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Set sensible limits "I'm not a big fan of 'never,'" says Dr. Hill. However, realistic limits are important. Treating junk food as forbidden fruit makes it all the more likely kids will binge when they have free rein to do so, but you can stipulate the "how often and how much," says Dr. Crockett. Here are some things to consider:
- Buy treats, such as cookies and soda, in limited quantities and explain that when they run out, they run out. Don't replenish during every grocery run.
- Emphasize the idea of eating only when hungry by not offering up snacks unless your kids ask. (If they're hungry, they will!)
- Limit where snacks can be eaten '- e.g., not in the car or in front of the computer or TV.
Why it works: When you allow even the most indulgent foods on occasion, kids won't feel deprived. But when you set basic limits on what, when and where to eat, kids will learn they can't have it all and need to decide for themselves how to "budget."
Size up portions "It's a common mistake to overestimate portion sizes," says Dr. Crockett. She recommends using the "one tablespoon" rule for kids up to ages 9 or 10. Serve one tablespoon for every year of the child's age. So, for a meal that consists of carrots, meatballs and rice, a one-year-old would get one tablespoon of each, a three-year-old would get three tablespoons of each and so on.
Why it works: "If a child asks for more food, then give her more," says Dr. Crockett. But it's better to start with less, because you'll ensure that your child only eats when she's hungry and not just because something's on her plate.
Realize they are what you eat (and do)
Quite possibly the easiest and most effective change you can make stems directly from your actions. Guarantee that your kids will observe your good behavior with family meals and active outings. Family dinners are healthy in more ways than one: A new study out of Syracuse University found that the rituals and routines in family mealtimes help establish identity and are good for mental health too.
But in terms of actionable behavior, if you want your kids to stop drinking so much soda, you shouldn't guzzle down pop regularly either. Don't encourage playing outdoors while you're catching up on TiVo '- it's far more effective if you're running around with them.
Why it works: Kids are amazingly perceptive. While you're not expected to become a model eater overnight, start by making the same changes you expect of your kids. "You have the greatest ability to influence by what you do, not what you tell them to do," says Dr. Hill.