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KNOXVILLE — The start of a new school year is a good time for parents to encourage healthy eating habits for children — and themselves.

Hollie Raynor, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offers five strategies for parents.

“One of the most important ways to encourage children to make healthy choices is for parents to model that behavior,” Raynor said. “Smart grocery shopping also is important. If you don’t want your children to eat junk food, don’t bring it in the house.”

1. Start with Breakfast — Research has shown that people who eat a healthy breakfast have an overall better quality diet and tend to be leaner. Eating breakfast also helps students concentrate at school. An ideal breakfast would be a non-sugary cereal such as corn flakes or Cheerios and fruit. Yogurt drinks and plain frozen waffles are OK. If your child doesn’t like breakfast, think beyond traditional foods. Even a sandwich will do.

2. Pack a Good Lunch — For children who take their lunch to school, make sure they have a source of protein from a meat, peanut butter, yogurt or cheese. Add a mix of fruits and vegetables. A variety is more appealing to children than a whole apple or orange every day. For something crunchy, try rice cakes, water crackers, popcorn or plain pretzels instead of chips.

3. Study the Lunch Menu — For children who buy food in the cafeteria, talk to them about making good choices. Many schools post their menus online or make them available. Go over the menu and point out healthy foods. Try to stay away from fried foods. After school, follow up and ask what they had for lunch. Praise them for eating healthy food.

4. Provide a Healthy Snack — Go with low energy density foods, which means large portions but low in calories. Good snacks are fruits and vegetables, rice cakes, popcorn, water crackers or saltines, low-fat pudding, fruit juice bars, low-fat mozzarella string cheese or small yogurts.

5. Eat Dinner Together — Make time to sit down at the table without distractions such as television and cell phones. This is a good time for parents to model their healthy eating choices. Serve each plate in the kitchen instead of putting the food on the table family style to control portion sizes. Avoid fast food.

In addition, Raynor suggests parents be patient when children do not want to try new foods. It helps for children to first see the food on their parent’s plate and taste it several times before having a full serving.

Another idea to get children to eat more fruits and vegetables is to make a chart and keep track of how many everyone — children and parents — eat each week. Earn stars or stickers for each one.

Raynor is a registered dietitian and has written and co-authored numerous journal articles and book chapters about diet and obesity. Her research focuses on intervention and treatment to encourage healthier lifestyles and weight for children and adults.


Elizabeth Davis, UT media relations, (865) 974-5179,