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As parents, when it comes to teaching our children healthy eating habits, it’s important to look at our own eating habits first. The old adage, “Do as I say not as I do,” doesn’t quite add up when we’re teaching our children what to eat. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition backs this up. The lead researcher, Sharon Hoerr, MSU professor of food science and human nutrition, stated that restricting certain foods from children, and then eating those same foods in front of the children, can lead to unhealthy eating habits.

“Mothers should stop forcing or restricting their kids’ eating. They’d be better off providing a healthy food environment, adopting balanced eating habits themselves, and covertly controlling their children’s diet quality by not bringing less healthy foods into the house.”

To help encourage healthy eating habits, take your children grocery shopping and ask them to help you find healthy foods. Plant a vegetable garden with them if you can. Let them help you cook healthy meals as a way to connect them to the foods they eat. Talk about what nutrients are found in the foods and how those nutrients help our body’s function well. Plant these seeds early in the hopes that they will develop strong roots as your children grow up to make choices on their own.

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It’s a daily struggle for moms and dads everywhere: getting kids to make healthy choices when all they want to do is gobble down fast food and spend hours in front of the television. But the good news is that by teaching them early about the importance of healthy dietary and lifestyle habits, you can give your children the tools they need to become healthier adults. Here are some quick tips to help you get started:

Don’t Forget the Fiber

A high-fiber diet provides countless benefits for growing bodies, including heart health, better digestion, and even healthy weight management. Fiber-rich foods help manage hunger by supporting healthy blood sugar levels, and they typically have a lower energy density (the number of calories in a particular volume of food) than foods with fewer grams of fiber, which means they pack fewer calories per bite. Most experts recommend that kids eat their “age plus 5” in grams of fiber every day, so a natural fiber supplement can help make up for what they don’t get from their diet.

Prepare Healthy Snacks Beforehand

Sure, store-bought snacks are convenient, but are they healthy? For most pre-packaged goodies, the answer is no. Instead, many are heavily processed and contain high amounts of refined sugar but very little nutritional value. Your best bet is to set aside some time each week to prepare healthy snack options—think chopped fruits and veggies, cheese slices or homemade trail mix—them keep them on hand in the fridge or pantry for a quick, wholesome snack anytime.

Get Active

According to the National Institutes of Health, kids should get at least one hour of physical exercise every day to help build healthy bones and keep muscles and joints strong and flexible. Regular exercise can also help burn calories and promote healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Getting active can also help ease stress, increase mental clarity and boost their self-esteem—not to mention help kids sleep better at night!

Set the Example

When all is said and done, the surest way to teach kids about better habits is to set the example. Make healthy eating and regular exercise a part of your daily life, and be sure to talk to your kids about good nutrition and how it will help their bodies now and in the future. The more they know, the healthier your kids will be, and soon making smart choices will be second nature!

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