USA Today offers these tips for helping your kids to maintain a healthy diet without a lot of cost:
Parents and children should work together to come up with other cost-effective ideas for improving family eating habits. Some food for thought:
•Cut back high-fat fast food. Limit foods like burgers and fries to no more than once a month, and try to have them on days when the children are active, Ayoob says. That will save calories and money. One study showed that overweight teens consume about 400 more calories a day when they eat fast food compared with other days.
•Go to restaurants with a dining plan. Don't order soda or bottled water but have tap water, Ayoob says. Encourage children to get a doggy bag and explain that they can order once and dine twice.
Or encourage children to split healthful adult entrees, which may be cheaper than ordering off the kids' menu, Ward says. Skip dessert and have something at home, such as 100-calorie frozen fudge bars.
•Take advantage of the child's positive eating habits. Most children like five to 10 fruits and vegetables, and parents should offer those foods more often, Ayoob says. If they like apples, snap peas, baby carrots or tomatoes, offer them every day. That will prevent some food fights.
•Re-evaluate beverages. Serve skim milk instead of whole milk, says Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and author of The World Is Fat. Whole milk adds unhealthful saturated fat and extra calories to a child's diet, he says. Besides milk, water should be the main beverage, he says. Forget soft drinks, vitamin waters, sports drinks and other sugary beverages.
•Rethink snacking habits. Parents used to give preschoolers two tiny snacks a day and children under 10 one snack after school, but now kids get 300 calories or more from two to three snacks a day, often with soft drinks, chips and cookies, Popkin says. Parents should serve fruit and cut-up vegetables instead, which would save hundreds of calories and add valuable nutrients, he says.
•Teach children how to plan and prepare meals. They can learn how to scramble eggs, bake chicken or make a soup, Ayoob says. It takes a little time in the beginning to teach them these basic skills, but it pays off in a big way. "Kids become more competent in the kitchen, more invested in eating what they prepare, and learn life skills that will benefit them for years to come," he says.