Get the whole family moving & eating well with tips from former Gladiator Dr Zoe

WHETHER you have loved or hated what lockdown has done for your diet and your waistline, one thing is certain – we need to do more exercise.

After his brush with Covid-19, Boris Johnson is determined to get the nation living healthier lifestyles.

The Prime Minister’s war on obesity comes as mounting evidence links being overweight to an increased risk of dying from coronavirus.

But Boris’s mission might prove easier said than done for busy families. Half of parents spend less than an hour a day of quality time with their children.

On average, parents play with their kids for only 43 minutes per week and sit with them at the dinner table for just 36 minutes a week.

Put simply, it is not easy finding time to move more and eat healthily, despite Downing Street’s best intentions.

And yet as every parent knows, multi-tasking can be your best friend and you can turn almost anything into some form of exercise for all the family, regardless of the kids’ ages.

Similarly, if meals are usually rushed, with devices at the table, there are ways you can eat better and harness some much-needed togetherness and positivity at the same time.

That might mean switching family dinners for a family breakfast or brunch, or eating a picnic in the park together.

If you are struggling to get the kids moving and eating well, on these pages you will discover things you can do that will not cost you much but will leave you all healthier and happier.


They cost less than £5 and whether you’re playing catch with them or trying to get them to land around a rock or stick, there’s plenty of fun to be had with a frisbee.

From piggy-in-the-middle, to using the frisbee to knock empty milk cartons off a wall, what matters is that you all get involved.

Have a reward or prize for the winner – it could be extra screen time or choosing the family movie.

Family disco nights

Get the teens to DJ and build a playlist with everyone’s favourite songs on, then turn the lights down and dance like you’re in a nightclub.

You’ll be surprised at how out of breath a good dance can leave you all and it’ll release those happy hormones.

Make food learning fun

Download the Public Health England Change4Life food-scanner app, which scans barcodes and tells you how much sugar and salt are in foods.

When you’re at the supermarket, send the kids off to find a box of cereal, using the app, that has less than 4g of sugar per serving.

They’ll enjoy the scanning and the hunting, and feel like they’ve won when they find the cereal you are looking for.

Eat the rainbow

Get the kids to write a list of all the colours in the rainbow, and fruits and veggies that are those colours – for example, red peppers, pink grapefruit or beetroot, oranges, sweet potatoes.

Then help them work their way through all the colours, marking off what they’ve eaten and rating it all out of ten.

Their palate will expand and they’ll be eating plenty of different micronutrients.

Set family rules

Get kids of all ages involved in rules you set around food – for example, dessert only at weekends and not until you finish dinner, or a piece of fruit before dessert.

If you implement rules as a parent, the kids may react against them, but make them part of the process and they’ll follow the rules because they helped to make them.

Get creative

Build obstacle courses at home and incorporate some quiz questions – for example, twice up and down the stairs, through a tunnel made of chairs, a forward roll across the floor, and answer times-table questions or a science question.

Then you can try doing the course in reverse and the kids get to ask you whatever question they want.

Blow bubbles

You don’t even need to buy the bubble solution, you can make some up with washing-up liquid and water.

See who can blow the biggest bubble, get the kids to blow them and give yourself 30 seconds to pop as many as you can while they keep count – then it’s their turn, and whoever pops the most bubbles wins.

You can mix bubble solution with washable paint, too, for some more colourful fun.


For around the same price as a frisbee, you can get everyone moving with a skipping rope.

Create a league – the winner is the one who can skip for the longest without stopping.

Have skipping races where you time each other. Or have a skipping rope relay race if there’s enough of you, where the skipper hands the rope to the next racer and so on.

Skipping for ten minutes is like running a mile in eight minutes. It’s great cardio and you can do it anywhere from the lounge to the park.

Set family targets

Divide a chart into the names of the people in your family then set each of you targets for certain numbers of steps or miles or a certain numbers of games played.

You all have to work towards these and log your walks, runs or games for monthly totals.

Make your food work

I operate an 80:20 rule and it’s always worked for me.

Eighty per cent of the time I eat healthy balanced meals with plenty of fruit, veg, wholegrains and salads.

Then 20 per cent of the time I eat whatever I want – whether that’s a chocolate bar, a takeaway or three courses when I’m out for dinner.

I don’t ever deprive myself of what I really want and it’s a sustainable way for me to eat.

Treats become less special when you have them all the time so ask yourself what substitutions you can make to improve everyone’s diet.

Put treats away

Have a big full fruit bowl in easy view in the lounge and make the rule that it is always available without asking permission, but put chocolate, crisps and biscuits away in a locked cupboard.

Small-scale studies have found if you have to wait more than 30 seconds for a treat, you’re less likely to want it, so making yourself and the kids find the key might make you think twice and get them over the impulse.

Even if you’re only tempted by the fruit once in every five times, it’s a small change that will make a big difference.

Be positive

Meal times can become battlegrounds, with each side digging their heels in – the kids refusing to eat their vegetables and you getting more and more upset and irate.

Before you get to that point, start the meal by asking everyone around the table to say three things they’re grateful for or three things that went well today.

Everyone will eat with a more positive mindset because you’ve been focusing on the positive.

Ball games

When I was a Gladiator, Powerball and Danger Zone were two of the most popular games – and reliving them now is great fun for kids. You can get a ball for as little as £1.

In Powerball, competitors tried to get a ball into a basket while Gladiators tried to stop them. In Danger Zone, Gladiators threw balls at competitors – a bit like tag with balls.

These games are great for kids who are a little older – and for younger ones, games of catch or piggy in the middle will get you all moving.

However you decide to get creative with a ball, make sure you always take one out and don’t just leave it to the kids to play – get involved and get your heart rate up too.

If your budget allows, have a basket by the door and fill it with different types of balls – if they’re in sight, the kids will use them more than if they have to hunt them out.

Mix your walks

Whether you try and collect five white flowers on a walk, avoid all the cracks in the pavement until you reach the next driveway, or hop for 20 seconds every time you see a yellow car, walks can be turned into whatever you want them to be.

A walk in a nearby wood or by a local river can alleviate stress, boost energy levels and lift your mood.

Children can go on a bug hunt, see how many different species they can find and take snaps to show grandparents.

In springtime, look out for tadpoles, and in autumn collect conkers and take some string for conker fights.

Children can complain their legs are tired on a long walk but often their body is fine, it’s their brain that’s bored, so get them moving in different ways.

Get older kids climbing trees or building a den in the woods – and make sure you join in. Seeing you get lost in fun will encourage kids to do the same.

If you’re on a long walk, try and come up with a football team for every letter of the alphabet.

Get plenty of choice

Kids first get “picky” with food around the time they start walking – this happens because our ancestors needed their children to be wary so they wouldn’t wander off and grab any old poisonous mushroom or berry.

Sunday roasts, fajita dinners or homemade pizzas are great ways of giving options to young ones who might be picky – there is bound to be some combination or topping they like.

Evidence shows that repeatedly exposing a child to a particular food, even if just by sight, increases the likelihood they will accept and eventually like that food.

Switch up and pad it out

A tin of pulses or mixed beans is cheap and will pad out a curry, Bolognese or stew, and get some fibre into everyone’s diets.

Switching white rice for brown isn’t just about getting more fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Studies have found women who made this simple dietary change for just six weeks reduced their body weight and waist circumference.

Cycle riding

Cycling is a great way for the whole family to get out and about and be active together.

Some councils already offer free bikes, and cycling training schemes, and we’ll hopefully see this extended following the Government’s plan to encourage people to take to two wheels.

Move creatively

Kids’ imaginations know no boundaries, they’ll happily pretend they’re a frog, horse or bear for a whole walk. So get involved and rediscover your inner child.

Hop like a frog: Next time you’re in the park or garden, all do this, to the next tree, lamppost or bench.

Teach some yoga: Strike a sun- worship    yoga pose and kids will think you’re being a snake – while if you adopt the right position, you’ll stretch your spine and improve your posture over time.

Get your crab on: Little kids will think they’re being the real thing, and for older kids a popular Gladiator game was the Sky Track where competitors were strapped to a race track in the air and had to crawl along it upside down. Get older kids to race you in this pose and see who wins.

Bear crawl: Little ones can pretend they’re bears stalking their prey and big ones can race on all fours like competitors do on the Eliminator on Gladiator.

What’s vital for all these games is that parents get involved. Play is a learned skill and imaginative play is vital for children’s development. It helps them problem-solve and encourages critical thinking but they need your involvement to show them what’s fun and how to enjoy it.

So forget who is watching or where you are, and immerse yourself. You’ll get your heart rate up, which will cut risk of diseases like diabetes and cancer, and it’s quality time with the kids.

Grow your own

You don’t need a garden, simply a windowsill and some washed-out tins to use as plant pots.

Get children of all ages to plant herbs and make them responsible for watering them and nurturing them.

If they’ve grown something, they’re more likely to be comfortable eating it when it is put on their plate.

Eat together

Jobs and other demands on our time often mean that families struggle to sit round the table together at dinner time, even though we’re constantly told how important it is to do so.

It doesn’t have to be dinner, though.

Brunch or lunch can be a time everyone convenes round the table too.

Find at least three slots a week where you all share one meal.

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