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    During early childhood and school-age years, children start to establish habits for eating and exercise that they may keep for their entire lives. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, parents should act as role models for their children.

    Physical Activity

    Finding activities that children and parents enjoy will play an essential role in energizing and keeping kids motivated. Parents can participate in sports with their children and encourage them to try a variety of physical activities:

    • Model physical behavior by taking the stairs rather than the elevator and parking in spots far from stores.
    • Incorporate more walking and biking into daily routines.
    • Make family events that involve physical activity a priority for every family member.

    Healthy Eating Habits

    Developing healthy eating habits in a child will last a lifetime. As a parent, you'll want to encourage normal eating and a healthy attitude toward food, which means eating when hungry and stopping when full. Children do not have to be members of the "clean plate club." Allowing your child some responsibility helps them to grow up knowing how to manage food. Create a relaxed atmosphere at meals. As any parent knows, instilling healthy eating habits in children is challenging and requires patience.

    Here are some ways to encourage healthy eating habits for a lifetime of healthy eating:

    • Ask children to help prepare meals and involve them in the meal-planning process.
    • Cut up fruits and vegetables in snack-size portions.
    • Help your child learn which foods are healthy food choices.
    • Include fruits and vegetables in every meal.
    • Involve your children in menu preparation and grocery shopping.
    • Limit high-calorie, high-fat and sugary snacks.
    • Make mealtime a pleasurable event.
    • Try new foods, savor flavors and swap recipes with friends.

    Control Portion Size

    One of the key ways to maintain a healthy weight is to control portion sizes. Research has shown that Americans often underestimate how many calories they are consuming each day by as much as 25%. "Super-sized" and "value-sized" food items have been on the rise in recent years and are available in grocery stores and restaurants — everywhere you look. Although these larger-sized items generally contain two to three servings, it is common for children and adults to eat all portions as if it were one serving.

    Here are some ways to control portion size:

    • Avoid eating out of a bag or carton.
    • Use smaller dishes at meals.
    • Serve food in the appropriate portion amounts.
    • Store leftovers in separate, portion-controlled amounts.

    Home environment

    Many children do not eat the required daily amounts of fruits and vegetables. Studies show that in many households, adults don't either. You can experiment with recipes to find new ways to incorporate vegetables and fruits into meals, and try a variety of new foods, especially when produce is in season.

    To set a good example for children, adults should enjoy eating the foods they want their children to eat. All family members should eat the same foods at meal times, together as a family. Preparing separate foods for family members sends the message that what is good for one person is not good for the other, and can lead to picky eating habits. Everyone at home should be involved in any changes, regardless of body weight, so that no child feels singled out.

    TV and eating

    While TV can entertain and inform children, it also can have a negative effect on them. On average, today's children spend more time watching TV than they spend at school, or doing any other activity besides sleeping.

    Children also get information about food from TV that may be incorrect or misdirected. Often, they cannot tell the difference between the images presented on TV and reality. The countless advertisements for soda, fast foods and "junk" foods influence children.

    To ensure your child has a positive experience with TV:

    • Place limits on the amount of TV children watch.
    • Help children select programs that present realistic characters living healthy lifestyles.
    • Turn off the TV during meal times.
    • Watch programs with your children and talk about the characters and food choices they see.

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