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Healthy Habits That Begin at Home

Go overboard... on produce, soap, and self-esteem

5. Pig out on produce
If you and your husband eat fruits and veggies, your child has the best chance of eating them too, say studies. And if your child isn't a copycat? Make it fun for him. Nichole Bernier Ahern of Chevy Chase, Maryland, put a "vegetable high five" chart on the fridge for Connor, 5. When he's reluctant to eat veggies at dinner but does it anyway, he gets a smiley-face sticker on the chart.

You might also take your child shopping and have him pick out a fruit or vegetable of the week—a new food for the family to explore. Together, you can figure out ways to prepare, say, mango: cutting up pieces and putting them on a skewer one day, making smoothies with them the next. Or challenge him to eat five different colors of the rainbow in a day.

Jayne Drew, a mom of two from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, discovered a good approach one night when she was late getting dinner ready. "I quickly microwaved some frozen peas for my two-year-old to tide him over, and for the first time, he ate every last one." Since then, she's served such appetizers as baby carrots or a bowl of corn every night, and her kids eat them up.

6. Lather up
Regular hand washing can dramatically reduce your child's chances of getting sick. The right technique: At least 20 seconds of hand rubbing with soap and warm water (don't scrub under running water), followed by thorough rinsing. To make it less of a chore, you might have your child sing the "ABC" song while he's scrubbing up. My kids are better washers now that I let them pick out cool liquid soaps—super-foamy varieties and ones in kid-friendly fruity aromas—when they come grocery shopping with me.

"We introduced a little competition to get our three-year-old to the sink," says Seattle mom Laurie Almoslino. "Before dinner or after coming home from the park, my husband will say, 'I'm going to wash my hands first,' and my son races him to the bathroom."

7. Boost body image
A study from the Harvard Eating Disorders Center found that half of girls and one-third of boys ages 8 to 10 don't like their size. Girls typically want to be thinner; boys, heavier or more muscular. Get your child off to a confident start by laying the foundation for a positive body image.

"Kids develop feelings about the way they look by identifying with their parents, so it's important not to criticize your own body," says Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., author of Change Your Mind, Change Your Body.

But go a step further and actually say what you like about your own body and others'—by commenting on how good you feel since you started going for walks, for instance, or how much stronger your arms are since you started lifting weights.

You can also help your child focus on what her body can do rather than how it looks. You might point out how much energy she has during family hikes. Or say, "You seemed strong and flexible when you were climbing the monkey bars today." Rebecca Brooks's 6-year-old son wants to be good at soccer, so "we talk about how exercising makes you strong and agile," says the South Orange, New Jersey, mom. Scoring goals or hitting home runs may be a bonus, but feeling good is the best feat of all.