Can you guess which country’s kids enjoy the heartiest of lives? If the title hasn’t given it away already, it is indeed Japan. According to an insightful health study published in The Lancet (which ranks among the world’s most reputed medical journals), Japanese kids are not merely healthy in childhood, but they also go on to live long, fulfilling lives as adults.
This is in direct contrast to the rest of the world, as children have steadily become more obese and diseased. In fact, studies from the past decade have shown that while children from across the world are getting heftier, Japanese children have only gotten that much fitter. Japan is undoubtedly doing something right!
Here, we explore seven fantastic habits that are common across Japanese people of all age groups, but especially among their kids. By emulating them, we too can hope to raise happy children who enjoy a long and healthy life.
7. Celebrate Meals with Your Family
The family constitutes the very core of a Japanese individual’s life. Whether you are a young child, a teenager, or someone in your later years, it is your family that continues to remain the centerpiece of your existence. This culture is particularly relevant in the dining room, as the entire family gets involved to “celebrate” meals.
Conversation flows easily and is filled with meaning and plenty of laughter. Meal ingredients are consciously and carefully chosen, keeping in mind the individual tastes of all family members and general nutrition needs. This also means that the young ones are no longer left to their own devices to mindlessly binge on chips and sweets in front of their laptops, cell phones, or television sets. Parents can rest easy, as this craftily and smoothly eliminates most cringe-inducing junk foods. That is a winning solution already!
6. Include More Plant-Based Foods in Your Diet
The Japanese consider anything that comes from Mother Earth to be nourishing. Therefore, they make it a point to include plant-based foods in every single meal. Food is largely structured around vegetables, lentils, whole grains, and beans. They believe this practice to be inherently nurturing, and it automatically eliminates excess consumption of processed foods and meat.
Their tradition also naturally aligns them to the “good stuff”, as they prefer brown rice over fattening bread or pasta, and fruit over sugary desserts. You may not want to snack on their sushi, ramen, or seaweed, but you have to admit the intelligence of choosing such plant-based meals. It is no wonder that we rarely find an obese Japanese person!
5. Encourage Kids to Prepare Meals
If you are a parent of a small child, you should try this. Simply get your little one to peel a couple of oranges and have them serve them to others at dinner. Your child will most likely consider it an important job, and see the peeled oranges as the central part of the entire meal! The Japanese understand this truth. Therefore, they make it a point to home-cook at least one meal, typically dinner, every day.
Children are also tasked with preparing one key ingredient of the entire meal, like salad, or a fruit-based dessert. In fact, almost every member contributes in some way. This way, the child actively participates in the preparation of wholesome meals. The child also feels that he or she is a significant part of the family, and their ideas, likes and contributions are acknowledged and honored by the rest of the family.
4. Honor with “Itadakimasu”
This mouthful of Japanese literally means, “I receive this with humility”. This is said before every meal, and forms the central theme of the meal. Picky eaters beware, as no food-related tantrums are tolerated at the dinner table (by children or adults!). Children are thus taught early on to respect food and avoid wastage. This is also an excellent theme that will help you be the boss without turning into an anti-hero.
Teach them to embrace your one unconditional rule – to say “Itadakimasu” to anything home-cooked over anything that is not.
Do your children hate your suggestions of intermittently replacing meat with tofu? Just gently place the cleverly cooked tofu at the table, and “Itadakimasu”. Does your family resist your choice of fruit over a fatty pie? Bring the cut fruit to the table, and “Itadakimasu”. You will soon discover that this principle works like magic in your home.
3. Embrace the New
It is a universal truth that children get easily bored. So if you plan to serve the same two or three salads or casseroles every other meal, prepare for a serious rebellion at your dinner table! Vary your dinner options, and be open to suggestions from every participant at the dinner table. In fact, you can even go all out and consider your children the VIP members at the table.
This means that you should be open to honoring their suggestions (at least a few times a month) before you push your own nourishing food choices on others. Yes, you will occasionally need to honor their request for fatty, meaty pizza. This also comes with good news.Related: Choose These 10 Fresh Foods Over Frozen
Children have relatively short attention spans. So if they “reject” one of your more healthy suggestions a few times, don’t feel disheartened. Re-introducing them gently without pressure can eventually get your children to embrace your choice of healthy meals. As the Japanese often say, “Embracing all things new, especially foods, elongates your life!”
2. Switch to Japanese Cutlery
Here, we should clarify that we mean serving cutlery, aka ladles and dinner plates. If you have observed the Japanese, they eat with square-shaped, smaller-sized plates, which aligns with their theme of “no food wastage”. When you have a smaller plate, you are less likely to camouflage large portions of fried foods within healthier greens and beans.
Portion sizes also become more in sync with your actual needs. This will encourage children, in particular, to be more conscious of what they put on their plates. As a consequence, smaller plates will automatically translate to healthier and more fulfilling choices at the dinner table. Healthier choices, in turn, translate to fewer cravings. It’s a win-win situation!
1. Get Moving
As you can see, the first six habits have Japanese parents actively engaging their children through good choices at daily meals. This wins a significant portion of the battle against disease. The last habit demands that you maintain a practice of active engagement and participation, in a purely physical sense, outside your meals. Choose to embrace one family activity that gets everyone in the home moving.
Walk with your children every day to the grocery store, or to their school, or even to the neighborhood library or park. Challenge them frequently at a cycling race. Go swimming with them every weekend. Or perhaps take them hiking every other weekend. Encourage them to join you in weeding or gardening, as you also teach them the significance of homegrown beans and greens.
The World Health Organization emphasizes that children need at least 60 minutes of active movement every day. It is this active playtime that will help them grow tall, strong, and supremely healthy.
In alignment with the theme of family, Japanese parents choose to nudge their children towards physical activity by setting strong examples themselves. Therefore, the success of this habit will depend on the dedication with which you choose to engage and partner with them. As that old Japanese adage goes, “As you practice, so shall you preach.” Wise words indeed!Related: 9 Things to Lose If You Want to Lose Weight for Good