Teaching kids the importance of eating healthy foods now can set them on the right course for life, but if you’re not a health guru, educating your kids can be a challenge. That’s why we asked health and nutrition experts to weigh in on the 10 healthiest foods your kids need to be eating now. Discover their top picks, plus helpful shopping tips and advice.
What to look for
When writing your grocery list, keep these important tips in mind:
- Focus on fresh. According to Dr. Timothy Harlan (also known as “Dr. Gourmet“), medical director of the Tulane University School of Medicine, the freshness of the foods you prepare for your kids is key. “If the food has been processed, it’s likely not very good for your kids,” he said. “Make your own macaroni and cheese — don’t get it out of a box. Don’t get fruit roll-ups — instead, buy fresh or dried fruit.”
- Kids need fiber. According to Ashley Koff, RD, celebrity nutritionist and featured nutrition expert on the CW’s upcoming “Shedding for the Wedding,” fiber is a vital nutrient for your little one’s diet. “They need fiber — the real stuff — not the synthetic stuff added to junk cereals, so that would mean an apple, ground flaxseeds, fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Now that you know what to look for on your next shopping trip, read on to discover the 10 healthiest foods your kids need to be eating.
The 10 healthiest foods for kids
Fruit makes the perfect snack. Cut up an apple to fill up their tummies before dinner. According to health and nutrition counselor Gina van Luven, the more color, the better. “Blue and purple fruits and vegetables (like blueberries and eggplant) contain resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant known for its cancer-fighting and heart-health properties.”
Get creative when adding veggies to your child’s plate. “If they like tacos, put extra onions and diced celery in the taco meat, then add tomatoes and lettuce,” Dr. Harlan suggested.
Also, don’t forget to go heavy on the leafy greens. Certified health and nutrition coach Lisa Consiglio Ryan recommends kale, mustard greens, spinach, Romaine lettuce and Swiss chard. “These greens have chlorophyll, which cleanses and oxygenates the blood. Having more oxygen in the blood translates to better endurance and an overall reduction in fatigue,” Consiglio Ryan said.
“Nuts are a great way to get healthy fats and build energy,” Dr. Harlan said. Make your own trailmix using nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Keep it in the car for an afternoon energy boost.
Peanut butter is an ideal source for protein, vitamins, magnesium and dietary fiber. Peanuts are also well-known legumes. According to Dr. Harlan, when combined with whole-wheat bread, peanut butter can be the perfect sandwich for your child’s lunchbox. “It’s a healthy sandwich providing them with a serving (or two) of legumes every day.”
Convincing little ones to eat fish can be tricky. Try serving various types of fish until you find what they like. Tuna fish, which provides protein and omega-3 fatty acids, can be a healthy and kid-friendly fish option.
Whether you spread it, melt it or serve it in chunks, cheese is an ideal addition to your child’s meal. Serve it with whole wheat crackers for a scrumptious snack. Fat-free cottage cheese or ricotta cheese are also ideal sources of protein.
Opt for whole wheat pasta and bread, whole-grain cereals, brown rice and oatmeal. Dr. Harlan points out another pasta alternative — quinoa pasta. “It has the flavor and texture of white pasta, but offers more fiber and protein.”
Does your little one love beans? You’re in luck! Dr. Harlan suggests making chili or bean salads. “They offer tons of protein, great carbs and lots of fiber.”
You simply can’t go wrong with this popular snack-time treat. To keep it healthy, Dr. Harlan recommends air-popped popcorn.
Water and tea
When it comes to drinking healthy liquids, water and decaffeinated tea are at the top of Dr. Harlan’s list. “Juice, sports drinks, punch, milk and soda are simply empty calories,” he said. “There’s a lot of better ways for them to get energy, including consuming fruits, beans, peanut butter and whole grains.”