Chew on This: Kids Eating Better at School but Worse at Home
She will also toss in pretzels, mini rice cakes, or Ritz Bits as treats. "It's great because the kids get their fruits and vegetables so I don't have to stress about it during dinner," she says.
None of this is to say that mealtime TV is all bad, says Davida Kleinman, RD, a nutritionist in Doylestown, Pa., and also a mom.
"Television creates a diversion and sometimes kids need that," she says.
And some television shows such as Barney or Sesame Street actually teach kids about good nutrition, she points out.
"When it comes to eating right, kids need a good role model," she says. Parents make the best role models, she says, "but sometimes characters on television shows can also provide guidance."
Setting a schedule -- and sticking to it -- can also instill good eating habits, she says. "It's important to eat three meals a day and two to three snacks," she tells WebMD. " Eating on the run creates opportunities for fast food and fatty, sugary snacks."
Scheduling can be tricky when it comes to kids eating at school, Kleinman says. "A lot of schools have crazy times when kids are eating lunch, such as 10 or 11 a.m., and when the kids get home, they're famished," she says.
If that's the case where your children go to school, try to pack healthy snacks to get them through mid-afternoon, and make sure they have a healthy breakfast, she says.
But even if the timing is not ideal, don't despair about the choices your kids are offered for lunch. A new study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds that more schools offer low-fat foods now then they did in 1992, and a majority of school districts have increased the number of fruit, vegetable and whole grain foods offered to students.
"School meals reach nearly 27 million children each day -- sometimes providing the most nutritious meal a child receives," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said at a press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C. "Fortunately, more than ever before, these meals are hitting the mark in providing good nutrition and healthy selections."
But, as Kleinman points out, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.
"When faced with choices of what to eat, children -- especially younger children -- will choose the foods that they are used to," she says. "If those are low-fat meals and fruits and vegetables, then those are the foods your child will choose to eat when he or she is not with you. Good eating habits start at home."