Making your kids happy at mealtime is not always an easy task. This is especially true if you have a picky eater. However, to ensure proper growth and development, it is important that children get certain vitamins and minerals every day. Calcium helps build strong bones and muscles, while Omega-3 fatty acids promote brain development.
To help you create nutrient-dense and kid-friendly meals and snacks, we have compiled a list of the 10 healthiest foods for kids. For each item on our list, we offer meal ideas and fun ways to serve these foods to your children. All of these ingredients are easy to prepare, versatile, and healthy for the whole family.
Avocados are full of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats—healthy fats that help reduce inflammation, lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, and reduce blood pressure. Plus, they are high in dietary fiber, which can naturally lower blood sugar and helps kids feel full for longer.
Experts recommend that kids ages 1 to 5 get 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day, while kids ages 6 to 10 get 15 to 20 grams per day. One avocado has about 10 grams of fiber in the entire fruit. In addition to fiber, the essential fatty acids in avocados help the body absorb essential nutrients that are important for building the central nervous system. Avocados are also a great source of vitamins C, E, K, and magnesium.
How to Serve it: Avocados are great just cut up into small chunks and sprinkled with a little salt. Kids can pick these pieces up with these fingers or with their fork. You can also mash avocado on whole-wheat toast or crackers or mix it into a fruit smoothie or pasta sauce. Quick guacamole made with just mashed avocado and salsa is a great snack for kids. To keep it light and healthy, use sliced carrots and celery sticks instead of tortilla chips.
Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes, such as black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils, and peas, have long been considered a superfood for their high protein and fiber content. Just one serving of chickpeas (about half a cup) has about 19 grams of protein.
According to the World Health Organization, children ages 1 to 3 need about 13 grams of protein a day, and those ages 4 to 8 need 19 grams of protein. Once kids turn 13, they will need 34 grams of protein. Beans and legumes are a healthy way to incorporate more proteins into your child’s diet. This superfood is also a great source of folate, iron, vitamin B, and potassium.
How to Serve it: Bean and legumes are versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes. Black beans can be mashed and seasoned for a healthy taco or quesadilla filling. This is a great way to replace the meat in your child’s diet if you prefer more plant-based ingredients. Chickpeas can also be mashed into a tasty hummus dip that your children can eat with carrot sticks or crackers.
When using canned beans, it is best to opt for a low-sodium variety. If you can’t find low-sodium, you can also rinse the beans under cold water to remove excess salt.
Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin C and B6—both of which are vital to brain health. They are also a great source of beta-carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant that can also improve eye health.
One cup of sweet potato has 3 milligrams of vitamin C and about .3 milligrams of vitamin B6. Since kids need about 15 milligrams of vitamin C and .5 to 1 milligram of B6 a day, sweet potatoes are an excellent way to ensure your child is getting these important vitamins. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of potassium and magnesium, which has been shown to regulate blood pressure.
How to Serve it: Sweet potatoes can be baked in the microwave in 3 to 5 minutes. You can also slice them lengthwise and create sweet potato french fries in the oven. Kids will love the fact that they can eat these delicious and healthy fries with their fingers.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts, are often harder to get children to eat than other healthy foods. This is often due to the strong aroma and bitter taste these veggies have. However, it is well worth the struggle to find ways to make these vegetables appealing to your child.
Cruciferous vegetables are rich in antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which all have antibacterial and antiviral properties, and protect against cell damage. These vegetables are also high in minerals, vitamins C, E, and K, folate, and have a high fiber content.
How to Serve it: Roasting broccoli and cauliflower is a great way to remove the bitter taste. You can toss these veggies in a small amount of olive oil and place them in the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes, flipping them halfway through. Topping them with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese also gives them rich flavor kids will love.
Berries and Melon
Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries all have a low glycemic index, meaning they have less sugar. They also contain the antioxidant anthocyanins, which contains anti-inflammatory properties.
Melons, such as cantaloupe and honeydew, are also high in antioxidants and vitamins C and A, which can help boost your child’s immune system and guard against disease. Cantaloupes are rich in beta-carotene, which has also been shown to promote healthy skin and reduce nasal congestion.
How to Serve it: Berries and melons are sweet enough on their own that kids don’t typically protest these treats. However, if your child needs a bit more encouragement, you can pair fruit with a low-fat yogurt dip or add them into a fresh fruit smoothie. Melon slices that are small and easy for your child to hold can also make a fun, healthy snack.
When it comes to grains, it is important that your child eat whole-grains. Whole-wheat pasta, oats, bread, tortillas, breakfast cereals, and brown rice are a great source of fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. Each of these vitamins promotes healthy metabolism and digestion, and can also help your child feel less hungry throughout the day.
Quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth are lesser-known whole grains that pack a nutritious punch. Each of these grains contains all 9 essential amino acids and have a high protein content. A diet rich in whole grains can help your child maintain a healthy weight and give them more energy for their busy, active lives.
How to Serve it: When it comes to serving your children whole grains, the possibilities are endless. Whole oats can be made into oatmeal for a healthy breakfast option. You can even “turn” your child’s oatmeal purple by adding blueberries. Whole-grain crackers can be used for hummus and avocado dips. You can also make homemade pizza dough with whole-wheat flour.
When purchasing whole-grain products, be sure to read the label. One of the first 5 ingredients listed should be either whole wheat or whole grain.
Nuts are another superfood that contains a host of vitamins and minerals vital to your child’s development. With a large variety of nut butter on the market, such as almond butter and cashew butter, it is easy to make sure your child reaps the benefits of heart-healthy nuts. Like avocados, nut butter are high in monounsaturated fats, which can help lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
In addition to healthy fats, nut butter contains vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant that supports the immune system and promotes healthy skin, hair, and nails. The high levels of folic acid in nuts can increase iron absorption, which reduces your child’s risk of anemia. Plus, nuts are high in magnesium, which is essential for maintaining energy levels and for healthy bone development.
How to Serve it: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are always a favorite with kids. To make this classic more fun and visually appealing for your kids, you can make it open-faced and cut it into interesting shapes. You can spread nut butter on celery and top it with raisins or other dried fruit. Sliced apples with a creamy nut butter dip is also a great treat.
When choosing a nut butter for your children, be sure to select one that has no added salt or sugar.
Flax seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds are small, crunchy, tasty, and easy to incorporate into your child’s meals and snacks. These small, but mighty ingredients are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is vital for human growth and development.
Experts also believe that the lignans in flax seeds are 800 times richer than most foods. Lignans are polyphenols found in plants that help promote a healthy gut and have been shown to lower the risk of certain types of cancers.
How to Serve it: To ensure that your child is getting enough seeds in their diet, you can add sunflower seeds to a delicious trail mix with nuts and dried fruit. You can also sprinkle ground flax seeds or chia seeds on their breakfast cereal, toast, or into their morning smoothie.
Whether they are hard-boiled or scrambled, eggs make a healthy and delicious snack. Eggs are full of protein and several vitamins and minerals that promote growth and help fight against cell damage. Vitamins such as B12, riboflavin, and selenium all play a crucial role in digestion and immune function.
Eggs are also a great source of choline, which helps the body produce acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is an organic chemical that helps carry out important brain and nervous system functions, such as muscle control, memory recollection, and mood regulation.
How to Serve it: Hard-boiled eggs can be made into egg salad and paired with whole-grain bread or crackers. You can also spread mashed avocado or hummus on toast and top it with a sunny side up egg.
If your child doesn’t like eggs or is allergic, Brussel sprouts and lima beans are also a good source of choline.
When it comes to eggs, doctors recommend introducing them for the first time at 12 months of age to reduce the likelihood of allergy development.
Yogurt is a low-fat dairy product that kids will happily eat. This creamy snack is full of vitamin D, which promotes proper bone growth. Since vitamin D also increases calcium absorption, yogurt is a great way to ensure that your child develops strong, healthy bones.
Yogurt also contains probiotics that promote a healthy gut. Probiotics are living microorganisms that encourage the development of good bacteria and reduce harmful bacteria in the gut. Probiotics will ensure that your child’s immune system is strong, so it can protect them from bacteria they may come in contact with.
How to Serve it: Plain Greek yogurt has zero added sugar and is a great way for kids to customize the flavor of their yogurt. You can make a yogurt buffet with a variety of toppings, such as fruit, nuts, granola, and honey. Kids can even layer their yogurt with these ingredients to make a delicious yogurt parfait.
If you prefer that your child eat fewer dairy products, you can select soy yogurt or almond milk yogurt. Both of these non-dairy options contain gut-friendly probiotics.
Frequently Asked Questions
Kids typically reach for sugary drinks, such as soda or fruit juice. However, these beverages have a high sugar content that has been linked to type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity. Consider replacing these unhealthy drinks with any of the following options:
- Water infused with fruit
- Sparkling water mixed with a small amount of fruit juice
- Unsweetened plant-based milks, such as almond milk and cashew milk
- Fresh fruit smoothies blended with unsweetened liquids such as coconut water or almond milk
Omega -3 fatty acids, folate (folic acid), choline, protein, and vitamins D, A, B6, and B12 are essential to healthy brain development. These vitamins and minerals are readily available in the following foods:
- Cottage cheese
- Dark leafy greens
If you are struggling to get your child to eat healthy foods, there are several things you can do to make mealtime more fun and engaging.
- Eat what they eat: If your child sees you eating something, they are more likely to try it too.
- Customization: If your child has the ability to choose from a variety of healthy fixings, they will be eager and excited for mealtime. For example, a grain bowl with a buffet of toppings, such as beans and grilled vegetables, allows your child to choose the ingredients they like best. This also helps them feel more in control of their food choices.
- Take them shopping: When kids are involved in the process of choosing and preparing their food, they are more likely to eat healthy ingredients without protest.
Most fruits are good for children, but there are some that they tend to be more receptive to. Below is a list of kid-friendly fruits.
Foods that are fried in oil at a high temperature contain trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancers. They are high in calories that cause weight gain, but they will not help your child feel full. It is best to avoid feeding fried foods to your child. Instead, opt for oven-baked vegetables that have a similar texture and flavor, but are much healthier.
Did We Help?
Feeding your child whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds is the first step toward improving their diet. These ingredients are packed with essential nutrients that your child needs to grow and feel their best. By incorporating some of our tips above, and with a little of your own creativity, you are sure to make healthy foods a staple in your child’s diet.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.