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VIA TODAY SHOW:

By Joy Bauer

How can you easily improve your family’s daily diet without much hassle? Getting your kids to eat nutrient-packed meals doesn’t have to take a lot of work. Just a few simple changes, like buying the right vegetables or substituting condiments, can put them on the road to healthier eating.

1. Make the switch to sweets — potatoes, that is!

Use sweet potatoes in place of standard white potatoes for baked potatoes, oven fries, mashed potatoes, and in soups and stews. While both types are nutritious options that are high in potassium, folate and vitamin C, sweet potatoes offer the added bonus of a gigantic dose of beta-carotene — a potent antioxidant and nutrient critical for healthy vision and skin. Even though sweet potatoes contain more sugar than white potatoes, they actually raise blood sugars less than their white counterparts. Why? Sweet potatoes have more than twice as much fiber as a russet baking potato, and much of it is the soluble type, which helps slow your body’s absorption of sugars from food. What’s more, kids love their pleasingly sweet taste, so it will be easy to get them on board with the change.

2. Bake better with whole-grain flour

When making cookies, muffins or other treats, replace half of the all-purpose in your recipe with whole-wheat or oat flour. You can safely make this swap without making any other adjustments to the recipe and you’ll benefit from the extra fiber, vitamins and minerals found in whole grains. You can even make your own oat flour at home — just pulse rolled oats in the food processor until they form a fine powder.

To maximize shelf life, store whole-grain flours in the fridge or freezer. Because the oil-rich germ is left intact, whole-grain flours go rancid faster than all-purpose flour.

3. Go dark when you go green

Instead of defaulting to iceberg lettuce — the most common choice for salads and sandwiches — turn over a new leaf and choose darker lettuces like romaine, arugula, escarole, bibb or baby spinach instead. In general, the darker the green, the richer its nutrient profile. A lettuce’s vibrant green color is a good indicator it contains more potassium, beta carotene, folate, fiber and vitamin K than classic iceberg. Even though the difference isn’t always dramatic, it’s a great way to give your diet a healthy nudge in the right direction.

4. Capitalize on condiments!

Choose condiments that add a hit of nutrition, as well as flavor, to sandwiches, wraps, burgers, tacos and baked potatoes. Use hummus in place of mayo as a sandwich spread to add protein and fiber. Or, add a smear of guacamole; the avocado it contains is one of the richest sources of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Replace ketchup — which contains mostly sugar and very little in the way of vegetables — with a spoonful of low-sodium salsa or fruit chutney to slightly boost your produce intake. Every little bit helps!

5. Snack smarter … with popcorn!

Make air-popped popcorn your snack food of choice. As a whole-grain snack, it has far more fiber and other nutrients than potato chips, cheese twists or pretzels made with refined white flour. Plus, it’s incredibly voluminous, so it fills you up for a relatively low caloric cost — only about 30 calories per cup for air-popped or “light” microwavable varieties. Of course, dousing popcorn with melted butter easily negates any health advantage by jacking up the calories and saturated fat big time. To keep it light, flavor plain air-popped with spices (black pepper, Cajun seasoning, chili powder and cumin work well) or dust it with grated Parmesan cheese (your kids will be all over this one).

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