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Next, set your food priorities. “We try to emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole-grain products and low-fat meats and fish as the components of a really healthy diet,” Daniels said.


Be careful not to consume too many sweets. “The problem with sweets, including soft drinks, is that they are foods with a lot of calories but very little nutrient density,” Daniels said. “[Try] moving away from sweets to things like nuts and fresh fruits and eliminate soft drinks altogether.”


Be sure to design your diet for your particular family circumstances. “Each family has different sets of challenges,” Daniels said. “Sometimes families are worried about being able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, so we talk about alternatives like frozen fruits and vegetables, which can actually be quite healthy.”


If your child is a picky eater, do not lose hope. Make a family rule that the child has to at least try new foods that you introduce. “Say before a child can decide that he does not like a food, he has to try it 10 to 15 times,” Daniels said. “Often what happens with the repeated trials is that his taste may change over time.”

Making lifestyle changes is not a task you should complete alone. This is especially true when you change to a healthier diet.


“The best success occurs when the entire family is working on it together and supporting each other,” said Dr. Stephen Daniels, pediatrician and spokesman for the American Heart Association.


Even your youngest family members can hop on board as you encourage them to emulate you. You are a role model, so your child takes note if you eat healthfully or take an evening walk and is likely to follow suit.


“Establishing healthy diet habits early in life and maintaining them has the potential for an incredible positive effect on health that is both short and long-term,” Daniels said. “People who maintain healthy lifestyle habits over the span of their lifetime have a much lower risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases, so the payoff is quite big in terms of what you can build on with a healthy diet.”


Your first step can be taking charge of your immediate surroundings. “Your environment influences the choices you make,” Daniels said. “We talk about making the home environment one in which only healthy choices are available, and you can allow your child to make healthy choices within that healthy environment.”

MOVING YOUR FAMILY TO A HEALTHIER DIET

JAMIE LOBER

Jamie Lober is a Staff Writer for Health & Wellness Magazine

more articles by Jamie Lober

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests cooking together. Children are usually very eager to eat something they have made. They can learn math skills by measuring ingredients and will soon begin to understand the chemistry of cooking. They will also gain an understanding of healthy ingredients. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages taking your child to the grocery store or community garden so she can learn about the food groups and pick different items she wants to try. It can also be a wonderful family activity to plant a garden and reap its benefits.


Most important of all, sit down and eat the meal you’ve prepared together. Your child will see mealtime as a time for socializing and sharing.


Change does not happen overnight. It requires consistency to get used to a new, healthier diet. “Set achievable goals and give small rewards that are not food,” Daniels said. “We try to emphasize that we want people to move toward a healthier diet pattern. From our perspective, there is no one bad food; it is really the combination of all the things you eat each day. When you view diet as a process that you work on over time, it tends to go smoother.”


Talk to your family doctor and ask her or him to provide useful information about diet and activity and help you monitor your progress.