Super Foods for Kids (and Adults)
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Why they're good for a growing body: Whole grains are rich in fiber and vitamin E, usually very low in fat, and nearly always devoid of cholesterol (as are most grain products). The germ and outer coating in wheat and other grains harbors many of its valuable nutrients. That's why breads, cereals, and other products produced from whole grains retain the bulk of their nutritive value, as opposed to refined grain foods such as white bread and certain breakfast cereals. Whole grains are typically fortified with folic acid, B vitamins, iron, and zinc, which only adds to their appeal. Some whole grain breakfast cereals contain added calcium and vitamin D, too. Studies show that whole grains provide protection against certain chronic diseases, probably due to their fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals. It makes sense to get your children into the habit of eating whole grain foods now. Harvard researchers who studied the diets of more than 75,000 women for ten years found that women who ate more than two and a half servings of whole grain foods every day greatly reduced their heart disease risk as compared to women who ate no whole grains. How do you know a food contains whole grains? The label can help. Look for the health claim "Rich in Whole Grain."
How to serve: Give kids whole grain breakfast cereals instead of their highly processed, sugar-laden counterparts. Use whole grain breads for toast and sandwiches, serve whole grain crackers for snacks, and whip up a batch of oat bran muffins. Try brown rice instead of white, and encourage kids to try grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and barley as pare of soups, stews, or side dishes. Serve whole wheat pasta. Add roiled oats to meat loaf. Serve popcorn to children over the age of four.
When to begin offering: As they get closer to their first birthday, your child can eat a wider variety of grains. Whole grains are fiber rich, so don't go overboard. Babies and toddlers can fill up fast on whole grains, leaving little room for higher-calorie foods. Small amounts of whole grains probably won't present a problem, however.
Why it's good for a growing body: Cheese is a protein-packed, calcium-laden food with near universal kid-appeal. It's also a source of vitamin B 12 and the bone-building mineral phosphorus. Cheese comes in varying fat levels that can be used in a number of ways for a wide range of ages. For kids who eschew milk, cheese is a calcium alternative: 1½ ounces of hard cheese equals 8 ounces of milk in terms of calcium. The benefits of cheese don't stop at good nutrition. Research shows that eating cheese after a meal may actually thwart cavity formation by neutralizing the mouth acids that promote dental decay.
How to serve: You can serve up the goodness of cheese in any number of ways. Cheese can be part of an entree, a snack, or eaten as dessert. Kids love to nibble plain cheese, cheese and crackers, and melted cheese on toasted bread. Vegetables take on added appeal when cheese sauce tops them. Sprinkle grated cheese such as Parmesan on macaroni or on steamed vegetables. Kids can reap the goodness of cheese when it's used to make grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and lasagna.
When to begin offering: Wait until eight months of age to serve your baby cheese, longer if your family is highly allergic (see Food Allergy and Intolerance). Cut cheese into small pieces that tiny fingers can pick up and that children can chew with ease. Use milder-tasting hard cheeses at first, such as plain Havarti and mild cheddar.
Why it's good for a growing body: This versatile food is a kid-favorite. That's a good thing, since yogurt provides protein, carbohydrate, B vitamins, bone-building calcium and phosphorus, and zinc, which is helpful when your child doesn't eat enough meat products. Yogurt that contains live active cultures promotes intestinal health and boosts immunity, too.
How to serve: Children tend to go for highly sweetened yogurt with flashy packages, but you would do better to buy plain yogurt and sweeten it at home. Older children can decide on how to flavor their yogurt. Kids can add all-fruit preserves; fruit such as frozen berries or cubed fresh melon; dried fruit, including raisins and cranberries (but only if they are four or older); crunchy ready-to-eat cereal; molasses; or honey (no honey for kids under one year, however) to their plain yogurt. Chances are, they will use much less sugar than the typical 7 teaspoons that manufacturers add to 8 ounces of fruit-flavored yogurt. Yogurt-based fruit smoothies are fun for kids, as are dips made from yogurt. Plain yogurt tastes great atop a baked potato or sweet potato, too. As babies and young toddlers, Hayley and Hannah loved yogurt mixed with pureed fruit and thickened slightly with infant cereal. Emma loves full-fat yogurt mixed with peanut butter.
When to begin offering: Children can have yogurt at about eight months or so, later if there is a strong family history of allergies. Purchase full-fat yogurt with active cultures for children two and under, such as Stonyfield Farms' YoBaby brand. Give older children reduced-fat yogurts with live active cultures.
More on: Planning Healthy Meals for Families
Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.
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