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Your Child's Nutrition: The Power of Parents

You have more influence on what your kids eat than you think. Here's how to make the most of it.

How to Model Good Nutrition for Your Child continued...

That's how the habit of "constant grazing" is born, says Kleinman. "That's why you see kids sipping a soda while they're walking down the street. They just don't think about stopping."

  • Value family mealtimes. Family mealtimes -- without the TV -- help teach children valuable lessons, says Kleinman. "Families who eat together tend to eat healthier. They learn portion control, since there's only so much food put out for everybody. It also reinforces time limits on eating."
  • Track TV time. Difficult as it may be, limiting TV time is absolutely a must, Kleinman says. "You should be outside with your kids, walking or running, modeling what a healthy lifestyle is all about -- or your kids will not take it seriously."

Studies show that when parents make the effort be model good nutrition for their children, it really does work. One study focused on 114 overweight families, with kids aged 6-12 years old. Like their parents, the kids were overweight. As parents took measures to get into shape, so did their overweight kids. In fact, both parents and kids had similar positive results in weight loss over the five-year study period.

What were parents doing right? They were keeping close track of foods they ate, limiting high-calorie foods, following a food reference guide, having nightly family meetings, and praising each other -- generally being healthy role models for their kids.

Tips for Boosting Your Child's Nutrition

To turn things around at your house and give your child's nutrition a healthy boost, we've got these tips:

Try one or two new healthy foods or recipes every week. Some will catch on, others won't. You might need to expose your kids to certain foods as many as 10 or 15 times before they develop a taste for them. Serve new fruits and veggies in bite-sized pieces, so they're easier to eat -- with dipping sauces to make them yummier.

Let young children serve themselves. One study showed that when food was served family-style -- passing bowls around the table -- children took the right amount of food for their ages. Three-year-olds took about a 1/2 cup portion of mac 'n' cheese; 4- and 5-year-olds took 3/4 cup. However, when researchers put a double-sized portion on the children's plates, the kids took bigger bites -- and ate more.

Don't let kids eat in front of TV. Preschoolers who watch two or more hours of TV daily are nearly three times more likely to be overweight than children who watch less, research shows. Why? Kids who eat while watching TV often eat more, possibly because they are distracted from the normal feeling of fullness.

Make breakfast a priority. Eating breakfast fuels body and brain and is a big part of good nutrition for children. Kids who eat breakfast daily get more nutrients overall. They are also less likely to be overweight, and fare better at school. If growing kids don't get that first meal of the day, they miss out on protein, calcium, fiber, a little fat to help them feel full, plus important vitamins. Try:

  • Whole-grain breakfast cereals, like Cheerios and Wheat Chex
  • Oatmeal with applesauce, berries, and chopped nuts
  • Whole-grain toast topped with melted reduced-fat cheese
  • Fruit-and-yogurt parfait: Layer low-fat yogurt with fruit, nuts, whole-wheat cereal
  • Whole-grain frozen waffles topped with sliced strawberries and low-fat yogurt
  • Scrambled eggs or omelet with veggies
  • Leftover cheese-and-veggie pizza
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