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You’ve probably spent a lot of time ensuring your kid’s diet is balanced and healthy, but what to do when she’s old enough to pick her own (perhaps less-than-healthy) food when you’re not there to help? Try these tips from Susan Bartell, Ph.D., a family psychologist and author of Dr. Susan’s Fit & Fun Family Action Plan, to help your kid make food choices you’re both happy about.

Make no food forbidden. Banning certain foods at home makes kids more likely to sneak those treats when parents aren’t around, says Bartell. Instead of prohibiting them, allow these foods in moderation. If your kid knows it’s fine to have a little ice cream after dinner sometimes, she’ll be less likely to overindulge outside of the house.

Talk with your child. If the parent of one of your kid’s friends serves (non-organic, non-nitrate-free) hot dogs for dinner, you may be tempted to march over there and give a lecture on the benefits of arugula. But Bartell suggests talking directly to your kid. “Remind her that healthy food makes fuel for her brain and her body—but that a little bit of less-healthy food once in a while is fine, too.” And remember: Your kid will take your advice more seriously if you serve as a healthy-eating role model.

Acknowledge differences. When your child asks why she can’t have potato chips in her lunch box every day like Jamie does, explain that each family has its own rules. And avoid the temptation to give in, says Bartell: “It’s important to stand firm on what you believe is healthiest for your child.”

Give practical examples. “If you just tell your kid to eat healthfully, she might not know what that means,” says Bartell. Instead, discuss your family’s food guidelines with your child (“We can treat ourselves to one slice of pizza and one piece of cake at parties, but if we’re still hungry, we have a piece of fruit when we get home”) and encourage her to follow these examples in social situations. While there’s no guarantee your kid will always stick to your rules, you can help by reminding her that healthy foods balanced with just a few treats will make her feel her best.

Focus on the future. If your kid does go overboard and has three brownies at the class party (it happens to the best of us!), help her figure out how to make better choices next time. Suggest she find another fun activity to do instead of sticking around the treats tray, or recommend asking the teacher if she can grab a healthy snack from her lunch box, Bartell says.

Reprinted from KIWI Magazine

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