Good eating habits could ward off obesity, says Tanda Kidd, an associate professor of human nutrition and extension specialist at Kansas State University who has made kids the focus of much of her research.
What's more, she says, a balanced diet could foster success in life, for studies suggest it improves concentration, alertness and keeps emotional and physical health in check.
And yet, aggressive marketing of fatty snacks and sugar-laden drinks has made it hard for parents to encourage healthy eating habits in kids who are craving the junk food they see advertized day by day.
Giving in should not occur as a reward for good behavior or school achievements, says Kidd.
"Eat your veggies, Dad," she says, emphasizing that children's food habits come from their parents, so eating together is important for kids to watch parents making wise choices about what, when, where and how much to eat.
It's important to know what your children are eating when they're in school or at friends' houses, according to Kidd, adding that it's perfectly acceptable to ask a school or daycare center what's on the menu.
According to Kidd, TV encourages mindless eating, and should be strictly limited in favor of active play.
At present, there is no specific physical activity recommendation for children ages 2 to 5, but active play should be emphasized, says Kidd.
Kidd advises parents to avoid putting overweight children on a diet because this could lead to eating disorders down the road.
Tackle the problem by encouraging physical activity and offering healthy foods, says Kidd.
Parents and children should cook together, go grocery shopping together, and parents should teach children to read food labels, she says.
Comparing costs and nutrition information of products in the grocery store can offer valuable lessons, according to Kidd.
Planting a garden together could give your child an appreciation for vegetables, she says, adding that it also provides quality time spent as a family.
The pressure is on parents, according to a recent study that says positive changes in children's eating habits and weight loss depend on the progenitor's readiness.
That study, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, concluded that 62 percent of the 202 parents they worked with were ready to make household dietary changes, but only 40 percent were ready to encourage increased physical activity, leading by example.