By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY

With the increasing concerns about childhood obesity in this country, many parents are looking for ways to help their kids eat right and be active.About 31% of kids are overweight or at risk of becoming so, increasing their vulnerability to ailments such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

USA TODAY’s Nanci Hellmich asked three nutrition experts for advice:

Ellyn Satter, a family therapist, nutritionist and author of the new book Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming:

Plan sit-down meals and sit-down snacks. “The problem with the snack foods and sodas … is not the foods themselves, but kids’ constant access to them. If a child has an occasional soda or cookies at a sit-down snack, then he’ll be able to eat the amount he needs and won’t run the risk of becoming overweight.”

Maintain a division of responsibility. Parents should do all the meal and snack planning, and the child decides how much to eat or whether to eat at all. “Let even the heavyset child eat as much as he or she is hungry for.”

Have several foods at meals and let the child choose. Pair familiar foods with unfamiliar ones, favorite with not-so-favorite. Don’t let the child get other foods out of the cupboard or refrigerator.

Beware of food restriction and preoccupation with weight control. “Children afraid they are going to have to go hungry become preoccupied with food and overeat when they have a chance.”

Marilyn Tanner is a registered dietitian who works with overweight children at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Watch what they are drinking and how much. “It’s easy to drink down a lot of calories by consuming regular soda, fruit punch, juices, sweetened teas and sports drinks. Water is wonderful. Skim milk is always great but watch how much.”

Increase fruit and vegetable intake. “Make a vegetable tray at the beginning of the week. Keep it in the refrigerator in easy view with light ranch dressing. Also, put fruit in a bowl on the counter within easy reach and full view.”

Buy a pedometer. “Many kids love them. They can compete with themselves to see how many steps they can get each day, and they are motivated to increase those steps day by day.”

Cathy Nonas, director of obesity and diabetes programs at North General Hospital in New York and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Don’t allow kids to watch TV while eating. “Eating in front of the TV becomes a hand-to-mouth thing and has little to do with hunger or the taste of food. Kids should eat only at the kitchen or dining room table. It formalizes eating and is a good opportunity for family interaction.”

Teach by example. “Kids learn habits early. If they grow up with whole-wheat pancakes, they probably won’t like white pancakes. If they grow up without butter on their corn, then they won’t miss it.”

Be consistent with rules. “If you don’t have sodas in the house, don’t have them for anyone. If you only have soda on Friday nights, that applies to everybody, not just the child with a weight issue.”