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Let's face it – in today's world, getting your child to eat healthy foods can often be a very challenging venture. Unfortunately, due to life's many stresses, the quality and quantity of nutrients we are feeding our children often falls very low on the priority list. This is why supplementing your child's diet with "super foods" is one of the best methods of providing them with the essential nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development.
What are "super foods," you ask? They are whole foods that have not been refined, processed or preserved and are very close to their original source. These foods are nutrient dense, providing a child's body with essential fats, vitamins, minerals, lean proteins and iron. The foods outlined below will contribute to the development of proper brain function and a strong immune system, as well as the maintenance of a healthy body weight, and will assist in the prevention of illness or disease at any age.
The top 10 "super foods" for kids
1. Whole grain bread
Whole grain breads break down into glucose – the main source of fuel your child needs to maintain energy. Unfortunately, eating white, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth bread has become the norm. If children eat white bread or whole wheat refined bread on a continual basis, their blood sugar (glucose levels) will bounce around, leading to symptoms such as moodiness, energy fluctuations and weight gain. How do you know if the bread you are eating is whole grain? Check the ingredient label. Avoid food items that list made with "white," "refined whole wheat," "enriched wheat" or "wheat" flour. Instead, look for breads made with "100% whole wheat" or "whole grain" flour.
Blueberries are a wonderful way for children to get a sweet fix without the addition of refined sugars. In fact, researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Center (HNRCA) have found that blueberries rank first in antioxidant activity when compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful byproducts called "free radicals" that can lead to cancer and other age-related diseases. As an addition to a morning shake, on top of cereal or mixed into yogurt, berries such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries should be a part of every child's diet.
Yogurt is one of the best sources of protein and calcium for your child. In fact, one cup of yogurt (254 grams) offers 13 grams of protein and 447 mg of calcium. Yogurt is also now available with "good bacteria" called acidophilus, which helps to promote immune system function and healthy digestion.
4. Sweet potatoes
As a general rule, the more colourful the fruit or vegetable, the healthier it is. It is the chemicals (called phytochemicals) that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant hues of green, orange, red and purple that are responsible for disease-fighting elements. Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta carotene, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium and iron.
5. Natural nut butters
Most processed peanut butters on the grocery shelves today are loaded with sugar and partially hydrogenated fat (trans fatty acids). In order to reap the essential fats that nuts offer without the addition of fake fats and sugars, turn to your health food store for a natural nut butter such as peanut, cashew or almond butter. Look for a variety with only one or two ingredients – the nut and, if desired, salt.
Page 1 of 2 – Find out what five foods round out the list of nutritional superfoods on page 2.
Filled with fibre and protein, beans are a nutritious addition to a child's diet. Beans also offer an excellent source of iron, which is the most common mineral deficiency in children. Try adding beans such as chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans or lentils to a wrap, soup, nachos, pasta sauce or chili. In addition, bean dips such as hummus (chickpea dip) are great with mixed veggies for a snack.
OK, you're probably thinking, what child will eat broccoli? In fact, if broccoli is introduced at an early stage of feeding, some children will eat steamed broccoli on its own. However, if your child is like most, broccoli will need a little disguising or dressing up in order for you child to accept it. A few tempting options are to melt grated low-fat cheese over top or to puree broccoli into a tomato sauce for pasta. Loaded with disease-fighting chemicals and vitamin C, broccoli's nutritional bang can't be beat. (Try Creamy Noodles with Chicken and Broccoli!)
8. Omega-3 eggs
Omega-3 eggs offer a wonderful source of protein and essential fats. In fact, an omega-3 egg contains approximately 350 mg of omega-3s while a regular egg contains a mere 63 mg. Omega-3 fats have been shown to improve skin, allergies, brain function and mood in children. Children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder often show signs of omega-3 deficiency, such as dry skin patches/eczema, brittle nails, poor digestion, allergies and asthma. (Read about 9 ways to add healthy fat to your diet.)
Avocados are a creamy "vegetable/fruit" that provide a terrific source of the "good fat" called monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats and essential fats found in oily fish and nuts are an essential part of proper growth and development. In fact, over 60 per cent of a child's brain is comprised of fat. Unsure how to use an avocado? Try serving it to your children as a yummy spread instead of mayonnaise or cream cheese. Refer to my delicious guacamole recipe at the end of this article for more details.
10. Organic chicken
By purchasing certified organic chicken, you are eliminating harmful additives, hormones or medications from your child's diet. Certified organic chickens are given feed that is free from antibiotics and the soil is free from herbicides or pesticides. Locate an organic butcher or visit a market to purchase organic chicken. Although the price is higher, the reduction in exposure to unwanted chemicals is well worth it. (Read about buying free-range poultry.)
Having your kids eat food that is both healthy and delicious does not have to be an impossible venture. By incorporating the super foods listed above into your child's diet on a regular basis, you will be laying down a nutritional safety net for life, all the while tempting their taste buds with new, scrumptious options. Bon appetit!
2 fresh ripe avocados
3 tbsp white onion, diced
juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Cut avocados in half; remove the pit and scoop out the ingredients into a mixing bowl. Dice the onion and red pepper very fine and add to the avocados along with the lemon juice and salt and pepper. With a hand masher, mix until it blends evenly into a paste. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with whole grain bread or cut up vegetables.
Tip: In order to avoid browning of your guacamole dip, keep pit of avocado in mixture while storing in fridge.
Dr. Joey Shulman D.C., RNCP, is author of Winning the Food Fight (Wiley, 2003) and The Natural Makeover Diet. For more information, visit www.drjoey.com.
Page 2 of 2 – Still letting your kids eat white bread? Find out why Dr. Joey's advocates for wheat bread instead of white on page 1.