Limiting the sweets children eat could be more difficult than ever with Christmas right around the corner.

“We need to be mindful when we feed our children,” said Jenniffer Duran-West, supervisor of the Florence WIC Center and mother of two young children. “WIC” is short for Women, Infants and Children, a national nutrition program now celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Across the country more children are overweight or obese than ever before. This greatly concerns Duran-West.

“It’s seen as normal,” she said.

But Duran-West and her staff are addressing this problem. During one-on-one nutrition counseling with parents as well as group sessions, her WIC health educators encourage parents to make healthy food choices for their families.

“Parents need to remember that we’re the parents. We get to decide what to feed our child, and the child gets to decide how much to eat,” said Duran-West.

“If you feed your child cake, he will probably not get enough nutritious food. Your child might be crankier and act out, because his body needs the apple, not cake. If your child eats both, that’s unnecessary overeating. And we need to remember that sugar is unhealthy in many ways,” she said.

Duran-West holds a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and a master’s degree from New York State University. She has served as a WIC supervisor with South Los Angeles Health Projects since 2005.

Duran-West believes strongly in the value of the health and nutrition education her staff provide. “I’m a better parent because of my WIC training,” she said.

Duran-West shared these WIC nutrition tips for avoiding obesity and family stress:

• Breastfeed your baby. Babies let go of the breast when they’re full. This makes overfeeding difficult or impossible.

• Give your children less milk, no more than three servings of dairy products per day. They will have more room in their stomachs for nutritious fruits and vegetables, protein and whole grain.

• Serve children a small amount of any food at the beginning of a meal, not a large amount. Then give them more only if they ask for it. Children have smaller stomachs than we do.

• Forget the old idea that children need to clean their whole plate. We don’t want children to eat more than is healthy.

• Encourage your children to eat more fruits and vegetables.

• Allow them to eat small meals plus snacks throughout the day.

• Choose which foods to offer your children, but ask them to tell you when they are full.

• When your children want sweets or other foods that concern you, be firm about if or when to offer them.

• Let your children play with their food. That’s normal. Even if children put the food into their mouth and spit it out, that’s progress! It can take several times offering a new food until a child learns to enjoy it.

• Make your meals a family time, a fun activity.

• Give your child a choice of three different vegetables, so he or she feels in charge. “We teach this tip in our WIC ‘picky eaters’ class. Let them help with washing or cutting or putting the vegetables in the bowl.”

Duran-West explained some causes of obesity in children. “Children often don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. This is a big problem. Younger children often drink far too much milk, especially our bottle-fed infants. Some of them are not weaned from the bottle early enough,” she said. “And children often sit in front of the TV rather than play outside.”

How does the Florence WIC Center address obesity and nutrition?

“If children are overweight,” Duran-West said, “our WIC educators ask the parents, ‘How do you feel about your child’s weight?’ When parents learn their children are overweight, they often are surprised. Our educator then explains the risks of being overweight, and parents are usually very concerned.”

Participants receive checks for fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods. The educators suggest ways to help infants and children enjoy them. They talk with parents about milk with less fat and about switching from soda to water.

Recently WIC parent LaJune Towns brought her baby to the Florence center. “I love WIC dearly,” she said. “It’s been very helpful to me. My family used to drink whole milk; nowadays I serve 1 percent milk to everyone. And I’ve learned about the importance of fruits and vegetables.”

Duran-West encourages residents to learn more about WIC. “Visit us at the Florence WIC Center and find out whether you’re eligible for WIC.”

Benefits include nutrition education and counseling, breastfeeding support, checks for healthy foods, and referrals to healthcare and other services. These benefits are available to eligible low and moderate-income residents, including working families.

Women and teenagers who are pregnant, have recently had a baby or are breastfeeding, as well as infants and children under age 5 will qualify for WIC if they meet household income, and other program requirements.

Fathers, foster parents, grandparents and other guardians of eligible infants or children can also apply for WIC.

The Florence WIC Center is located at 501 E. Florence Ave. (near Avalon), Los Angeles.

For more information, call (310) 661-3080 or visit www.slahp.org.

The SLAHP/WIC Program is an equal opportunity provider.