Many foods from the dairy, protein, grain, fruit and vegetable food groups make meals interesting while promoting children's growth and maturation. It's not hard to find ways to give your kids calcium and vitamin D in their diets for strong bones, and protein and fiber for muscle growth and good digestion. Essential minerals such as iron and vitamins A, B, C and E are found in many foods your children will eat, and they contribute to healthy blood, eyesight and immune systems. Forming healthy eating habits now will help your kids achieve their full adult potential.
Drinking milk with meals is a simple routine that will pay off for your children's lifetimes. After age 9, bone growth accelerates, and kids need nearly twice as much calcium as they had needed before, according to the National Institutes for Health. Low-fat milk delivers a steady supply of calcium and protein and is also fortified with vitamins A and D, which may be difficult to fit into daily diets from other sources. Yogurt and cheese are filling dairy foods with similar nutritional benefits that are easy to pack and snack on. The American Heart Association suggests dairy products with low levels of fat and sugar. Add fresh fruit to yogurt for a boost of vitamin C.
Meats and Fish
Children need protein foods every day to build muscle mass and healthy blood cells. Tuna fish, lean beef and pork, chicken, and turkey all make low-fat protein contributions to kids' diets and simple menu plans. Add canned tuna to macaroni, stir-fry beef and pork, and serve the chicken parts kids like the most, such as drumsticks or wings. Chicken and turkey are available as hot dogs, bologna and deli slices for quick lunchtime meals that don't compromise on healthy growth nutrition. If your child things chicken, turkey and tuna are too bland, dress up the meats with a flavored seasoning mix or dressing.
When meats and fish are not on the menu, turn to black, red, white and pinto beans, all good sources for daily protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These vegetarian sources have no fat, and have more fiber, vitamins and minerals than hamburgers or fish sticks. Canned beans are quick to fix, while prepared garbanzo bean hummus and refried beans make delicious and nutritious wraps, dips and side dishes. Try mixing black beans with corn and ranch-style dressing. Serve this delicious combination as a dip, sandwich filling or salad topping. Peanut butter, soybean-based veggie burgers, and bean, split-pea, and lentil soups expand your menu options even more to help kids grow.
Cereal and milk may be the world's quickest breakfast, but it can also be among the healthiest morning meals for children to eat. Fortified with iron and vitamin B, whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal and corn or wheat flakes provide fiber and protein for energy early in the day. To limit the dental and weight risks of added sugar, the American Diabetes Association recommends comparing food labels and choosing a cereal with less than 6 grams of sugar.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh, canned, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables contribute a wide range of vitamins and minerals to children's diets and are primary sources of fiber. Including fruits and vegetables in kids' menus makes them more likely to eat enough as adults, which the USDA says could reduce the chances for heart disease and cancer later in life. Naturally sweet apples, raisins and carrots make appealing snacks. Nutritious tomatoes, spinach, oranges and pineapples are easy to add to salads or rice dishes. Convince picky eaters to eat raw veggies by providing a creamy dressing or dip.
- National Institutes of Health; Milk Matters, Calcium Is Critical
- American Heart Association; How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?; June 2011
- Nemours Foundation; Learning About Proteins; February 2008
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- American Diabetes Association: Whole Grain Foods
- USDA: Nutrient Database
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