In many households, one person is in charge of food shopping. That person has lots of power. "They lay the groundwork for healthy eating habits," says registered nurse Babs Benson, director of the weight management program at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk, Va. To do the job well:
– Get rid of your own misconceptions. Whole-wheat bread and low-fat ice cream might have tasted like cardboard and mush when you were a child, but many products have greatly improved.
– Avoid open-ended choices. Instead of asking, "What do you want to eat?" offer two or three nutritious options. Encourage variety and new items.
– Don't reward noneaters. If a child doesn't eat dinner, no favorite snack later on. If you can't stand seeing him hungry, offer something healthy like fruit.
– Don't replenish treats right away. Junk food and sugary drinks should be for special occasions, not available every day.
– Create easy access to produce. Put sliced fruits and vegetables in visible spots on the counter or in the refrigerator.
– Share what good foods can do now. Kids may not relate to the word health or talk of future wellness. But they'll like hearing about strong bones and muscles, smart brains, clear skin and shiny hair.
– Plan ahead. Prepare a weekly menu before going to the grocery store. You're more likely to stick to a list, eat healthier and save money.
– Involve everyone. Let kids help with the menu, shopping and cooking — or even grow a small vegetable garden. Teach them to read labels and avoid products with a long list of ingredients, especially words they can't pronounce.