Healthy eating and exercise: why it’s important
If you’re healthy, fit and well, it’s good for you and good for your children.
For you, healthy foods and drinks plus daily physical activity will keep you physically healthy. There’s also a strong link between physical health and mental health.
And for your children, your good health and wellbeing means you can give them what they need to grow and develop well. Also, what you eat, how much you exercise, and how you look after yourself influences your child’s attitudes to health, fitness and wellbeing – now and in the future.
Healthy eating for parents
Healthy eating gives you the energy you need during the day and keeps your body nourished so that it runs at its peak.
Preparing balanced meals might sound like a big ask when you’re a busy parent. But once you know which foods give you the nutrients you need, it can be easier to choose good foods and eat well.
For the right balance of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, your body needs a wide variety of foods from the 5 food groups:
- Vegetables and legumes – men need 6 serves a day, and women need 5 serves a day.
- Fruit – both men and women need 2 serves a day.
- Cereals and grain foods – both men and women need 6 serves a day.
- Foods with protein, including meat and meat alternatives – men need 3 serves a day, and women need 2½ serves a day.
- Dairy or dairy alternatives – both men and women need 2½ serves a day.
Plenty of fluids prevent dehydration, which can make you feel tired and lethargic. Water is the healthiest, simplest and cheapest source of fluid – 8-10 cups a day for women and 10 cups a day for men is recommended.
Alcoholic drinks take fluid out of your system. If you’re drinking alcohol, top up with extra water.
If you’re breastfeeding, your body needs extra fluids and nutrients, which you can get from a healthy breastfeeding diet.
Faster food tips for quick and healthy eating
Our tips for saving time and preparing healthy meals can help you have a balanced, tasty and practical diet.
Quick meal and snack ideas
It doesn’t take long to make healthy meals and snacks with these ideas:
- Cook pasta with a vegetable sauce and a salad on the side.
- Scramble, hard-boil or fry eggs and serve with baked beans and toast, wholegrain if possible.
- Top pita bread with vegetables and low-fat cheese for an easy pizza.
- Grab fruit, vegetable sticks, cheese, dips and yoghurt for healthy, easy snacks when you’re busy.
- Plan meals that you can eat hot or cold, like frittatas, sandwiches or wraps. These meals work well at any time of day, and you can also pack them into containers for outings.
- If you do run out of ingredients and energy, look for healthy takeaway food, like sushi, fresh soup, or stir-fry with rice and vegetables.
Pantry food ideas for quick meals
If you keep your pantry stocked with healthy foods, it’s much easier to cook healthy meals:
- Keep a stock of long-life vegetables like potatoes, carrots and onions for stir-fries, curries and casseroles.
- Serve grain foods like wholegrain pasta, brown rice, barley, bulgur, quinoa and wholegrain couscous with your stir-fries, curries and casseroles.
- Add dried foods like pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms to pasta sauces, salads, stir-fries and more.
- Eat almonds, cashews and other nuts (but not salted or fried nuts) as snacks or as part of main meals.
- Use tinned tomatoes, corn and other vegetables, as well as tomato paste, for one-pot dishes like pasta sauces, soups and casseroles.
- Eat canned fish like tuna, salmon and sardines for protein. Tinned beans, lentils and chickpeas are also good sources of protein as well as dietary fibre.
- Add condiments like mustard, soy, chilli, pesto or relish to quick snacks for extra flavour.
- Use ready-made stocks to add instant flavour to fast meals.
Healthy frozen food ideas
If you have some healthy basics in the freezer, it can cut down the time you spend on cooking and shopping:
- Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables – they have a lot of nutritional goodness.
- Freeze meat like skinless chicken and fish.
- Grate and freeze cheese for homemade pizzas, pasta bakes and other dishes.
- Cook extra rice and freeze for a quick side dish.
Food preparation ideas
These food preparation tips can save you time and effort:
- Prepare and cook meals in bulk and freeze them – for example, casseroles and soups.
- Keep leftovers to use as snacks or in toasted sandwiches.
- Save on washing up by cooking one-pot meals like soups, curries and casseroles.
- Buy vegetables and meat already diced.
Check out our family recipes section for more quick, tasty and healthy meal ideas.
Exercise and physical health: tips for parents
As a busy parent, you might find it hard to fit exercise into your day. But did you know that physical activity can increase your energy levels and help you feel good?
If you’re short on time, the easiest way is to fit physical activity into everyday activities. This could be going for a walk with your child, splashing about at the local creek, kicking a ball together in the park, or walking to the supermarket for a few items instead of driving.
Movement is what matters – 30 minutes or so a day. Even little amounts of physical activity that add up to 30 minutes will lift your energy. And fitting in some regular vigorous exercise will boost your health.
There are other good reasons to stay active:
- the chance to enjoy physical activity with your child
- social enjoyment – activity often gives you the chance to catch up, play sport or go for a walk with others
- personal satisfaction with your own health and wellbeing.