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Raising Fit Kids: Healthy Nurtition, Exercise, and Weight

  This content is selected and controlled by WebMD's editorial staff in collaboration with Sanford Health Systems.

You already know the benefits of healthy eating, and you try to eat well. So what's keeping your family from eating high-quality foods -- a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein? And how can you help them eat better?   

Here, experts suggest how you can make healthy eating a habit. Plus, they offer tips on how to make it fun for preschoolers, grade-school kids, and teens.

Adopt the Healthy Eating Mindset

We all know that it’s not easy to change. Any type of lifestyle change can be a challenge, says Shelly Hoefs, a certified health behavior coach at Sanford Health's Mutch Women's Center for Health Enrichment, Sioux Falls, S.D. 

That's true no matter what unhealthy habit you are trying to shed. Once you've accepted that it's hard, move on and make the changes anyway, Hoefs tells parents.

"At first, change will feel very uncomfortable," Hoefs says. So take baby steps. For instance, if you're trying to cut down on soda and drink more milk, substitute milk once a day for soda at first. ''With the first glass of milk, you're thinking, 'I want the soda,'" she says. "But pretty soon, it becomes, 'This is what I drink at this time of day -- milk.'"

Hoefs recommends thinking of healthy eating as a work in progress. For example: "We used to eat chips and go to fast food restaurants. Now we eat pretzels and eat at home more often."

Overcome the Obstacles

If you're like most parents, a hectic schedule may pose one of the biggest challenges to having your family eat healthy.

"Time is the biggest struggle," says Teresa Beach, RD, community education dietitian at Sanford Health South in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Parents often think that healthy food can't be "on-the-go" food, she says. But that's not true. For example, Beach suggests keeping a snack bin in the car.

"Fill it with nonperishable healthy foods, such as whole-grain pretzels, raisins, and fruit cups," she says. It will help you avoid hitting the fast food drive-through when you pick up hungry kids after school or athletic practice, she says.

A healthy dinner doesn't always have to be hot or home-cooked, Beach says, although parents tend to think so. She offers this hectic-night dinner menu:

  • Whole-grain crackers
  • String cheese
  • Apple slices
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Baby carrots

"You may think, 'That's not a meal, it's just a bunch of snack foods,'" says Beach. But that dinner includes crucial protein, calcium, fruit, and a vegetable, along with whole grains. Best of all, if you have the foods on hand, it takes less than five minutes to assemble.

Plan for a Healthy Diet

The decision to eat healthier must involve the whole family. And that means that you, as a parent, have to commit to new eating habits, too, Hoefs says. A recent British study found that children whose parents weighed more and had a higher body mass index (BMI) -- weighed more compared to their height -- were likely to have a higher BMI themselves.

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