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10 Easy Back-to-School Tips to Help Children (and Parents!) Eat Smarter This Fall

By Dr. Edward Abramson

Author of Body Intelligence: Lose Weight, Keep It Off, and Feel Great Without Dieting!

Childhood obesity is at an all-time high in America, while the overall nutritional value of school lunches continues to plummet. With only weeks left before children and teenagers go back to school, how can parents help to control their children's weight and diet? How can a family dinner be a learning environment to teach proper nutrition?

Here are ten simple remedies and lifestyle changes for families. I suggest parents try to Lead By Example and Create A Healthy Eating Environment so kids will pick up better eating habits and make better choices on their own.

Simply adopting one or two small and positive lifestyle changes from the following Top Ten List will elicit long-term results that will help you and your family eat better:

Structure Your Family's Eating. Although hectic schedules can present challenges, don't give up on the idea of family dinners. Discourage eating on the run and random snacking. Instead, establish routines for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and after-school snacks.

Offer a Choice of Several High-Fiber, Low-Sugar Breakfast Cereals With Milk (skim or 1-percent fat) and/or Fruit. Check the nutrition information on the box and avoid cereals high in sugar. Oatmeal, raisin bran, fat-free granola, Cheerios, and shredded wheat are good choices. If your child is used to sugary cereals, gradually mix in healthier cereals while reducing the proportion of the sweeter stuff.

Don't Try to Forbid Fast Food or Junk Food. Consider them as treats to be enjoyed occasionally, but not in place of regular meals or snacks. If you need to keep cookies in the house, limit the number of choices and try to buy single serving packages so there is less temptation to overindulge. Substitute healthier choices whenever possible -- a child offered nonfat frozen yogurt is unlikely to miss high-fat ice cream.

Reduce the Number of Distractions While Your Child is Eating. Turn off the TV. Discourage eating while playing computer or video games.

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Minimize Consumption of Sugar Sodas and Fruit Juices. The calories in soft drinks have no nutritional value and don't abate hunger. While eating an apple or grapes reduces hunger, drinking an apple or grape fruit doesn't.

Serve Reasonably Sized Portions. If he or she is still hungry, they can ask for seconds. If you misjudge and serve too much, save the excess for leftovers. Don't encourage the child to eat the food to avoid wasting it.

Don't Use Food as a Reward. Don't use one food as a reward for eating other foods. Don't offer food as a reward for an accomplishment. Conversely, don't use food to placate. If your child is feeling sad, tend to the emotions, not the appetite.

Don't Buy Toys That Glorify Junk Food.

Cook New Foods Together. Encourage your child to help in the kitchen preparing food. And don't assume that just because your child didn't like it the first time, they might not ever have it again. Try another day.

Monitor Your Child's School Lunches.

Body Intelligence is not a traditional diet book with rigid meal plans, low-fat recipes, exercise guides, and calorie counters. Instead, it offers specific methods to help the reader understand and regulate eating, improve body image, and learn to comfortably become more active. It's a unique solution to weight control that goes to the root of eating problems -- the thought patterns that affect eating habits, self-perception, and the way people live.

© Dr. Edward Abramson
Edward Abramson, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at California State University and former director of the Eating Disorders Center at Chico Community Hospital. He has written several books, including "Body Intelligence" (McGraw-Hill; $21.95US; 0071442065) and Emotional Eating, and has been published in dozens of scientific publications. He has appeared on television's "20/20," "Good Day LA," and other shows. For more information, please visit:


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