10 Ways You Can Improve Your Family's Diet

As Southerners, we like our food salty, sweet, and plentiful. But as parents, we need to consider how our eating habits shape the health and well-being of our children. And that starts with smarter choices in the kitchen.

To learn more about healthy cooking, I sat down with Emmett Bell, a certified executive chef at L'Ecole Culinaire. This culinary school offers a two-year program in the culinary arts, and recently launched a new, 10-week Nutrition and Dietary Management Certificate program.

Bell says there are simple changes you can make that will improve your family's diet. Start today.

10. SHRINK SUPER-SIZED PORTIONS. The average American consumes 3,000 calories each day. And many of us don't get enough exercise. Is it any wonder that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese? "We eat too many calories in protein each day," notes Bell. "when we should be having more fruits and vegetables." Begin to practice portion control. Serve your meals on smaller plates. Keep a cut of meat to the size of a deck of cards (3 ozs). And learn how to eyeball portion sizes: A baked potato should be the size of a computer mouse, a pasta serving the size of a baseball.

9. LIMIT SUGARY DRINKS. Many empty calories accompany that soda you love. Plus, a typical soft drink typically contains one-third of a cup of sugar or more. Drinking three a day loads one cup of sugar into your body. Try substituting a glass of water for one soda and slowly lower the number you and your kids consume each day.

8. GRILL INSTEAD OF FRY. Chicken that is breaded and fried nearly doubles the calories of your meal. Grilling requires neither, and uses less as oil. So, fewer caloires.

7. EAT FRESH VEGGIES INSTEAD OF CANNED. Canned foods are high in sodium and contain little nutritional value. If you're looking for fruits or veggies that are out of season, frozen can be a good substitute. Look for the U.S. Fancy shield, which designates best quality produce. Also, eat it soon, as nutritional value does diminishes over time. 

6. USE VEGETABLE OIL OVER ANIMAL FATS. Animal fats are harder for your body to metabolize. Choose olive or canola oils instead.

5. WASH YOUR FRUITS AND VEGETABLES. Chef Bell recommends using one drop of a pure dish soap, like Ivory, in wash water to remove the pesticides that cling to foods.

4. LIMIT SUGARY BREAKFAST CEREAL. We know, Capt'n Crunch and Lucky Charms are yummy. But most breakfast cereals contain too much sugar and calories to be beneficial. Limit these to weekend treats. Kids need protein to start their day. Switch instead to protein-rich Greek yogurt with fresh fruit mixed in, oatmeal, or fruit smoothies.

3. SAY BYE-BYE TO BUTTER. Or at least use it sparingly. Butter has cholesterol and saturated fats that can contribute to heart disease. Better: non-hydrogenated margarine, especially those with no trans-fats. 

2. LIMIT BAKED GOODS. Loaded with calories and fat, processed foods like cakes, cookies, and candy add lots of extra sugar to your diet. Moderation is key. Instead of three chocolate chip cookies, have two and some fruit. Use portion control.

1. STAY AWAY FROM ARTICIAL SWEETENERS. Yes, they're lower in calories than sugar, but they can actually contribute to weight gain by introducing chemicals your body can't use. Better: go with natural sweeteners like agave or honey. 

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