Ask the Expert – Creating a Healthy Food Environment at Home

Ask The Expert is a weekly column on The idea is to have a reader-submitted question answered by a nutrition expert or a pediatrician. Feel free to submit your question in the comments section below.

This week, registered dietitian and contributing editor of Parents magazine Sally Kuzemchak offers tips for creating a healthy food environment at home to foster lifelong healthy eating habits and preventing childhood obesity.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
  • M.S. in Dietetics from The Ohio State University
  • Clinical experience in diabetes education and weight management
  • Currently in private practice to help moms make healthier choices for themselves and their families
  • Nutrition and health reporter for 13 years
  • Contributing Editor for Parents magazine
  • Website: Real Mom Nutrition
  • Twitter: @RMnutrition
  • Contact:
  • Question: My son just turned one and since I have struggled with obesity most of my life, can you suggest what I can do nutritionally to ensure my son doesn’t face the same struggles?

    It’s great that this is on your radar and that you want to take action while your son is still so young. As you already know, you can’t do anything about your son’s genes. But you can make sure he grows up with healthy eating habits and physical exercise. That can make a huge difference for him and help lower his chances of obesity in both childhood and adulthood.

    Here’s how you can establish a healthy food environment at home:

    Keep your kitchen stocked with a wide variety of nutritious foods that are yummy and accessible, like a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter and snacks like low-fat yogurt and whole grain crackers front and center in the fridge and cupboard.

    Plan regular meals and scheduled snacks instead of all-day grazing or constantly grabbing food on the run.
    Include a small amount of goodies like desserts or chips that you treat as “sometimes foods”. You don’t want these foods to become forbidden and more desirable.

    Eat most meals at home together as a family at the table. Researchers have found that children who eat meals with their families (and the TV turned off!) get a much healthier diet overall.

    Offer milk and water as the primary drink choices. Sweetened drinks like punch and regular soda are linked to weight gain among kids and adults—and you can even skip fruit juice if your son eats a lot of fruit. You should also ask your child’s doctor about giving your son two-percent milk right now instead of whole. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently stated low-fat milk is a better option for toddlers who have a family history of obesity (after age two, you can switch to one-percent or skim).

    Model healthy choices and attitudes. As a parent, you’re the single biggest influence on your child right now. Let your son see you take the kinds of positive steps you want him to make as well, like drinking water instead of soda, enjoying vegetables with meals, and being active. And avoid making any critical comments about your weight or your body, since studies shows that those negative attitudes can rub off on kids and damage their self-esteem too.

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    Disclaimer – Information provided in Ask The Expert column on is intended to give you general guidance on a question related to toddler nutrition. It is not meant to be treated as medical advice. You are welcome to contact this expert for a detailed consultation on your specific situation to determine what actions, if any, you should take regarding nutrition and health of your toddlers. We do not recommend you to take any action based solely on the information presented in this column. Experts have agreed to provide their professional opinion on toddler nutrition related questions on a voluntary basis and no compensation is offered to them by


    1. I was doing some research last week and it surprised me to learn that although Australian kids eat less vegetables than health organisations recommend, their fruit intake is even lower. I'd always assumed it would be easier for parents to entice children to eat fruit. We have a fruit bowl for snacks and the kids can help themselves. This seems to work pretty well, although they tend to stick to their favourites.

    2. MRS. k.D.

      well i think that kids should have a lil bit of everything!

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