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3. Plan and eat meals and snacks together.
Children ages nine to 14 who eat with their parents are likely to have healthier eating habits than those who rarely eat with parents. One study compared the diet quality of children who never or seldom ate a family dinner with the diet of children who ate with their family most or every day. Family meals were associated with healthful foods: more fruits and vegetables, less fried food and soda and more fiber, vitamins and minerals. Other studies have likewise established that eating a sit-down meal together rather than eating while standing or while doing other activities (such as watching TV, reading, doing homework) reduces the risk of uncontrolled overeating in both parents and children.
How to do it:
• Instead of arguing with your child over what can or cannot be purchased at the supermarket, try working together to make a shopping list for the week's meals and snacks; have the child write down the ingredients on the list and help find the products in the store. If he or she begs for a junk-food item not on the list, then review the list and the basic menu and snack plan. Decide if and where the coveted item fits in
• Instead of eating doughnuts in the car on the way to school and work because parents are too rushed to prepare breakfast, try getting kids involved in planning and making their own healthy breakfasts
• Instead of piling a cupboard with bulk-size packages of salty and sweet snacks (which are often high in fat and sugar and low in nutrients), try labeling a shelf in the fridge and another in the cupboard as "snacks"; stock the fridge shelf with packages of fruit, sliced carrots and bell pepper strips, cheese and yogurt, and stock the snack cupboard with low-sugar cereal, graham crackers, dried fruit and a few salty and sweet snacks
• Instead of preparing the same tried-and-true meals over and over again, try branching out by cooking with unfamiliar ingredients and experimenting with ethnic cuisines. Once a month, have kids help plan and prepare an "international" dish from a country or region of their choice. Use this as an opportunity to learn about that part of the world.
4. Foster a preference for healthier alternatives.
The scientific evidence that fruits and vegetables are critically important to health is piling up so rapidly that there are many proposals to make them the foundation of the new Food Guide Pyramid, pushing grains and cereals (preferably whole) onto the second level. Besides their obvious role in weight management as low-cal/high-nutrient-dense foods, there is growing evidence that fruit and vegetables are linked to cancer prevention and blood pressure reduction. The five daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables will soon be "five to nine a day." The gap between recommendations and reality will widen further. Few children meet the minimal "five a day" recommendation of three vegetable servings and two fruit servings; few children get the health benefits of whole grains since they eat refined bread products. Both you and your children can grow healthier by eating more dark green vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, collards), deep yellow or orange vegetables (yellow squash, carrots), fruits (oranges, kiwis), and whole-grain products (graham crackers, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and pasta).
How to do it:
• Instead of using dessert as an incentive or reward for eating vegetables at dinnertime, try making dessert a part of the meal. Serve fruit or low-sugar pudding rather than high-sugar, high-fat pastries. Serve vegetables in small portions that the child can try, then serve more if the child asks.
• Instead of repeatedly buying and serving the same vegetables and fruits, try buying and tasting one new fruit or vegetable every week. Have a weekly fruit/vegetable ceremony to taste the new produce item
• Instead of assuming a toddler doesn't like a fruit or vegetable because he or she refused to eat it the first couple of times it was offered, try waiting a few months and then reintroduce it in a slightly different way. For example, a two-year-old who doesn't like cooked and mashed peas might like to munch on a crunchy pea pod.
• Instead of salty, high-fat crackers and dips to tide hungry kids over during meal preparation, try offering vegetables and salsa or bean dips