Registered dietician Elisa Zied, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, has advice to turn the trend around in her new book, "Feed Your Family Right."
On The Early Show Monday, Zied began a three-part series on food and families with a look at keeping kids at healthy weights.
Zied told Tracy Smith the book had its roots in her high school years, when she was 30 pounds heavier than she it now and her weight was always fluctuating.
"My family struggled with our weight," Zied recalled, "and now, as a mother of two, I realize how tough it is to raise healthy children.
"But … there is hope, and there are so many things parents can do to help their kids. For example, my son, Spencer, my older son, last week came home and he said, 'Mom, I tried a french fry at school and I really didn't like it, so I said, 'Why am I going to waste my calories?
"I was so proud. I always tell him to make his calories count, not waste them on things he doesn't enjoy."
Zied's book focuses on the whole family because, she said, "You really can't focus on an individual to help them lose weight if you're not tackling all of the issues that go on as a family, whether you have food pushers, food cops, relentless ranters — people who are always looking at what you're eating — if you don't address all these issues, it's really hard for people to make changes as individuals and maintain those changes long-term."
Zied offered tips for parents.
First, keep a journal, track what and how much you're eating, how often you eat, what's missing in your diet, and what you may be over-consuming.
"It's really, really important to sort of take an inventory of what you're doing," Zied explained. "You only need to keep a food record for about three days or so. You could do it on your laptop, your PDA, you could do it in a simple notebook. Parents and older kids, if they want to participate, can also do this, because once you see what you're doing now, you can fine tune it, make small changes."
Her next tip is to set realistic goals.
"Realistically," Zied said, " … individuals in (a) family may never be thin, but you can be healthier. And you really need to think about not being perfect and not banning things, but incorporating lots of healthy foods. … If you set up your family and your home and your kitchen to encourage … healthy behaviors and minimize things like sugary drinks and other things that don't really contribute to nutrition, you're keeping it positive and you're making it more realistic that you can get these healthy foods in every day."
Another tip? Plan meals.
"Absolutely," Zied emphasized. "But you need to plan in advance, maybe on a Saturday or Sunday. Plan your grocery list. Plan a few meals everyone in your family would enjoy. And this is giving you an arsenal against driving through the fast food restaurant or grabbing takeout, which is such an easy, mindless thing to do. Take control."
Finally, Zied suggested setting a good example and eating together as a family.
"This is something that you really need to do," Zied stressed. "Turn off the TV. Focus on your family. Eat in front of your kids. Talk positively about food, not negatively, and show them by your example. And you'll see that your kids will start to follow by your example and eat a lot of the healthy foods and be feeling good about themselves."
To read an excerpt of "Feed Your Family Right," click here.