When children develop healthy habits at a young age, it is easier for them to maintain them the rest of their lives. When they are very young, you can help them to consider healthy foods and exercise a natural and pleasant way of life. Older children can be motivated to make changes. This family night lesson will help you get your family interested in good health.
Advanced preparation: Prepare a sampling of several healthy snacks for the family to try. Include things they might not have had before.
Compile pictures of various healthy and unhealthy foods using pictures from magazines or clip art, or set out real foods.
Ask your children to imagine they’ve been invited to build a home for God. If they’re young, let them draw a picture of the house they’d build. Discuss what qualities the house should have. Would they want to give Him the best house they could?
Show your children the following scripture, taken from the King James Bible:
1 Corinthians 3:16-17—16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
Ask them what they think the scripture means. Their bodies are temples and they house the spirit of God. Does that scripture affect how they feel about their bodies? If they want to give the spirit of God the very best house, what should they do?
Help them suggest ways they can keep their bodies healthy and pure, worthy of being a temple and a home for God’s spirit. Tell them tonight, they are going to work together to make a plan for healthier living and also find ways to make it fun.
Begin with exercise. What do they think of when they hear that word? If they mention dull repetitious exercises, point out there are many ways to get their bodies moving, and many of them are fun. Help them make a list of fun active activities, such as bike riding, swimming, and playing tag. Then let them try out something you can do in your home or yard, such as yoga or dancing. Make sure you set the example by having fun as you participate in the activity with them.
Together, decide how you will, as a family, get in better shape. Perhaps you can schedule a daily physical activity, including games in the back yard during the week and walks or bike rides on Saturdays. Add more items to your list so you can vary the activity to prevent boredom.
Next talk about sleep. How much sleep do they need? How much do they get. Have them write down what time they have to get up on school and work days and then count backwards to see what time they need to go to sleep in order to get enough rest. If your children have difficulty falling asleep, this is a good time to work on that. Children often sleep better when they have followed a set routine each night, so they are “programmed” to get sleepier as it progresses. Work out a schedule of activities for one hour prior to bed that become increasingly calmer—baths, stories, quiet games, songs, and so on. In time, they will be ready to fall asleep when you reach the end of the list.
This is a good time to talk about drugs and alcohol with your family. If you have older children, be very open with them about the dangers of these substances. Let them practice what to do when they are offered these things. It isn’t enough to teach them to “just say no.” Often, when they do this, they are taunted. How will they handle the taunting and the increased pressure? Role play situations and then talk about how you want them to handle the problems. Assure them they can always call you to come for them if they are uncomfortable in a situation. Some families come up with a code sentence to use when they want to be picked up but don’t want their friends to hear them asking, such as “Was this the day we were going to Aunt Martha’s?” When a child says it you can respond by telling them it is and they need to get home immediately.
Having discussed what does not belong in their bodies, move on to what does. Tell them they are going to learn what foods and drinks they should or should not eat. Make three signs and put them on the floor where everyone can see them. They should say, “Eat often. Eat occasionally. Eat never.” Hold up one picture at a time and ask the children to take turns deciding which piles things go into. When you’re finished, invite the youngest child to throw the “Eat never” items into the trash.
Take the remainder and spread them out. Give each young child three pieces of colored paper, crayons, and gluesticks. Give older children a piece of writing paper and a pencil. Invite each child to plan a full day of healthy eating. Younger children will glue pictures from the activity to their papers. You may want to put a picture on each paper to help non-readers remember which paper is for which meal. Have them put snacks on the bottom of the paper for the meal that would come before the snack. Older children can plan a menu using any foods they choose.
When you’re finished, review the choices of younger children. Make suggestions and explain your responses.
If you have older children, show them how many calories per day they should have at their age before you review their choices. Together, look up the calorie counts online or in a book to see how many calories their chosen menus include.
Show a picture of the food pyramid. Ask them to compare their choices to those on the pyramid. What changes should they make to their menus?
Read a book or article on good meal planning.
Now that everyone knows more about the subject, as a family plan a week of healthy menus. Assure them it’s okay to have treats occasionally, but that they need to plan for them to make sure they are getting the right number of calories and nutrients.
Serve the healthy snack samples and find out which ones the family likes.
Over the next week, invite them to find more healthy recipes to help the family build a personal cookbook of healthy meals and snacks. Each day, appoint one child to be the food assistant, helping to cook and prepare the food. Children who like to cook often have more interest in learning new ways to eat.
As a supplement to this lesson you may want to consider the following:
“As we seek good health for ourselves, we should take time to consider the health and well-being of people around us—in our families, in our communities, and throughout the world. Get involved. There are numerous organizations concerned with humanitarian efforts both here and abroad. Check with your local government or charitable service agencies as well as the Internet for places to contribute or serve. Contribute to good health everywhere. And remember the counsel of the Savior: “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).” (Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen, excerpted from a forthcoming book called, “What We Need to Know and Do.)