Children and teens need the right fuel to grow, learn and develop. This means that your children need foods and drinks that are rich in nutrients and not too many calories, fats or sugars, which is a solid foundation for a healthy life.
The secret to feeding a healthy family is to serve delicious, nutrient-dense foods with every meal and snack. When kids stock up on the good stuff – high quality nutrition for their bodies and brains – they will naturally have less room for low-nutrient choices (soft drinks, crisps, candies, desserts).
Here are some quick and easy ways to serve kids high octane choices from each food group morning, noon and night.
Whole grain foods with carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins B and more
Whole grains contain a lot of nutritional value and their carbohydrates provide fuel for young bodies to grow and stay active. In recent years, there has been an explosion of new grain products on grocery store shelves. With so many options, it’s difficult to know which ones to select. Choose items with whole grains listed as the first ingredient on the label. Give kids whole grains for breakfast, kid-friendly “white” whole wheat bread for sandwiches, crispy whole grain crackers for snacks, and wholegrain pasta for dinner. For added variety, try quick-fix whole grains like quinoa, whole wheat couscous, and quick-cooking brown rice, on their own or mixed with other foods.
Fruits and vegetables with fiber, potassium and vitamins A and C
You can’t go wrong with fruits and vegetables: fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice.
For children and adults alike, eating more fruits and vegetables with each meal is important for health. For breakfast, enjoy fresh or frozen berries on cereal or in a smoothie, melon slices or a glass of 100% orange juice; for lunch, serve crunchy baby carrots or sliced apples; for dinner, place brightly colored vegetables (broccoli, corn, sliced peppers, frozen peas, or leafy green salad) in the center of each plate. Juice is a delicious way to get valuable nutrients; but it cannot replace eating whole fruits and vegetables, so get at least half of the fruit choices from whole fruit.
Low fat dairy products with protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus
Nutrients in this group are important for children, but most young Americans don’t get enough calcium or potassium. Fortunately, it’s easy to get all three daily servings of dairy to get the nutrients kids and teens need. There are many nutrient-dense, low-fat dairy products to choose from: an 8-ounce glass of low-fat milk with breakfast, lunch, and dinner; fat-free or low-fat yogurt parfaits for breakfast or an after-school snack; or string cheese for an energy snack on the go. Non-dairy sources of these nutrients include fortified soy milk, soy yogurt, and charred tofu.
Beans, eggs, fish, lean meat, poultry or nuts with protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins
Whether it’s building muscle or activating the brain, these nutrients are crucial for children. Getting enough protein at every meal and snack helps prolong fullness (feeling comfortably satisfied after eating).
While most children eat a lot of protein for lunch and dinner, they don’t necessarily get their protein fix with breakfast or snacks. Start the day with eggs, bean burritos, or yesterday’s leftovers. For snacks, provide nuts, peanut butter or other nut butters, hummus or other bean dips with raw vegetables, sliced lean turkey.