When it comes to healthy food, it’s not all created equal – but how can we know which foods are for ‘sometimes’ and which ones we should be getting our children to eat every day? We chatted to Zoe Bingley-Pullin – nutritionist, chef and author of Falling in Love with Food– to find out.
As both a parent and a nutritionist, I know the importance of ensuring my daughter’s nutritional needs are being met daily, by the foods I provide. With so much information and so many food options now surrounding us, it can get confusing to be able to sort fact from fiction and really understand what your kids should be eating. I like to keep both food and nutrition simple, strip it back it its basics and focus on filling kids’ plates with nutrient dense wholefoods. With that being said, here are 5 foods kids should be having daily:
Natural yoghurt (calcium)
Calcium is critical for proper bone and teeth development as well as nervous system function. Natural yoghurt is also a good source of protein, B12, magnesium, potassium and vitamin D, making it an overall very nutritious food. Opt for full fat good quality natural yoghurt, free from added sugars. If your kids prefer flavoured yoghurt, in order to add sweetness to natural yoghurt, stir through your own berry or mango puree or finely dice fresh fruit and stir through the yoghurt. This way, kids are also getting the added fibre and vitamin/mineral benefits of fresh fruit. For a boost of good probiotics, you can also offer kefir to your kids. If you are new to the world of fermented foods, kefir is a fermented yoghurt drink, which contains live bacteria, aka probiotics. Consuming probiotics may help to support a healthy balance of gut bacteria, maintain good immunity and help us to absorb more nutrients from the foods we consume. If your kids aren’t yoghurt fans, other sources of calcium include, milk, cheese, fortified plant-based milks, almonds, canned salmon (with bones), tofu (set with calcium) and broccoli.
Fresh fruit is an important part of your kids’ daily diet because it offers fibre to support digestive health, carbohydrates which provide energy for growth, concentration and play along with an array of vitamins and minerals which as vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and manganese. Offer a serve of fruit at breakfast time and don’t forget to pack a piece of fresh fruit in their lunchbox. Adding fruit to smoothies is another easy way to bump up their intake.
Fatty fish, chia or hemp seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts (essential fats)
Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), chia and hemp seeds are all sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, also known as essential fats. The reason these fats are essential is because the body cannot make its own supply and they must be consumed via the diet. If your kids aren’t yet fans of fatty fish, try adding chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds or walnuts to their diet for a plant-based supply of these healthy fats. Healthy fats are necessary for brain and nervous system development and overall brain function.
Leafy greens provide more bang for your buck when it comes to nutrient density and are also very easy to integrate into your kid’s diets. My top picks for kids are spinach and kale. Both leafy greens contain fibre, beta-carotene, vitamin A, C, K, folic acid, calcium and iron. Try wilting kale and spinach through risotto, stir-fry’s, Bolognese sauces or finely chopped and adding to meat patty mixes.
Legumes (lean protein)
More and more research is pointing to the benefits of adding more plant foods to our diet including plant-based protein such as legumes. Legumes are a great food choice for kids because they offer protein, which is needed at each meal to support muscle growth, repair and to help ward off sickness and infection. They are also a source of iron, important to facilitate growth, help with energy production, boost immune function and transports oxygen around the body to help with concentration. In addition, legumes offer a source of complex carbohydrates and B-vitamins, providing the necessary energy to fuel your kids’ active day. My top picks when it comes to legumes are lentils, chickpeas, black beans, cannellini beans and red kidney beans. In order to add them to your kids’ diet, try making a pasta sauce using legumes, blend them into a dip and spread on sandwiches, try packets of roasted chickpeas or fava beans as snacks or add to mince dishes for extra bulk such as taco mixes. As an alternative to consuming legumes every day, I recommend mixing this up with other sources of plant-based protein such as tofu, nut/seeds and nut butters and lean animal-based protein such as lean red meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy.
At the end of the day, feeding your kids a diverse diet is important because it helps to ensure their nutritional needs are being covered. Therefore, use the foods above as guidance on the types of foods kids should ideally be getting in their diet daily and aim for a variety within each category.
To hear more from Zoe, head to www.zoebingleypullin.com.