Nutrition for children is based on the same principles as adults. Everyone, regardless of age, needs the same types of micro and macro nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Children, however, need different amounts of specific nutrients at different stages of their growth and development. When combined with exercise, a healthy diet helps children grow and learn. It also helps prevent childhood obesity and related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, conditions that are usually associated with middle-aged adults, but unfortunately, are now increasingly affecting our children.
So what constitutes a nutritious diet to fuel your child’s growth and development? Growing bones need calcium, protein and vitamin D-rich foods. Developing brains need antioxidants, vitamins and minerals from a variety of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and proteins, including oily fish and their essential omega-3 fatty acids. To boost your child’s immune system and help ward off childhood infections, plenty of antioxidant and vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables are needed. To help prevent childhood obesity, limit fast foods, junk foods, concentrated fruit drinks and sodas.
Read on, and check out what top nutritious foods are needed for children to develop, grow and to support their energy requirements – and what foods should REALLY be avoided! We realize that getting children to actually eat these nutritious foods can be a challenge, often leaving parents wondering if their child is getting enough nutrients, so we’ve listed some super tasting, super foods too:-)
Apples are a nutritious fruit that all kids seem to love. They’re rich in anti-inflammatory flavonoids such as quercetin, which may help prevent and alleviate childhood asthma. They also contain useful amounts of vitamin C, good amounts of potassium and are a valuable source of soluble fiber, called pectin. So the old saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, may be correct! Apples can be cut up into ‘apple smiles’ and make excellent finger food snacks for children and toddlers, grated over cereals, popped into lunch boxes for a nutritious mid-morning break, cooked, pureed and added to natural yogurt, or as a dessert, with custard. Kids of course love apple juice, but beware of commercially made juices, laden with added sugar, or made from apple concentrate, same with other fruit juices. Either buy juice made from whole fruits with no added sugar, or if you have a juicer, juice your own apples. Even then dilute with water and limit your child to one juice a day, due to the naturally high sugar content.
Who doesn’t love bananas, they’re such a handy snack! Bananas can be a life saver when it comes to picky eaters as most kids love them, and they’re so handy to pop into lunch boxes. So what’s good about them? Bananas are a rich source of potassium, a mineral that plays a role as an energy supplying electrolyte – and growing kids need all energy sources they can get! Although bananas do not contain high amounts of calcium, they do supply the body with substances called fructooligosaccharides, a prebiotic, which paves the way for probiotics, the friendly bacteria in the gut. As these prebiotic substances ferment in the digestive tract, they enhance the body’s ability to absorb calcium, a much-needed mineral for growing bones. Bananas are easily digested, so also make a perfect food for babies being weaned onto solid foods. As if that wasn’t enough, bananas also contain tryptophan, serotonin, and norepinephrine, all compounds that encourage feelings of well-being and relaxation, which is great for hyper kids.
Both nutritious and convenient, eggs provide a wide range of nutrients including vitamins A, D, E and most of the B-vitamins. Eggs are also rich in the minerals iron and zinc and the nutrients lecithin and choline, all vital for brain development in young children and needed to nourish growing bodies. As a bonus, along with being one of nature’s nutritional treasures in one neat package, eggs are one of the most versatile foods on the planet. Eggs can be prepared in many ways, but chances are your child has a favorite. It might be scrambled, lightly fried, as a cheese omelet, or boiled with whole grain ‘toast soldiers’ to dip in! The choice is theirs!
Natural live yogurt is the superhero of the dairy aisle. It’s full of beneficial bacteria, protein, and calcium – all the nutritious stuff your kids need to keep their growing bodies healthy. Don’t feel compelled to go for the kiddies variety of yogurts. They are often loaded with added sugar or fruit concentrates. You can add a little honey or fruit puree to natural yogurt to help your little ones enjoy the experience of this highly beneficial, nutrient rich food. Or buy some live yogurt culture and a yogurt maker and have fun with the kids making their own flavored yogurt and frozen yogurt desserts.
A bowl of warming porridge makes the perfect start to the day, especially on cold winter mornings. Oats are a true old fashioned superfood containing a broad range of vitamins and minerals, including B-vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron. They’re also high in fiber and are digested slowly in the body, providing a slower energy release which will help keep your child focused and energized for longer. Wholesome oats are often overlooked as a breakfast cereal, with children often favoring sugar laden, processed breakfast cereals. But oatmeal doesn’t have to be boring or slow to make, it can be soaked overnight and only takes 2 minutes to cook in the morning. Then cover with kid friendly toppings like fresh, dried, or frozen fruit, honey, maple syrup, or a little brown sugar. Alternatively, make up a weekly batch of your own honey nut, fruit & oat clusters, keep in an airtight container and serve with natural live yogurt. Oats also provide the basis for great tasting healthy treats, like flapjacks and energy bars.
The orange-fleshed sweet potato is extremely high in potent antioxidants beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, magnesium and selenium, all needed for the healthy development of your child. But best of all, their creamy texture and sweet flavor put them right up there with foods your kids love to eat! Mashed, they make a perfect and nutritious weaning food for babies, and oven baked sweet potato wedges make a great finger food for toddlers. Treat sweet potatoes just like you would any other potato. They can be mashed, roasted or made into a delicious sweet casserole, but the most popular with kids seems to be oven-baked sweet potato French fries or wedges.
Berries are nutritional powerhouses and unlike some other healthy foods, kids usually love them! They are rich in powerful plant nutrients called anthocyanidins, known to support your child’s developing brain and protect it from free radical damage, helping them to grow smarter! Berries are also a good source of immune-boosting antioxidant vitamins C and E, and as a bonus, they provide fiber, often lacking in children who eat a diet high in processed foods. There are plenty of ways to incorporate blueberries into your child’s diet but here’s a delicious breakfast idea that kids will just love, and it ticks all the nutrition boxes too! (Serves 4) 2 tbsp clear local honey, 3oz mixed unsalted nuts, (walnuts are a great brain food) 7 oz fresh blueberries, 8tbsp natural yogurt. Simply warm the honey over a medium heat, chop the nuts and stir through until well coated, put yogurt into bowls and spoon over nut mixture and blueberries. Enjoy while still warm. Warning: Nuts can pose a choking hazard for for children under five.
Free Range Chicken
Poultry such as free range chicken and turkey are great low-fat sources of complete proteins. This means that they contain adequate amounts of all 9 essential amino acids required to make key neurotransmitters in the brain, needed by children to aid clarity of thought, concentration and vitality. A portion of free-range chicken contains not only protein but most of the B-vitamins, and it’s especially high in B3. It’s also rich in minerals including selenium, iron, potassium, zinc and magnesium all needed for healthy development and growth. Studies also show that organic, free-range chicken contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and other nutrients than non-organic meat. Luckily most children love chicken, with chicken nuggets being a favorite. Always buy high-quality chicken nuggets, containing whole, non-processed chicken pieces. Or if you have the time, make your own, by dipping chunks of chicken breast into beaten egg and then roll in seasoned, whole grain breadcrumbs, and oven roast till cooked on the inside and crispy on the outside. If you are very organized, you can make big batches and freeze them, then they just need to be reheated in the oven.
Unless there are special needs and considerations, I tend to err on the side of keeping it simple, but there are four foundational supplements for kids that I think are worth giving. These are not designed to replace healthy foods but act as a complement to make sure all nutritional needs are being met. The most basic of the basics, a good multivitamin and mineral is a great starting point. Vitamins and minerals are so important to make sure all biochemical pathways are moving along nicely. You can’t possibly supplement with each and every nutrient individually, so a good quality multivitamin is key. Many come in liquid form and chewable form, which tend to be easier with kids. It’s worth getting a good quality multivitamin, as cheaper ones come with cheaper forms of the minerals, which are not as absorbable.
Unless there are special needs and considerations, I tend to err on the side of keeping it simple, but there are four foundational supplements for kids that I think are worth giving. These are not designed to replace healthy foods but act as a complement to make sure all nutritional needs are being met. Vitamin D deficiency is more common than we would think, and yet it is such an important nutrient especially for bones, and for the immune system. Vitamin D is more than a vitamin – it acts as a hormone in the body too. Vitamin D is readily available in liquid form, and is quite concentrated, making it very easy to administer. I used drops that were 400 IU per drop when my daughter was an itty-bitty baby, just adding it to her milk. Now she’s over two I’m giving her 1000 IU daily.
Unless there are special needs and considerations, I tend to err on the side of keeping it simple, but there are four foundational supplements for kids that I think are worth giving. These are not designed to replace healthy foods but act as a complement to make sure all nutritional needs are being met. I honestly think every single individual should take probiotics!! Since we have many many more bacteria in our bodies than we do actual cells, we want to make sure that bacterial environment is as healthy as possible. Poor nutrition, high-sugar diets, antibiotics and stress can all deplete our healthy gut flora and allow unhealthy flora to take over. Probiotics are pretty easy to give too – you can either empty a capsule, or get a liquid one and simply add it to your child’s drink.
There are a few oils that can be helpful for children, particularly to support neurological developmental, behavior and cognition. One of these is frankincense. Frankincense supports the central nervous system and is good for anything neurological. It is great for emotional balance too. It can be applied on soles of feet or the base of the skull. For older kids and adults, it can be taken internally – either under the tongue, or in a capsule and swallowed. Frankincense can also be an amazing oil to help manage inflammation in the body and brain.