Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD, FAAP
Nutrition isn't kids' stuff. Good nutrition can help your kids fend off common illnesses and develop strong, healthy bodies. Include foods with these key nutrients every day so your children learn to enjoy the taste of eating right. And don't forget to help them exercise and get a good night's rest.
Calcium is the super nutrient that helps make strong bones and teeth. It's most important during the growing years when bones are building. The best sources of calcium come from the cow.
1. Start your child's day with a bowl of cold or hot whole-grain cereal topped with skim or low-fat milk and sliced fresh fruit.
2. Serve low-fat yogurt, smoothies, or cheese after school and between meals for a nourishing snack.
3. Calcium-fortified juices and cereals are fine alternatives to help meet your child's daily requirement.
Snack idea. Boost your kids' calcium intake by blending low-fat chocolate milk, a banana, and ice into a delicious smoothie for a quick meal, dessert, or snack.
Kids need fiber, too. Grandma called it roughage and everyone, kids included, needs plenty of it each day. Get your kids used to the delicious taste of fibrous foods.
1. A bowl full of high-fiber cereal is a great start to meeting your child's daily needs. Read food labels to find whole-grain cereals that provide 3 or more grams of fiber per serving. Usually, the more sugar in a cereal, the less fiber. Add sweetness to cereal with fresh, canned (unsweetened), or frozen fruit.
2. Have cut-up whole fruits and veggies on hand to help your child meet the recommended five-plus daily servings of fiber. Keep fruit juice to a minimum. Whole fruits and vegetables contain much more fiber and less sugar than most juices.
3. Beans are fun to eat and loaded with fiber and protein. Drain and rinse canned beans that you can toss into soups, stews, salads, scrambled eggs and omelets, and salsas.
Snack idea. Spread crunchy peanut butter onto celery sticks and top with raisins for a kid-favorite "ants on a log" snack.
Every cell in the body is made of protein, which makes this major nutrient essential for healthy growth and development. Protein is in animal products, such as dairy, eggs, seafood, and meats. In somewhat lesser amounts, it is also in beans, nuts, vegetables, and grains. Boost your kids' nutrition with these protein-rich food ideas.
1. Even finicky kids love eggs. French toast, scrambled eggs, pancakes, and omelets are kid-pleasing dishes that contain plenty of protein, iron, and other important nutrients.
2. Branch out from fish sticks and try salmon dishes that kids will enjoy. Top salmon or other fish fillets with salsa or teriyaki sauce to give your child lean protein along with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
3. Add nuts to cereals, yogurts, or vegetables for added protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
Snack idea. Trail mix is a great portable snack that is also easy to prepare. Throw together a mix of dried fruits such as raisins, bananas, apples, or dried cranberries, nuts (soy nuts or peanuts), and high-fiber cereal.
Antioxidants help defend the body against harmful substances that can damage the body's cells. Power up your child's diet with foods rich in antioxidants, such as almonds, berries, citrus, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, and bell peppers.
1. Bring orange wedges or 100% citrus juice, fruit, and nut granola bars to the next sports practice for a refreshing and energizing treat.
2. Pack school lunches with baby carrots, grape tomatoes, and red bell pepper slices for a fiber- and antioxidant-rich lunch or snack.
3. Add plenty of antioxidant-rich tomatoes or tomato sauce to pizza, spaghetti, meatloaf, soups, and stews.
Snack idea. Parfaits are beautiful to look at and fun to eat. Make one by layering low-fat yogurt, fresh or frozen blueberries, and toasted almonds into a tall glass.
Children's diets are often lacking in iron, an essential mineral that carries oxygen in the blood and helps keep kids energized. Boost the iron in your kids' diet with lean meats, eggs, fish, dark leafy greens, beans, dried fruits, and iron-fortified grains.
1. Pair eggs at breakfast with oranges or orange juice to boost the absorption of iron.
2. Serve spinach salads at mealtime, topped with strawberries, dried cranberries, and/or slivered almonds and light raspberry vinaigrette. This is a salad kids will devour.
3. When kids refuse a meal, offer iron-fortified cereal topped with low-fat milk or yogurt and fruit as a suitable meal substitute.
Snack idea. Wrap an iron-fortified whole-wheat tortilla with sliced turkey, low-fat string cheese, and dried cranberries for a healthy snack.
SOURCE: Roberta Larson Duyff, American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2002.
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