In our town, we have a local food pantry that provides fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meat to anyone who wants them. The food is organically grown and locally sourced, and all free. Interestingly, few people, if any, take advantage of this program, and much of the produce is given to local pig farms as feed. While I find the waste of good food shocking, it shouldn't be that surprising in light of modern eating habits, which favor processed and fast foods over fresh fruits and vegetables. In many instances, our health suffers accordingly.

It's no secret that fruits and vegetables are good for us. They are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They help to moderate your blood sugar and are better for your teeth and gums. They are also a great source of fiber, and one thing you learn as you get older is that fiber is your friend. Embracing healthy eating habits is constant battle when you factor in our busy lifestyles and the irresistible allure of salt, fat, sugar and starch, but it is one worth fighting when it comes to the health of our families, especially with September being Fruits and Veggies More Matters Month.

While it may seem daunting, there are some simple and straightforward ways to eat more nutritious foods. All it takes is a little common sense and some parental assertiveness. Here are some tips on getting it done.

1. Start Early

Like all habits, healthy eating is easier to enforce when it's initiated at an early age. When your kids are young, give them healthy snacks and side dishes with their meals. Once they start eating ice cream for lunch, it's hard to turn back.

2. Set the Right Example

Healthy eating isn't just for our children. Parents should embrace fruits and veggies for their own health and to send the right message to their kids. The health consequences of a poor diet affect people of all ages.

3. Eat Meals at Home

While not impossible, it's close to impossible to eat nutritious foods when you're out and about, especially with fast food, but even at nicer restaurants. Make it a point to eat meals at home, together as a family, because the time spent together is important, as well.

4. Avoid Sugary Beverages

Sweetened drinks are a double-whammy for unhealthiness. Not only are they easily consumed in large quantities, but they replace healthy foods. Drink water whenever possible. It's usually free and will complement rather than replace their meals.

5. Make Food Interesting

Serving raw broccoli on a plate won't inspire kids to eat it. There are ways to make vegetables tasty and interesting, including a stir-fry, soup, or casserole. Put vegetables on top of a pizza, or drizzle them with olive oil and grill them.

6. Organization Increases Your Odds

We all lead busy lives, so taking a little time to prepare healthy foods ahead of time will increase the likelihood they will be consumed. Wash and cut vegetables the day before and have them ready to go. Salads can sit in the fridge for a couple of days, and soups and stews taste better a day or two after they're cooked.

7. Don't Try to Be Popular

Being a parent is not about being a best friend, no matter how hard we try. Kids will sometimes put up a fight and let us know how little the like us when we try to enforce healthy eating. Just remember it's not about being popular, like most aspects of parenting.

8. Let Them Eat Sweets

In my opinion, treats should not be completely forbidden, just eaten in moderation, and never in lieu of healthy foods. We eat sweets in our house, but only after a meal that includes fruits and vegetables, because nobody wants an apple after a bowl of ice cream.

9. Communicate With Your Family

This is a tricky path. You don't want to create food issues with your kids, but it's helpful for them to be mindful of what they eat. Communicate the value of wholesome eating. Kids have a hard time wrapping their mind around nutrition, but they can appreciate things like healthy body weight and clear skin, both of which stem from a healthy diet.

10. Slow Down

We're all to rushed, and most aspects of our lives suffer accordingly, including our diets. Make time to sit and eat with your family. Not only will you enjoy your food, but it will encourage quality time with the most important people in your life, and I don't mean your boss.

11. Turn Off the TV

Spending long hours in front of the screen encourages snacking and being sedentary. Plus, advertising promotes all sorts of unhealthy food choices and there's no question that it works.

Eating a healthy diet is something we don't always give a lot of priority to, especially when food manufacturers make it so convenient and enticing to eat their products. Just remember, the choice is yours and you are in control of what you eat, so exercise that power and do what is best for your family.

To learn more about the importance of fruits and vegetables, talk to your pediatrician. For more information, visit the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).