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Pack the veggies, lose the sweets

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Put down that sugary soda and pick up some veggies.

That’s the message being delivered to children as they head back to class and parents search for yummy and healthy snacks for their school lunches.

To make the hunt for nutritious and tasty grub easier, city officials and family organizations are offering advice for healthy eating habits.

Here’s some tips –

Instead of soda and other sugary drinks, have a tall glass of water.

An easy trick is to make sandwiches more interesting by slicing them up with cookie cutters in fun shapes.

Boring brown bags can also be decorated with colorful stickers.

Jazz up those old peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by topping the peanut butter with raisins, bananas or apple slices.

To appease kids who like colorful and crunchy foods, try using vegetables as “sandwich toppers.” Cucumber slices, sprouts, grated carrots, and zucchini are popular choices.

State Senator Marty Golden has also released tips for healthy school lunches.

He encourages parents to forgo potato chips, cookies, brownies, snack cakes and other baked goods. Instead, give kids baked chips, bread sticks, low fat crackers or pretzels.

For sandwiches, use whole grain bread instead of white bread. Also, trade fatty cheeses and meats like ham, bologna, salami, pastrami or corned beef for low fat alternatives.

If including milk and juice, buy only 100 percent juice and one percent or fat free milk.

In keeping with healthy eating, there’s a renewed campaign to combat childhood obesity rates.

The city Health Department offers advice for keeping kids in shape.

One, be physically active for at least one hour a day.

Two, avoid sedentary hobbies. Watch television and play video games for no more than one hour a day.

Last year, the city Department of Education (DOE) joined the healthy bandwagon by creating an Office of Fitness and Health Education to encourage kids to eat nutritious food and exercise.

City officials say healthier children will lead to a drop in diabetes rates.

According to Health Department data, just 53 percent of the city’s elementary school students maintain a healthy weight. More than 20 percent are obese, and as a result, have a greater chance of becoming diabetic.

Diabetes is prevalent in New York City, especially among the poor.

“Diabetes is hitting the city hard,” Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden has said. “Tragically, it is hurting our low-income communities much more than others. With good management, we can prevent devastating complications of diabetes, such as heart disease, blindness, leg amputations and kidney failure.”

Each year, approximately 20,000 New Yorkers are hospitalized due to diabetes, and 4,700 people living with the disease die, according to Health Department records.

City officials are hoping to prevent children from developing diabetes by giving them the tools necessary to lead healthy lifestyles.

The DOE expanded its C.H.A.M.P.S. program, which brings sports, such as basketball, tennis, baseball, and track and field, to middle school students.

City officials believe that a healthy child will be a successful student.

“Healthy kids learn better,” Frieden has said. “Improving fitness and nutrition is one of the best investments we can make for our children – and for our city’s future.”

For more healthy tips, log onto the Health Department’s Web site,

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