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ABC's of Healthy Eating
By Courtesy of John Hanc & Dr. Stephen J. Virgilio
Forcing kids to eat their spinach is out. Smart planning is in. Here's the latest on getting your kids to eat right.

New guidelines for children's eating from the American Heart Association attempt to strike a balance between what's good in theory and what's likely in practice.

The guidelines de-emphasize counting calories and instead focus on children's overall eating habits. Our ABC's of children's eating are consistent with this philosophy. We recognize that trying to force kids to eat like guests at a fitness spa is not realistic. But within that context, it's up to you, Mom, to try and make sure that the overall diet is balanced and healthy.Here are some tips on how to do just that:

1. Plan Meals: 4-5 Per Day
Unplanned meals usually result in poor choices: Higher fat, higher sugar, higher sodium. Also, planning is important because of the frequency of eating: 2-6 year olds should eat 4-5 small meals a day. That's one meal or snack every 2 1/2 hours or so. But remember, we're not talking about preparing five-course feasts. A piece of fruit, a yogurt, a bowl of soup, a slice of whole grain bread with a peanut butter spread can all make for nutritious meals.

2. Make Sure Children Eat A Variety of Foods
"Adequate nutrition," says the American Heart Association, "should be achieved by eating a wide variety of foods." To help your child achieve this, try introducing one new food per week; and don't hesitate to experiment with cuisine. Has your child ever tried Chinese, Italian, Mexican? Taking them out to try these foods (or bringing them in) is a fun way to expand their food horizons.

3. Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day
Sound like an old saw? Well, consider a recent Minnesota study that found school children that ate breakfast had fewer disciplinary problems, fewer visits to the nurse and higher test scores. Also remember, that a good breakfast does not have to consist of what adults consider "appropriate" breakfast food. You might not want a cold slice of pizza, chicken soup or a sandwich in the morning, but if that's what your child wants to eat…well, that's much better than no breakfast.

4. More Veggies, More Fruits
Getting your child to eat the recommended five servings a day of fruits and veggies may sound like a daunting task. But instead of trying to imagine your child's reaction to a plate of raw carrots, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, how about fruit on cereal for breakfast, a celery stick with some peanut butter spread after school, peas and carrots mixed in with the mashed potatoes at dinner, and a mashed banana mixed with some non-fat ice cream or yogurt (or a yogurt smoothie) while watching TV? It's a matter of using fruits and vegetables as substitutes for chips and candy. You'll be surprised how they add up.

5. (Occasional) Sweets for the Sweet
If you completely prohibit sweets, chances are your child may rebel and eat even more of them down the road. Instead of just saying no-say "yes," once in awhile. Dr. Virgilio recommends introducing sweets as an occasional part of the diet. "Working them in as part of the menu a couple of times during the week is fine," he says. For more tips on children's nutrition, visit www.

Article by John Hanc, fitness writer for Newsday in New York and author of five books on fitness-related topics, with Dr. Stephen J. Virgilio, youth fitness expert and professor at Adelphi University in Garden Ctiy, New York.