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Super Foods for Kids (and Adults)

Chickpeas (A.K.A. Garbanzo Beans)
Why they're good for a growing body: Chickpeas are packed with protein as well as the complex carbohydrates starch and fiber. They are also a source of iron, magnesium, folate, calcium, potassium, and zinc, as are many of their legume counterparts. In fact, kidney beans, lentils, and the like make suitable substitutes for chickpeas.

How to serve: Kids can be funny about legumes, rejecting them out of hand because of their shape or texture. Hannah will eat chickpeas just the way they are and as hummus, but Hayley prefers hummus only. No matter. Store-bought or homemade hummus is a kid-friendly food that can be used as a snack or turned into a meal. Try pita bread topped with hummus, and chopped melon for an easy lunch. My kids like lavash (roll-up bread) filled with hummus, too. For a snack, they dip pretzels into hummus. Try adding chickpeas to soups, salads, and pasta dishes. Puree chickpeas with chicken broth and use as a sauce on pasta or green vegetables. Add chickpeas to a vegetarian chili dish (but keep the seasonings mild to promote acceptance). Falafel may pique a child's interest in garbanzo beans because it uses the legume in a different way. A Middle Eastern favorite, falafel is a patty made from garbanzo beans that is easy to prepare at home.

When to begin offering: Babies can try mashed, plain garbanzo beans at eight months. Make sure to remove the thin skin around the bean before serving. To moisten, use a bit of chicken broth. Avoid serving heavily seasoned hummus to babies. Many commercially prepared varieties are loaded with garlic, so make your own when possible.

Canned Tuna Fish
Why it's good for a growing body: Canned tuna fish harbors protein, vitamins B 12, B 6, and niacin, as well as small amounts of iron and zinc. While it's low in fat, the type of fat canned tuna fish contains is largely the omega-3 variety. Omega-3 fats are unsaturated fats with special protective properties. Often referred to as fish oils, omega-3 fats boost brain development and reduce the likelihood of heart disease in your child's future. Other, more oily, fish such as salmon and bluefish contain concentrations of omega-3 fats that beat tuna fish by a mile. But it pays to begin getting your child acquainted with seafood by serving milder-tasting seafood of any sort, since stronger flavors and odors can put kids off fish for a long time.

How to serve: Fish is an acquired taste for many American kids. A child may not be ready for grilled or smoked salmon (if they are, great) but willing to try a tuna salad sandwich. Try sneaking tuna into casseroles, too.

When to begin offering: Infants can try small pieces of moist canned tuna fish at about ten months or so.

Navigating Seafood Safety
Tuna fish garners attention for its potential mercury content. Canned tuna fish contains little, if any, of this potentially toxic heavy metal that can wreak havoc on the nervous system.

According to the FDA, the federal agency that oversees seafood safety, the larger species of tuna sold in stores and in restaurants as tuna steaks and as sushi contain about five times the mercury of canned tuna fish. Why the difference? Canned tuna is composed of smaller tuna types such as skipjack and albacore. In general, the smaller the fish, the less potential for mercury. Swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel—large, predatory fish—contain the most mercury. That's why the FDA advises pregnant and nursing women and women of childbearing age who may become pregnant to avoid these varieties of seafood.

Berries
Why they're good for a growing body: The likes of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are packed with carbohydrate, carotenoids, potassium, vitamin C, fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals. All that, with just a hint of fat and no cholesterol. To boot, this trio of berries ranks among the most powerful of fruits in thwarting cell damage that could result in chronic illness such as cancer and heart disease. Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries supply anthocyanins, which appear to inhibit the production of cholesterol by the body, keeping arteries more clear. Proanthocyanin in blueberries is of particular interest for its ability to prevent a certain enzyme known for promoting cancer.

How to serve: Children love sweet, juicy berries and will eat them out of hand. Use berries instead of sugar to sweeten breakfast cereal; frozen may be substituted for fresh during the winter months. Concoct fruit smoothies with fresh or frozen berries. Layer with yogurt and crunchy cereal for a berry-filled parfait. Frozen or fresh whole or sliced berries and pureed berries make a healthy topping for frozen yogurt, ice cream, pancakes, waffles, and sponge or angel food cake. Add berries to pancakes, muffins, and other quick breads for their color and nutrition. Ditto for salads. Bake a fruit crisp or cobbler and serve instead of cookies for a sweet, nutritious treat. My kids love to dip whole strawberries in melted semisweet chocolate, and I'm sure yours will, too.

When to begin offering: Infants may eat berries beginning at eight months, but they should be well mashed or pureed to prevent choking. Wash berries thoroughly before serving.

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Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.


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