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How To Develop And Teach Your Family Healthy Eating Habits

Parents and caregivers play many roles, including nutritionist. To help you learn the best ways to help your children develop healthy habits, CBSNewYork spoke with a Brooklyn doctor who specializes in pediatric obesity - and is a mom herself. Dr. Dyan Hes, also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College, will be opening a new practice, Gramercy Pediatrics, this March. She highlighted several ways for families to to eat in a healthy and enjoyable manner. By Kimberly Coleman.

Slow Down

A New York lifestyle means New York speed.

It's one of the biggest challenges parents face, said Dr. Hes. With less time to think about - and prepare - food, meals are not planned out, or even worse, we resort to fast food as a quick fix. Grocery shopping is done on the fly, without lists.

One thing that Dr. Hes recommends is to keep a food diary for 3 days. Write down everything that you put in your mouth - even a piece of chewing gum. After the time is up, evaluate your food and drink choices. Writing things down keeps you accountable to yourself and your children, and it helps you to see where the calories are coming from - including the empty ones!

Put An End To Old And Poor Habits

Admittedly, old habits die hard, but the changes you make are for your benefit.

Take the time to examine your family's eating habits meal by meal. Many people have been trained that they need a starch and vegetable in addition to a protein at meals. In reality, you don't need starch with every meal. A protein and vegetable meal (i.e. chicken and salad/vegetables) is sufficient.

In addition to re-teaching yourself about what goes on the dishes, you will probably need to change the way you think about the size of what you're eating off of. American plate and bowl sizes tend to be large. It throws the recommended food portions off, so you might want to use salad plates rather than dinner plates - especially for young kids. (It is especially important to be aware of portion sizes when eating out in restaurants. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has an eye-opening "Portion Distortion" site that reveals how portion sizes have increase over the last 20 years to the point that one serving is really enough to feed 2 - 3 people.

The really great thing is that adults can change the nutrition habits in their families. They just have to keep offering the healthier options and prepare them in different ways. The eating habits of both kids and adults can be retrained at any time.

Learn How And Where To Shop

Many consumers need to re-learn how to shop at the grocery store.

It is important to plan visits - not to go to the store when hungry. It's better to go with a list rather than to buy whatever you see that appeals to the eye. This is equally important when shopping with kids. Many grocery stores are deliberate in their structure - shoppers tend to gravitate towards the middle aisles. Unfortunately, that is where the majority of processed foods are stored.

Grocers tend to place things that kids like (i.e. sugary cereals) at their eye-level. As a result, it is important to load up on food and drink from the outer/side aisles - that is where the milk and produce are located. Fruit (fresh and dried), vegetables, nuts, baked/wheat crackers, air popped popcorn and pretzels are all treats that can be easily picked up.

Living in NYC, there are plenty of places to stock up on healthy option. Trader Joe's has healthy snacks such as pre-sliced carrot sticks and apple slices. Target carries Archer Farms dried fruit and products. Whole Foods and Fairway are other great options. Costco (including the one in Harlem) sells boxes of Clementines, crates of apples and such. Bed Bath & Beyond even has a whole organic section filled with healthy foods.

Be Aware Of Weak Spots

  • It is recommended that kids have 3 servings of milk/milk products a day. Most kids barely get 1.
  • Beware of empty calories, especially in drinks like sodas (there is no need for kids to have them, said Dr. Hes) and juices. In fact, juice is the #1 cause of obesity problems in children in American. Even 100% fruit juice lacks the fiber found in actual fruit, so it doesn't fill kids up. Juice is basically empty calories. While it is fine to have up to a cup of juice a day, avoid more than that. (In fact the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) only recommends 4 ounces of juice per day until kids are 6 and 6-8 daily ounces after the age of 6.
  • School lunches can be a challenge. NYC has gotten better, but Dr. Hes recommends sending kids to school with a pre-packed lunch. As an alternative, go over the school menus with your kids and help them to make really good choices regarding what lunch they will get beforehand. Also, check out our guide to the healthiest school lunches for kids. (The menus are published online every month).

Find Healthier Alternatives

  • Make healthier breakfast choices. Opt for bran flakes over corn flakes or other sugary cereals marketed to kids. Grilled cheese (using whole wheat bread and low-fat cheese) or yogurt are two other great options.
  • Eliminate or decrease white starches (corn, rice, potatoes). You can substitute wheat or bran products at little to no extra cost. There are also tasty wheat and protein fortified pastas (a kid staple) on the market.
  • Stop or decrease eating fried food. (Kids really don't need fried chicken nuggets to survive!)
  • Whole milk is not needed after the age of 2. Rather, use 1% or skim milk. It has the same amount of calcium, which kids need.

It is possible to be healthy and work within your culture. (i.e. For rice and beans, use olive oil and brown rice. The beans are actually healthy. It simply takes a different way of preparing cultural favorites.

Teach Your Kids The 'Family Restaurant' Idea

The whole family has to eat the same. Dr. Hes has a saying, "Kids are born into their family restaurant." She doesn't think that family members should have separate meals prepared for them at home (unless of course there are allergies and such). Everyone should be expected to eat what is on the "family menu". If one person in the family is overweight it is unfair to try and make them eat differently from the rest. It only makes them feel ostracized and ashamed. Everyone needs to eat healthy. (Besides, thin doesn't mean healthy. Thin people can have diabetes, high cholesterol, etc.)

Don't Restrict Or Forbid Certain Foods

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate Chip Cookies - File / Photo: AP

If you do, kids will sneak or overindulge in them outside of the home. If you or your kids are visiting homes that serve food that you don't normally eat, don't insult the hostess! Just have small portions of what is being offered. A great holiday / special occasion tip is to drink 2 cups of water / seltzer before leaving your home so that you don't have room in your stomach to gorge. Also, don't use food as a punishment or reward. It should always be available and think of non-food reward alternatives. As far as dessert goes, it's fine to withhold the sweet stuff until after dinner. Just be careful with portion control/don't expect the kids to eat to much and don't be fanatical about kids cleaning off their plates.

These guidelines that we have been sharing are great ideals, but doing everything in moderation is key. Healthy eating isn't just to maintain your physical shape, but is an essential step in preventing chronic illnesses. With diabetes and obesity on the rise with our children, health and wellness are necessary just to keep them living happily - and there is nothing more important than that!

Kimberly Coleman writes at Mom in the City. 
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