For many adults who put on weight during the holidays, the start of the new year is the kickoff for intense dieting.

But as they bring weight loss to the forefront of actions and conversation,parents should be careful not to damage their children's attitudes about eating by portraying food as the enemy.

Young children imitate others' actions regardless of whether they are appropriate or healthy. Parents, the greatest influence on young children,have the best chance to instill positive attitudes about food and eating habits in children by leading by example, said Terrill D. Bravender, M.D.,M.P.H., associate professor of pediatrics and director of adolescent medicine at Duke University Medical Center.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Dr. Bravender offer the following suggestions to maintain a healthy outlook about food:

  • Examine your own personal attitudes about food.

  • Try to eliminate comments, many of which are ingrained in our culture, that relay negative attitudes about food.

  • Do not force your child to clean his or her plate.

  • Encourage eating breakfast, which is especially important on school days.

  • Eat a traditional sit-down dinner together as a family, away from television. Use this time to enjoy each other's company, avoiding negative conversation.

  • Limit fast-food consumption, but remember that no food is bad.

  • Teach children to focus on what their body can do, not how it looks.

  • Help your child make decisions about food by being supportive, not critical.

  • Keep healthy foods in your household.

—Arti Allam