Could the obesity epidemic be ending? In spite of alarming statistics about the unhealthy state of our kids—1 in 3 children are now considered obese (nearly triple the rate in 1963)—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has new evidence that America's kids are slimming down. When CDC researchers analyzed data from millions of children in low-income families between the ages of two and four, they got a bit of good news, reports CNN. "The results of this study indicate modest recent progress of obesity prevention among young children," noted the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported on CNN.

Kids grow at different rates so it can be challenging to determine if your child's weight falls into a healthy range. But being overweight can lead to a host of health problems including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and even the onset of type 2 diabetes, not to mention psychological issues, too. (Can anyone say low self-esteem?) so it makes good sense to eat a nutritious diet. Here are some healthy alternatives to less healthy options:

Unhealthy: Refrigerated prepackaged lunches. "Kids think they look fun and cool but they can be a high source of sodium, fat, and calories," says Vandana Sheth, RD, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Healthy alternative: Buy a reusable container with dividers and fill it with hummus, whole grain crackers and fresh fruit. Or make a sandwich on whole wheat bread with lean meat, lettuce, and tomato. "This way, you can offer portion sizes that you can control," Sheth says.

Unhealthy: Sweetened and artificially colored cereals. Alison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore says they are low in fiber and protein and have little nutritional value. "If one of these cereals is your child's favorite, offer it for dessert or as an after-school snack and be sure to serve it in a small bowl."

Healthy alternative: Low-sugar, high-fiber cereal with a favorite fresh or dried fruit.

Unhealthy: Gummy fruit snacks and roll-ups. "They're loaded with artificial color and sugar, and resemble candy more than they do fruit," Massey says.

Healthy alternative: Whatever kind of fresh fruit your child likes. Keep plenty of cut-up fruit at eye level in the refrigerator so it's readily available when kids get hungry. Offer fruit snacks very occasionally as you would candy.

Unhealthy: Sweetened drinks. Skip the carbonated soft drinks and sugar-sweetened juice drinks, Sheth says. "When kids fill up with these, they consume less of nutritious drinks such as milk."

Healthy alternative: Water or seltzer.

Unhealthy: Packaged cakes and desserts. Besides being loaded with calories, these tend to have saturated fat, Massey says.

Healthy alternative: Muffins or cookies, made from scratch. Try reducing fat and sugar and using whole-wheat flour instead, Massey says. Canned fruit is fine, too. "As long as the fruit is canned in its natural juices rather than heavy syrup," says Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. "Unsweetened applesauce is another a good choice."

Unhealthy: Canned meats. These are high in fat and sodium, so are best avoided.

Healthy alternative: If you want to have shelf-stable proteins on hand, stock up on canned fish packed in water. Peanut butter is also a good source of protein, though they'll probably have to eat it at home, Gans says since many schools now have peanut-free cafeterias to accommodate students with a peanut allergy.

Unhealthy: Chips. Whether fried or kettle-cooked, it's easy to overeat these crunchy snacks.

Healthy alternative: Crisp, raw celery and carrot sticks with a lowfat dip (yogurt or salad dressing usually does the trick). If your child is still looking for some crunch, try unsalted, unbuttered popcorn. When you make your own, popcorn is a whole grain, and a great snack that is relatively low in calories. For your little chip lover, offer an individual portion of 100 percent baked potato chips, Gans says

Alison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, reviewed this article.




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