Kids who eat a healthful breakfast do better in school, with an increased attention span and better memory. Besides that, they are more likely to seek nutritious meals all day.

That's just one thing parents can do to help kids make healthful food choices. The payoff is huge: They'll be healthier, happier, more energetic and have fewer problems with obesity, according to Pauline Williams, a dietitian and manager of outpatient clinical nutrition at Primary Children's Medical Center.

How to use exercise and good food choices to keep kids healthy and avoid excess weight is the topic of the Deseret Morning News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline today. From 10 a.m. to noon, Williams and Dr. Tamara Lewis, director of community health and prevention for Intermountain, will take phoned-in questions. Calls are confidential, and the number is 800-925-8177.

Williams says breakfast foods tend to be nutrient dense and you can easily get three of the five food groups with that meal. If you have cereal (not the super-sugary ones, please) with milk and a banana, you've hit three of them. A vegetable omelet will give you a veggie serving, cheese and eggs.

Children who eat lots of fruits and vegetables tend to do better than those who don't. One to two cups of fruits and one-and-a-half to three cups of vegetables are what the young body needs daily.

But parents struggle with getting kids to eat that much, especially with the vegetables, she says. So she tells them to look to foods where vegetables are a natural part of the dish, like stir fry or spaghetti. A baked potato bar is delicious and healthy. Kids should also be offered fruits and vegetables as snacks. Put a bowl of baby carrots or apples out. "They're great sweets, and you don't have to refrigerate them. They can go in the backpack or out on the counter."

Sweetened drinks should be limited. Most people think of sodas — and they are one of the biggest offenders. But sports and energy drinks like Gatorade or Powerade are basically water and sugar, she says. "Drink those only if you're actively engaged in sports 90 minutes or longer," Williams said.

If your children can't seem to give up soda, at least switch to diet and limit how many times a week they're allowed to have one. "Ideally, soda should be for special occasions."

Mom and dad need to set the example there.

Don't criticize a child's weight, though. Putting too much value on being thin can promote unhealthy behaviors. The focus should be on being healthy, rather than on weight itself.

One of the best healthy-eating tips centers around family meals, taken together, away from the TV. "The more you eat as a family, the more likely you are to have a nutritious diet," Williams said. Best of all, in families that eat together, children are less likely to smoke, drink or do drugs. "There's a social benefit of talking and sitting down. And you're more likely to prepare a vegetable."

She suggests planning family meals like you plan other activities. Schedule them in.

Intermountain's LiVE campaign, which is designed to encourage healthy lifestyles, provides a number of trackers so you can see how many times you ate breakfast and keep track of how many fruits and vegetables you eat. It's online at www.intermountainLiVE.org.


E-mail: lois@desnews.com