TV as it’s easy to overeat when your attention is focused on something else
• Serve food on smaller plates so meals look larger. A sandwich on a dinner plate looks lost; on an appetizer plate it looks plenty
• Aim for three scheduled healthful meals and one or two healthy snacks throughout the day. Skipping a meal often leads to overeating at the next one
• Add more salads and fruit to your family's diet, especially at the start of a meal, which can help control hunger and give a sense of fullness while controlling calorie intake
• Try not to rush through meals. Go slowly and give everyone a chance to feel full before serving more. Teach them that it takes 15 minutes for a satiety signal to reach their brain to know they are full.

Remember the role parents play in showing kids how to size up portions. As kids grow, their appetites will vary depending on a number of things. They tend to be hungrier during growth spurts or sports seasons when they're more active and less hungry during downtimes. As their appetites change, keep serving right-sized portions and encourage them to slow down to enjoy their food. Then check in on whether they're full before they go for seconds.

United for Healthier Kids (U4HK), is a movement to ensure everyone plays their part in ensuring the children of the region remain healthy.  U4HK aims to help parents establish healthier eating, drinking and lifestyle habits for children aged 4-12, and offers game-changing education and fun ideas to inspire action and influence behavior. To find out more visit -,, or Instagram: @U4HKme

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