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Give Eating Right a Green Light

The government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans says everyone age 2 and older should eat a variety from five basic food groups each day: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and protein foods. You should focus on nutrient-rich foods and avoid empty calories.

But the advice raises an old question: How do you get kids to eat right? Well, monkey see, monkey do! If kids see their parents eating healthy foods, then they're much more likely to indulge in fruits and vegetables, too. 

Many dietitians favor splitting foods into green light, yellow light, and red light groups. Be sure to put green light foods within kids' easy reach:

  • Green light foods. High-nutrition, low-fat, and low- or moderate-calorie foods kids can eat often: celery, carrots, broccoli, apples, low-fat yogurt, multigrain pretzels

  • Yellow light foods. Nutritious but higher-fat or calorie foods that must be eaten in moderation: meats, enriched breads and pasta, full-fat cheese

  • Red light foods. Foods like cookies, candy, and sugary drinks that have no nutritional value; save these for special treats

Other tips:

  • Trust that when kids are hungry enough, they'll eat the healthy options you serve.

  • Don't use sweets to reward or punish kids.

  • Set a good example for kids by eating well.

  • Encourage kids to eat at normal meal times.

  • Discourage snacking.

  • Develop a "try it" rule for new foods.

  • Involve kids in all aspects of nutrition with a family or community garden, at the grocery store, and in the kitchen.