Article - Leila Masson’s tips for a healthy lifestyle for your kids

Leila Masson’s tips for a healthy lifestyle for your kids

Dr Leila Masson’s new book Children’s Health A to Z for New Zealand Parents is a great resource to help your kids live a healthy lifestyle and find out what to do when they have the symptoms of different illnesses.

During her trip back to New Zealand to launch the book, Leila spoke to us about optimal health for your child - and we thought her advice about nutrition, sleep and lifestyle were too valuable not to share.

Here are some of the tips she shares in her book:


Eat less sugar

How can you spot hidden sugar on food labels?

High fructose corn syrup
Cane sugar
Malt syrup
Agave nectar
Golden syrup
Beet sugar

How can you replace sugar with healthier, natural sweeteners?

Stevia is best, but the taste takes getting used to. Maple syrup, Manuka honey, coconut sugar and date sugar are still sugars, but preferable to white sugar as they are whole foods, which contain some minerals and vitamins. Use these sparingly.

Drink more water

To encourage your child to drink more water:

  • Encourage your child to drink a glass of water before school, a 1L bottle at school, one glass after school and one glass at least 20 minutes before dinner Ask the teacher to allow water bottles on the desk or free access to a water fountain.
  • Add fresh lemon
  • Put bubbles in the water with a product like Sodastream
  • Three steps to healthy nutrition:
  • 1. Cook food your grandmother would recognise: fresh vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and a lean protein. Drink mainly water.
  • 2. The ideal ratio is half a plate of vegetables, a quarter unprocessed grains (such as brown rice) and a quarter protein.3. Have meals together as a family. Children who get meals separately often have inferior nutrition, and mealtimes are a great time to socialise and set a good example in eating     healthy foods. Don’t miss the opportunity!


How much sleep does your child need?

Birth – 12 months: 14-18 hours per day
1-3 years old: 12-14 hours per day
3-6 years old: 11-12 hours per day
7-12 years old: 10-11 hours per day
12-18 years old: 8-10 hours per day

A calming bedtime routine:

The first step to getting your child to sleep well is to establish a predictable and soothing bedtime routine. Here is a possible scenario which you can adapt to your own life and liking:

  • Dinner without dessert (sugar and sweets can hype up a child) by natural light or candlelight (electric light interferes with melatonin production)
  • Follow this with a warm cup of chamomile tea
  • A warm bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil and a cup of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate – the magnesium gets absorbed through the skin and helps your child to relax)
  • A brief gentle massage with coconut, almond or jojoba oil mixed with a calming essential oil (lavender or chamomile): five minutes of gently rubbing the feet – especially the inside edge; or of gentle long strokes of the back; or a head massage.
  • 10-15 minutes of reading in bed: best are repetitive (i.e. hypnotic) rhymes; avoid anything scary or too exciting. Ideally this is done with a dimmed light.
  • Cuddles and a song. If your child suffers from separation anxiety, you may want to sit at the bedside or lie down with your child until he or she is almost asleep.

Three things you can do during the day to improve your child’s sleep at night:

1. At least an hour of exercise outdoors – a trip to the park, a game of hide and seek in the garden or a soccer game at the beach.

2. Turn off all screens 2 hours before bedtime.

3. Give a cup of calming chamomile tea in the evening. Do not give any caffeinated drinks after 12pm, such as cola, coffee, caffeinated teas or chocolate (this also contains caffeine). Breastfeeding mothers should avoid these as well because it can take many hours for their infants to break down caffeine they get through breast milk. Even just a few pieces of chocolate can affect their sleep.


  • Get your children off their screens and into nature
  • Set a good example by taking your children on hikes and to parks on the weekend
  • Model not going on a screen after dinner, but instead spend some time as a family, going for a walk around the block, talking, reading or playing a game.
  • Create a screen free zone in your house; do not allow any screens in bedrooms and collect all portable devices in the evening in a ‘charging dock’ where they spend the night, to allow the humans in the house to get a restful sleep.Dr Leila Masson is a paediatrician specialising in allergies, asthma, autism spectrum disorders and ADHD and also addresses avoiding exposure to toxins in our environment. You can follow her on Facebook here.Visit Fishpond to get a copy of Children’s Health A to Z for New Zealand Parents. Blank bookcover with clipping path

Comments | 2

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    Hi Leila!
    First of I would like to say Big thank you to you from all parents side for sharing such a wonderful blog regarding children health. Also you have discuss the benefits of coconut sugar over white sugar which is very true to my knowledge. Awesome blog!
    By Organic Coconut Sugar on Fri December 18, 2015
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    Great tips will be sure to share!!!
    By Brenda Pepperday on Sun December 06, 2015

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