When preparing meals for our children, we always try to ensure their meals are packed with as many good things as possible. Preparing a healthful meal might be pretty easy — but getting your child to actually eat it is the struggle for many parents. Mealtimes can quickly become very overwhelming and stressful, leaving you questioning if your child is actually getting enough nutrients. Here is a top 20 list of foods your child should be eating every week, and some tips and tricks on how to sneak them past even the pickiest little eaters!
Eggs are packed with protein, which when consumed at breakfast, helps kids feel satisfied and fuller longer, keeping those mid-morning hunger pangs at bay. Eggs are also one of the only foods that naturally contains vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.
Scrabbled, soft boiled, hard boiled, poached — so many options. Play around and see which way your child likes best. If your child still isn’t a fan of eggs, try sneaking them into their diet with french toast! Whisk 2 eggs with a pinch of cinnamon, then soak 2 pieces of whole grain bread in the egg mixture — then pan fry. Serve with fresh berries, yogurt, honey, or a sprinkling of cocoa for some added sweetness and flavor, that you can control!
Oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate that provides kids with a steady stream of energy as their body digests it slowly. Research has shown improved concentration in school children, when they start their day with a bowl of fiber-rich whole grains like oatmeal.
Try to avoid pre-packaged instant oatmeals and quick oats – as these varieties are often processed and contain less fibre and nutrients than whole grain rolled oats or steel-cut oats. Pre-packaged varieties are also often very high in sugar, which will spike your child’s blood sugar followed by a mid-morning crash. Try overnight oats on busy mornings, as a great grab and go breakfast!
When consumed in their whole-state, fruit will provide your child with vitamins and minerals, along with fibre, which helps keep them regular. In order to best reap the benefits, provide your child with a variety of fruits like berries, melon, and citrus fruits like oranges or grapefruits.
Frozen fruit blended into a smoothie is another great way to incorporate fruit into your child’s diet! Try one cup of frozen Mango, which provides almost an entire day’s requirement of vitamin C, which helps keep immune systems strong and teeth and gums healthy, too.
Nuts are packed-full of healthy fats essential for you child’s heart health and their growth and development. Provided there are no nut-allergy concerns, having a small amount of nuts is an great way to add healthy ‘good’ fats into your child’s diet.
Try serving up a small handful of nuts as a min-morning snack to give your little one a burst of energy to keep them going during their active day. Walnuts, almonds or pistachios, are believed to be three of the top nut varieties with the greatest benefits to heart, and overall health.
Milk is an excellent source of protein and calcium, which provides fuel for our little one’s brain and body. Protein helps build their brain tissue, while calcium aids in the strength of their bones and teeth.
Low-fat and reduced fat milks may sound like the better option, but opt for full-fat homogenized milk, when possible. Growing children need fat in their diet, especially those under the age of two. If your child has a lactose intolerance, try almond or soy milk that is fortified with Vitamin D, to best absorb the calcium in the milk substitute.
Although ‘Fruit’ already made this top 20 list, blueberries are well-deserving of their own spotlight. Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, and have been ranked as one of the healthiest fruits for many years. Studies have linked blueberries in protecting against heart disease and diabetes and improving brain function.
Blueberries may also help keep the waistline in check, as some research shows that they may also help reduce visceral “toxic” belly fat — a type of fat that has been linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome. Trying throwing some blueberries on top your child’s oatmeal or yogurt. You could also try incorporating them into a morning smoothie, or adding some to a side salad at dinner.
Whole soy foods like tofu, are a great source of lean protein, B vitamins, calcium and iron. Some studies state that tofu has potential anti-cancer benefits. Try to incorporate tofu into your child’s diet by dicing some up and adding it to a stir-fry, soup or salad.
Alternatively, try adding a silken variety of tofu in a homemade vegetable dip or spread, or as a substitute for yogurt in a fruit smoothie. Edamame (soybeans) are also a fun snack for kids. Steam and lightly salt, and they will have a blast popping them out of the shells.
Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, which is a substance that protects against many types of cancers. Cooking a tomato, makes them even healthier because the heat helps release the lycopene. As a tip, pair tomato with a good fat source, like olive oil — the combination of the two ingredients helps the body absorb more lycopene!
Some great ways to incorporate tomatoes into your child’s diet is pizza and pasta sauces, or add some to your homemade meatball or meatloaf recipe. If your child doesn’t mind a bit of heat, try serving up a bowl of homemade chili or make a delicious homemade salsa with a side of tortilla chips as an after school snack!
12. Greek Yogurt
Yogurt contains healthy bacteria which aids in digestion and boosts immunity. Greek yogurt contains less sugar, and has two to three times as much protein as regular yogurt. Choose plain full-fat greek yogurts, and avoid sugar-added versions. The sugary versions are often lower in protein and good bacteria.
Look for the words “live and active cultures” to ensure the yogurt has plenty of the healthy beneficial bacteria to keep your little ones stomachs happy and healthy. Serve some up at breakfast with fresh fruit for natural sweetness, or even serve as dessert topped with granola, fresh berries and a drizzle of honey for sweetness!
Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli and kale, which all contain phytonutrients known to lower the risk of many types of cancer, as well as improve digestion. Cabbage also helps to clear harmful toxins from the body by triggering the release of enzymes whose job it is to rid them.
It has a mild flavour, and a crunch that kids tend to enjoy better than other salad greens. Try to make a homemade coleslaw to serve alongside a sandwich, or try serving it up as a topping for their hamburger or their Tuesday night taco!
Salmon contains heart-healthy omega-3 fats which are known to boost brain development, fend of depression, and have excellent anti-inflammatory powers. Be sure to select the wild salmon variety from your local supermarket, which contains lower levels of mercury and higher amounts of omega-3’s!
Now, what is the best way to get your child to eat salmon, you ask? Try to pair it with ingredients you know they already like. You can do a sweet maple or orange glaze if your child has a sweeter-tooth, or try a teriyaki or soy sauce glaze with sesame seeds if they prefer something more salty. You could also try to make your own fish cakes and serve with a homemade salsa or tartare-style sauce if you child enjoys to dip!
This might excite you a bit to see this on the list. Finally — an ingredient that most kids wouldn’t turn down! Cocoa powder actually has one of the highest concentrations of flavonoids, a compound known to improve blood pressure, heart health and oral health. Studies show, these compounds may also protect skin from sun damage.
Use at minimum 70 percent pure cocoa, and check that it isn’t processed with alkali (aka “dutch processed”), which removes most of those beneficial flavonoids from the cocoa. Other than the probably obvious way to serve it (hot cocoa), you can sprinkle some over french toast, or melt some dark chocolate to dunk some of your favourite fruits for dessert. Be sure not to add too much sugar, if any.
8. Black Beans
Beans are an excellent source of protein, as well as fiber and calcium. The darker the colour of the bean, the better they are. Beans help to guard against heart disease and high cholesterol which aren’t only problems that adults may have.
Try whipping up a tasty bean and hummus dip to serving alongside your kids favourite vegetables or whole wheat pita. You could also try incorporating beans into your homemade hamburger or veggie burger recipes — picky eaters won’t even know they are in there!
Basil is a wonderful herb that is packed with antioxidants, vitamin A, C and K, and are an excellent source of iron, potassium and calcium to boot! Basil can also help improve digestion, and some research shows it may even ease headaches.
Try to make your own pesto to spoon over chicken breast or stir into cooked pasta. If you child melts down at the sight of little green pieces of anything in their food, try grinding it superfine and hide it in other tomato based sauces, soups or even in your homemade meatballs, meatloaf or burger recipes.
Adding spices like cinnamon to your kids food is a great way to offer interesting flavor without having to add sugar or salt. Research shows that cinnamon helps to regulate blood sugar, which may also minimize mid-morning energy crashes.
Try sprinkling it on your child’s oatmeal, pancakes, french toast, or add a couple extra dashes to your favourite muffin recipe.
Flaxseed is a nutty plant food that is packed full of heart healthy ‘good’ fats like Omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed for optimal brain development. Flaxseeds can be consumed whole or ground, however research suggests that when flaxseed is ground it is better absorbed by the body.
Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s. Try sprinkling ground flaxseed on your child’s oatmeal, or mix some in the batter of your homemade pancakes or muffins, and it will add a healthy boost to your baked goods!
4. Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritious and inexpensive vegetables available. They are high in vitamin A which is important for eye health, and acts like an antioxidant in the body. They are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium, to name a few!
Sweet potato is often one of the first solid foods that babies try, and is usually well received because of their natural sweetness and vibrant orange color. Try swapping out your regular spuds for this variety next time you do a mashed potato or even baked!
Hummus makes a great heart-healthy dip or spread that usually even picky eaters will enjoy. Chickpeas (aka Garbanzo beans) are a complex carbohydrate that’s high in protein and fiber. The complex carbohydrates are what fuel you little ones throughout the day, while the protein and fiber keeps kids feeling satiated, making hummus a great mid-morning or afternoon snack that helps tie them over until lunch or dinner time.
In addition to the protein and fiber, the chickpeas in hummus are high in folate, iron, phosphorus and B vitamins (which are especially important for children who aren’t big meat-eaters, whose vegetarian or vegan diet may be lacking these nutrients). Serve hummus with a drizzle of olive oil alongside baked whole wheat pita or veggies, or swap out mayonnaise on a sandwich or wrap with this tasty spread.
Avocados are a naturally nutrient-dense food that contain nearly 20 vitamins and minerals. They are full of monounsaturated fats — the “good” fats that kids and grown-ups alike, need in their diet everyday. 25 -35 percent of kid’s calories should come from fats, primarily the unsaturated types. Similar to hummus, mashed avocados are a great substitute for mayonnaise or butter on a sandwich or wrap.
If your avocados are quite ripe, mash them up with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice and a pinch of salt for a tasty quick and easy guacamole dip. Avocados are tasty even spooned straight out of its peel. Experiment and see which way your child likes them best!
Last, but certainly not least, spinach is loaded with vitamins and minerals that are good for every part of your body! This leafy green is one of the best sources of dietary magnesium, which is necessary for energy metabolism, maintaining muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, maintaining blood pressure and promoting a healthy immune system. It has sometimes been referred to as being one of the world’s healthiest food — and it isn’t hard to believe, as it is loaded with so many vitamins and minerals that it is exhausting to list – but here we go! Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. It is a very good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, protein and choline. It is also high in zinc and niacin.
Now, how to sneak this leafy green past children who scream at the sight of anything green put on their plates? A favourite tried and true idea is incorporating a handful of spinach into a smoothie. Try ½ c spinach, ½ c frozen mango, ½ avocado and ½ a banana. Add water for easy blending, and enjoy! You can also try chopping it up very finely and mixing into your cooked pasta or pizza sauce recipe or into your own homemade meatballs or hamburgers. They won’t even know this superfood is hidden inside! Have fun in the kitchen, and collaborate with your children as they grow to come up with your families favourite ways to prepare and use these ingredients in your weekly repertoire!