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Three Rules for Healthy Eating

Deciding what's for dinner (or breakfast, lunch, or snack) has never been more challenging. With childhood obesity, diabetes, and other food-related ailments in the news almost daily, you may wonder what you can feed your kids. The simple truth is, if you stock your pantry and fridge mostly with healthy options, you won't have to think about it as much  -- and your children just might learn to love what's good for them. Here, three food rules I recommend in my practice and live by with my own kids. They can help you build healthy eating habits for your whole family:

Eat the right carbs
With carbohydrate-conscious diet books still on the best-seller lists, and a friend dropping five pounds in two weeks on a bread-free regimen, it's easy to assume that banishing carbs is good for your family's health. It's not. Like fuel for a car, carbs provide energy for bodies and brains. Children especially need lots of carbs, even more so when they're very active.

But alas, not all carbs are created equal. Kid staples like mac 'n' cheese, pizza, and cookies are filled with empty carbs: refined (white) flour and/or too much sugar. The extra calories from all that sugar are turned into body fat. Plus, because empty carbs have few nutrients to slow down digestion, they're quickly converted to glucose. They rush through the bloodstream and stomach too fast, leaving kids feeling hungry again. And that can lead to overeating.

It sounds scary, but the trick with carbs is to make sure your child gets enough of the right kinds, and not too much of the wrong ones. An easy rule of thumb: The best carbs come packed with fiber and some protein, and are close to how nature made them. The more processed they are (lots of ingredients you can't pronounce is a sign), the worse they are.

Good carbs:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Beans and lentils
  • Tofu
  • Whole grains
  • Natural peanut butter, for kids over 4
  • Low-fat milk and yogurt
  • Oatmeal

Contributing editor William Sears, M.D., is a dad of eight and coauthor of The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood, which will be published in September 2006 by Little, Brown and Company.