Make Kid Foods More Nutritious

Okay, so you may never get your kids to give up nuggets, cookies, and juice -- but you can make their fave foods healthier.

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  • Save juice boxes and pouches for road trips, and limit fruit juice at home to 4 to 6 ounces day -- it's full of sugar and calories, and kids can get vitamin C from healthier whole fruit (and vegetables too).

  • Make a small serving go farther by diluting juice with water. Or pop a couple of frozen juice cubes -- each cube holds an ounce -- into flavored seltzer for a fizzy, low-sugar treat.

  • When you do give juice, opt for OJ: It boasts folate and potassium, and the kids' versions are fortified with calcium and vitamins A and E.
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* When ordering, ask for a pizza "easy on the cheese" or with "half the usual amount of cheese." Also, pick thin crust over thick to slash about 80 calories per slice.

* Vitamin-rich veggies are the most nutritious topping, but if your family wants meat, your best options are chicken or ham (pepperoni, though still high in fat, is slightly leaner than sausage).

* Pass up high-damage extras like cheese-stuffed crusts or breadsticks, and serve a bagged salad on the side instead.

* Our favorite healthy idea: Make your own pizza with a packaged whole wheat crust (4 grams of fiber per serving) topped with spaghetti sauce and part-skim mozzarella, or give your kids whole wheat pitas and let them choose their own veggie topping.

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French Fries

* At the drive-thru, order the smallest size -- and share them.

* You'll do better with frozen fries from the store: They have about half the fat of restaurant taters, though ones labeled "battered" and "extra crispy" tend to be higher in fat. Scan labels for trans fats, since many brands have up to 3.5 grams per serving (McCain is one brand that's trans fat free).

* To really trim the fat, cut potatoes into wedges or sticks, toss with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, and bake on a sheet at 400 degrees F. for about 20 minutes. Sweet potatoes are a fun twist, and you'll more than meet your child's daily vitamin A needs.

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Ice Cream

* Stick to basics when you take the kids out for ice cream: The more bells and whistles inside and on top of their ice cream -- chocolate coating, candy-bar pieces, caramel swirls -- the higher the calories and fat.

* Go for light ice cream, which has about half the fat of regular. Better yet, get a scoop of frozen yogurt -- it delivers even fewer calories, has little if any fat, and is actually a good source of calcium. (A half-cup scoop equals a serving.)

* For desserts at home, buy light ice cream sandwiches, fudge pops, or ice pops, all of which are low in calories and fat.

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Macaroni and Cheese

* Making the boxed kind? Use skim milk and reduce the margarine from 4 tablespoons to 1 to save about 100 calories and 10 grams of fat per cup.

* Mix up your own with a sauce of skim milk, margarine, and flour -- then melt in shredded or sliced cheese (let your kids pick their favorites). Boil up whole wheat noodles for 6 grams of filling fiber per cup. For a real nutrition boost, stir in some broccoli florets and diced carrots.

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* Watching portion size is the key with cookies. Most contain roughly the same amount of sugar, but serving sizes vary widely: 10 animal crackers, eight vanilla wafers, four gingersnaps, three chocolate sandwich cookies, or two sheets of graham crackers all equal about 150 calories.

* Does your child want a bigger portion? Choose Teddy Grahams: They're lower in sugar and fortified with calcium, with only about five calories per bear.

* For no-brainer portion control, give your kids one of the new 100-calorie snack packs. And look for whole-grain versions of Fig Newtons and Chips Ahoy! -- each serving has 2 grams of fiber.

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Chicken Nuggets

* Nuggets pack a lot of fat, whether they're from the drive-thru or the freezer section. (About five nuggets can have almost half of your child's daily fat allowance!) You can save a couple of grams by choosing ones made with only breast meat -- and chicken patties have a bit less too.

* Faux chicken nuggets (made with vegetable protein) taste like the real deal but save loads of fat per serving.

* Make your own nearly-fat-free chicken fingers by dipping skinless tenderloins in egg whites, rolling them in bread crumbs and "frying" them on the stove in a nonstick skillet (add a bit of canola oil or cooking spray). Give your kids barbecue sauce or low-fat ranch dressing for dipping.

Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the November 2007 issue of Parents magazine.

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