As a parent, you want to do everything in your power to make sure your kiddos grow up strong and healthy. Good nutrition is important not only for the proper growth and development of their bodies but also their minds – and even their behavior. So, what are the best foods to give them to ensure they’re getting the vitamins and minerals they need?
If you guessed that fast-food burgers and frozen chicken nuggets probably aren’t going to cut it, you’re onto something. A whole foods diet – providing vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in whole, unprocessed forms – is going to provide the most significant nutrition benefits.
Which vitamins and minerals do kids need most?
Kids have different nutrition needs than adults. Because their bones and other tissues continue growing at rapid rates, they need to consume some nutrients in higher amounts. However, eating more calories in an attempt to combat deficiencies isn’t the answer. In fact, it can contribute to childhood obesity, which is a growing epidemic in the United States.
Specifically, children need more of the following nutrients to thrive:
- Calcium: Along with vitamin D, this mineral support healthy bones and teeth.
- Fiber: This substance promotes healthy digestion and intestinal health.
- B-vitamins: These support the heart and nervous system.
- Vitamin E: This vitamin supports healthy immune system function.
- Iron: This mineral helps in the creation of red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.
Supplying these nutrients in the form of fresh, whole foods is the best way for their little bodies to utilize them properly and efficiently.
What are the best foods to meet kids’ nutrition needs?
Now that you know the vitamins and minerals kids need most, what should you feed your children to ensure you’re meeting their requirements? Regularly providing a variety of foods from the following list is a good place to start.
Nuts contain a wealth of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that are crucial for child development. Some varieties, such as walnuts, deliver ample magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids, important for proper neurological function and brain health. If your kids don’t like eating nuts by the handful, sprinkle slivered or crushed nuts on their yogurt or oatmeal, or try different types of nut butters.
2. Crunchy vegetables
Besides being packed with vitamins and antioxidants, vegetables act as a natural toothbrush for your kids, scrubbing away debris as they chew. If your little ones balk at crudites, try adding a yummy dipping sauce, like ranch dressing or hummus. You also can't go wrong with old-fashioned celery and peanut butter for a snack — just mind the sugar and sodium content of mainstream brands.
3. Plant-based milk
Your child needs ample calcium, but dairy milk can upset tiny tummies. Luckily, many plant-based milks are fortified with the mineral, while also providing plenty of other nutrients. Give these varieties a try:
- Hemp milk: Hemp milk is an excellent source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, crucial for heart, brain and skin health.
- Almond milk: Many almond milks are high in protein, which is ideal if your family follows a vegetarian or vegan diet.
- Coconut milk: Although it can be high in saturated fat, coconut milk has a slightly sweet flavor many kids adore.
- Oat milk: Oat milk delivers a ton of B-vitamins to promote healthy immunity.
4. Whole grains and cereals
Whole grains and cereals provide the filling fiber that keeps kids full and satisfied. Starting their day with a bowl of multigrain cereal and oat milk will keep them from getting hungry until the lunch bell rings.
If your child shows signs of gluten intolerance, try switching to ancient grains like amaranth or quinoa. Many people with sensitivities, even those with celiac disease, can safely consume these varieties that are free from the offending wheat protein.
5. Beans and legumes
Beans and legumes offer an ideal protein source for vegetarians and vegans. Research indicates that the fiber in these foods may help to stabilize blood sugar levels and can even prevent diabetes. Tacos and burritos (or burrito bowls) are a kid-friendly way to serve them; or, get creative with soups, bean burgers, lentil loaves and more.
6. Fresh fruits
Most kids love fresh fruit, so you shouldn't have to try too hard to get them to eat apples, pears, oranges, melons or berries. Berries are especially great for their antioxidant content, while citrus fruits supply immune-supportive vitamin C. Try serving a side of fruit salad with meals, or enjoy fruit in smoothies or as a topping on yogurt, oatmeal or pancakes.
7. Healthy fats
Finally, your children need healthy fats for brain and neurological development. Studies in primates reveal that long-term deprivation of essential fatty acids results in measurable changes in visual and neurological functioning — not for the better. Nearly half of breast milk and infant formula consists of fat — it's that vital to child development.