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The mere thought of transforming your family from a junk-food-munching, meal-on-the-go-eating, inadequately exercising bunch into one that's, well, not those things can be pretty daunting. But you'd be surprised by the impact even the most minor changes can make, say James Hill, MD, and Susan J. Crockett, PhD, RD, FADA, authors of Betty Crocker's Win at Weight Loss Cookbook: A Healthy Guide for the Whole Family. They stress that healthy eating habits are family business '- and good habits start with the decisions you make. Read on for five manageable changes you can begin to make today '- sure to inspire independent, food-savvy young adults down the road.
Let them choose
With 16 percent of children ages 6 to 19 overweight or obese, weight management is a serious issue. In fact, new research from Harvard Medical School and the Children's Hospital Boston reveals that children 8 to 15 who are in the upper half of what's considered a normal weight range are more likely to become overweight or obese adults.
Dr. Hill and Dr. Crockett stress that raising healthy teens and adults starts young '- and with letting kids be responsible for their own food choices. "There's a division of responsibility," Dr. Crockett says. "Parents must start out by bringing healthy food into the home, but a child needs to be responsible for when and what he eats."
Why it works: Eventually kids will be selecting parts of their meals and snacks, whether at school or at friends' homes. Giving them the responsibility to do so at home (and making sure their choices are sound) will help them make the right decisions in other settings.
Stock smart snacks
Snacks are an inevitable '- and necessary '- part of eating for both kids and adults. Keeping healthy snacks on hand is beyond logical, but it's not enough to keep fruits and veggies stocked in the fridge '- you have to make them accessible and appealing to kids. Maybe you'll eat a whole apple, but your kids will only go for slices. They have to be easily available, says Dr. Crockett: on the counter, washed and ready to eat. While "treats" are okay (we'll get to that in a bit), be sure to always have healthy staples handy, such as whole grain crackers, yogurt, breakfast cereal and low-fat peanut butter.
Why it works: "People snack," says Dr. Hill, "and if you have bad stuff around, that's what gets eaten." Sometimes a hungry kid home from school will literally eat the first thing he sees, so better that be carrots and hummus than chips and dip.