Obesity affects one in six children and adolescents in the United States. Help reduce your child’s risk of obesity-related illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease, with these healthy eating tips from WVU Medicine dietitian Judy Siebart:

1. Set a good example early.
Toddlers who see a lot of fruits and vegetables on their plates will come to think of them as tasty, everyday foods – instead of foods they’re being forced to eat. Eating habits can influence kids well into adulthood, so start teaching them early.

2. Make family meals a priority.
Have the kids help with meal planning and cooking. Give them choices: would they like green beans or peas with dinner? Have a regular schedule for meals and snack times. We all do better when we know the time of our next meal. Make meal times pleasant and stress free. Encourage kids to try new foods, but hang loose about it. It often takes eight or more tries before a child will accept a new food.

Judy Siebart

3. Don’t follow the clean plate rule.
It’s okay if your kids don’t finish their food. They know when they are full. Avoid statements like, “Finish this before you can have that.” This may teach your child to overeat. Forcing a child to eat always backfires. It’s also okay to excuse them from the table when they’re done.

4. Drink more water.
We all need a lot of plain water. Children need to recognize that water, not sugary drinks or sports drinks, quenches thirst. So offer easy access to water. Also low-fat milk or a milk alternative is a good choice.

5. Get creative with snack time.
Snacks are a great time to get veggies and fruits into your child’s diet before they even ask. Use dips like hummus, peanut butter, or low-fat dressings. Be creative and make food fun!

6. Cut back on sugar.
So many tempting foods are loaded with sugar calories but contain few nutrients. Offer naturally sweetened foods, like whole fruit. Don’t use sweets as a reward. Try nonfood rewards like hugs, kind words, and stickers. Here’s a good rule of thumb – treat treats as treats! Occasionally, splurge and take the kids out for ice cream. Learn more about reducing your family’s sugar intake.

7. Think about what you buy and read nutrition labels.
Stock your shelves with healthy options instead of soda and sweets. It’s harder to eat junk food if it’s not readily available to you and your children. High amounts of sugar, salt, and artificial ingredients may also be hiding in foods you had not suspected. Check the labels before you buy.

8. Limit screen time.
There are new challenges that we face raising our kids that were not there a few generations ago: mainly electronics. Limit your children to less than two hours of screen time (computers, games, TV, movies, etc.) a day. Even if kids eat a healthy diet, they can still gain unnecessary weight if they’re not active enough. Go for walks, dance to your favorite music, or engage in active play together often.

9. Be a healthy role model for your children.
Little ones take their cues from you. Let them see you munching on raw veggies, drinking water, and leading a healthy lifestyle. You are the most important influence on your child.

Interested in one-on-one nutritional counseling? Call 855-WVU-CARE