Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are favorite foods of kids and adults alike. They are chock-full of antioxidants, vitamins A and C, and they are a good source of fiber. The sweet flavor of berries allows kids to get their sugar-fix naturally. A handful of fresh berries make a great snack. Add fresh or frozen berries to smoothies, muffins, yogurt, pancakes, cereals, salads and pudding.
Yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium for growing kids. The "good bacteria" in yogurt promote a healthy digestive system and boost immune function. Plain yogurt is also high in phosphorous, riboflavin and vitamin B12. Try mixing unsweetened yogurt with honey, nuts, seeds, fruits or cereal for a healthy breakfast or snack. Use it in baked goods, smoothies, dips, salad dressings or as a sour cream substitute.
Whole grains provide carbohydrate — the main source of fuel for active kids. They're high in folic acid, iron, zinc and B vitamins. The fiber in whole grains keeps kids from experiencing the fluctuations in blood glucose that often result from eating refined grains, and that can contribute to energy dips. A wide variety of whole grain, kid-friendly breads, cracker, cereals and pastas can be found at most grocery stores. Explore new grains together with your kids. Try quinoa, millet, brown rice, oats and kasha.
Fish is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Omega-3 fatty acids are critical to brain development and normal growth. Since the mercury content of some fish may be harmful for children, stick to varieties of fatty fish with low mercury levels such as wild salmon, freshwater trout, sardines, chunk light tuna, tilapia and catfish. Fish can be prepared and served in many kid-friendly ways, such as tuna salad wraps, oven baked fish sticks or fish tacos.
Nuts are rich in heart healthy fats and vitamin E. They also pack a powerful antioxidant punch and are an excellent source of fiber and protein. Good nut choices are walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios and cashews. Nut butters are popular with kids. Be sure to look for varieties without sugar and additives. Sprinkle nuts onto yogurt, cereal, stir-fries, pastas and salads. Eat them raw or let kids make their own trail mix.
The more colorful the vegetable, the more nutritious it will be. Kids especially like carrots and sweet potatoes because of their sweet flavor. These vegetables are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C and iron. Oven-baked sweet potato fries are a kid-friendly treat. Encourage kids to eat greens, as they are a fantastic source of calcium. Adding a little salt while cooking greens will bring out their sweetness, which will increase their appeal.
Eggs are a super food because they contain all the amino acids necessary for building protein in the body. They are also an "egg-squisite" choice because of their choline content, which is important in brain development. Kids often like them scrambled or "sunny-side up." Hard boil eggs for an easy, portable snack.
An excellent source of fiber and protein, beans add a nutritional boost to a child's diet. They are also high in iron, an important mineral for growth in kids of all ages. Add beans or lentils to tacos, wraps, soups, nachos and chili. Kids love to dip, so use beans to make bean dips and hummus.
- Shelly Guzman, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University