Children undergo phases of rapid growth and development, bringing in dietary and lifestyle changes. Due to these changes, a child’s quantity and quality of food intake could stumble, creating nutritional gaps.
Nutritional gaps hinder growth and development. Besides, it could increase the risk of health issues, such as nutritional deficiencies, obesity, type-2 diabetes, etc. As a parent, you can avoid these problems by providing your child with various nutrient-rich foods across meals.
This post tells you the benefits of and tips for eating healthy, and a list of 20 healthy foods for kids.
Benefits Of Healthy Foods For Children And Teens
- Maintain a healthy body weight to stay active and alert.
- Get strong muscles and bones necessary for improved flexibility and movement.
- Control binge eating caused due to sharp hunger pangs triggered by eating less than required or skipping meals.
- Promote digestive motility and prevent digestive issues, such as constipation.
- Enhance gut microbiota and boost several physiological functions of the body.
- Keep the immune system robust, helping ward-off infection and illnesses.
- Improve academic performance by maintaining the focus and concentration necessary to read and comprehend effectively.
- Reduce the risk of developing lifestyle-related health issues, such as childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.
- Enhance mood and promote mental health keeping psychological issues, such as mood swings and anxiety away.
20 Healthy Foods For Children And Teens
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines For Americans recommend that children and teens consume a healthy and well-balanced diet consisting of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, a variety of protein foods, and healthy oils (3).
Healthy children and teens need around three meals and one to two snacks every day. Here is a list of 20 foods that you can add across meals to enhance your child/teen’s diet quality.
Quinoa is a healthy seed-based cereal consisting of high amounts of dietary fiber, protein, PUFA, and minerals. It is one of the most nutritious choices for children and teens (4). You can add quinoa to salads, soups, bread, or use it to prepare gluten-free porridge. You can also add it to other healthy recipes across different meals.
The whole-grain food supplies soluble and insoluble fiber, minerals, and vitamins. You can choose from oats groats, rolled oats, and steel-cut oats to make healthy preparations, such as porridge, salads, and desserts. Oats bran is another oats product to make wholesome bread, binders, and crunchy-textured toppings (5) (6).
Millets and its products, such as bread, porridge, noodles, tortilla wraps, etc., can add variety to your child’s daily diet. They provide dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, protein, and bioactive compounds, offering several health benefits over time. Little millet, foxtail millet, and barnyard millet are some types you can use to prepare healthy recipes for children(7).
Whole-wheat pasta, pancake, and flakes are some products you can try to add variety and nutrients to meals. Besides, whole-wheat flour can substitute refined flour in pizza, cake, wraps, and biscuits. Regular consumption of whole-wheat products provides healthy amounts of dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (8).
An apple with peel is a healthy snack to enhance your child/teen’s dietary fiber and overall nutrient intake. Eating a medium-sized apple offers soluble and insoluble fiber, vitamin C, and essential phytochemicals, such as quercetin (9). These nutrients also contribute to healthy growth and development.
Banana pancake, milkshake, porridge, etc., are a few easy-to-prepare banana recipes that children and teens can enjoy. Encourage your child to consume banana regularly as part of a recipe or as a quick snack. Dietary fiber, vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, and bioactive compounds, such as carotenoids and phenols, are some of the essential nutrients provided by bananas (10).
Pineapple is a tropical fruit available in fresh, canned, and frozen forms. You can use it to prepare various dishes and beverages. Adding a cup of pineapple to your child’s well-balanced diet can supply vital nutrients, such as dietary fiber, copper, calcium, potassium, and vitamins B1, B6, and C (11).
Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and cranberries are some of the common berries available commercially in fresh, frozen, and canned forms. A cup of mixed berries in yogurt, oatmeal, breakfast cereal, or porridge can offer significant amounts of dietary fiber, vitamin C and E, selenium, and phytochemicals. These nutrients are good for both the physical and cognitive health of a child (12) (13). Besides, berries add color to a child’s meal, making it appealing.
Tender coconut water is a nutrient-rich, refreshing drink that is a perfect replacement for high-calorie beverages. On the other hand, mature coconut’s flesh adds flavor and nutrients to different recipes, such as porridge, desserts, soups. Consumption of coconut flesh provides several nutrients, such as protein, fiber, folate, and medium-chain triglycerides (14). Coconut milk and coconut shreds/flakes are some coconut products used to prepare recipes, like curries and dips.
Avocado has a buttery pulp rich in healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, vitamin K and E, and potassium (15). Avocado smoothies, dips, and salads are some recipes that can be added to your child’s regular diet. The fruit’s pulp can also be used as a replacement for saturated fat in several recipes.
11. Sweet potato
Sweet potato is a tuber vegetable available in a variety of colors, such as white, yellow, orange, and purple. Eating sweet potato with peel offers fiber, vitamin C and B6, potassium, and phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene (16). You can serve baked, grilled, boiled, or roasted sweet potato as part of soups, salads, casseroles, and sandwiches to children and teens.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable rich in healthy compounds, such as isothiocyanate and sulforaphane, and nutrients, such as vitamin C, fiber, calcium, and folate (17). Adding broccoli to your child/teen’s well-balanced diet can provide several health benefits over time. Broccoli can be made a part of salads, soups, stir-fried rice, and porridge recipes.
13. Leafy greens
Raw or cooked leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, collards, provide umpteen nutrients and bioactive compounds for good health. Encourage your child to consume a cup to two cups of fresh, leafy green vegetables a day to enjoy optimum benefits from its nutrients (18).
14. Dried fruits
Dried fruits, such as figs, raisins, dates, and prunes, are energy and nutrient-dense foods that can add flavor, color, and texture to recipes. Regular consumption of assorted dried fruits provides fiber, healthy fats, micronutrients, enzymes, and phytochemicals that have numerous long-term health benefits for children and teens (19).
15. Seeds and nut
Seeds and nuts provide significant amounts of fiber, micronutrients, PUFA, and phytochemicals. Regular consumption of seeds and nuts offers several long-term health benefits. You can include flax seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts to various recipes and add flavor and texture.
16. Pulses and legumes
Pulses and legumes, such as soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, and peas, provide considerable amounts of protein, micronutrients, such as iron and folate, fiber, and PUFA (20). They can also work as a prebiotic and benefit the gut bacteria. Pulses and legumes can be an essential food group for children and teens on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Yogurt is a popular dairy product and a probiotic. Low-fat or fat-free options, such as Greek yogurt, are healthy choices, and add calcium, protein, and B vitamins to the child’s diet (21). Yogurt parfait, yogurt veggie salad, and yogurt dip are some of the healthy recipes that you can consider preparing for children and teens.
Tofu is an excellent alternative to cottage cheese. This soy product supplies protein, omega-3 fatty acids, micronutrients, and bioactive compounds, such as isoflavones, that provide long-term health benefits (22). Stir-fried tofu noodles, a crumbled tofu sandwich, tofu dip, and tofu curries are some delicious dishes for children and teens.
Fish is a rich source of high-quality protein and essential nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, iodine, and vitamin-D and B12 (23). These nutrients could play a role in the healthy physical and cognitive development of children and teens. Pick low-mercury fishes, such as salmon, sardine, and tuna, and add them to a variety of dishes.
Egg is a high-protein food consisting of several micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids. It even contains 13 different vitamins essential for healthy growth (24). Scrambled egg, egg roll, egg sandwich, egg avocado salad, and egg noodles are healthy egg recipes that children and teens can consume regularly.
Tips To Make Your Children Eat Healthy Foods
- Be a role model and practice healthy eating and an active lifestyle as a family. Children learn good habits by observing parents and other elders in the family.
- Make the meals appealing and enjoyable by serving them in attractive bowls and plates. Cut food in different shapes and garnish them.
- Encourage children and teens to indulge in family meals, without any diversion, like television. Eating without distractions can help in better portion control.
- Guide your child to not skip meals. Here are some quick-to-make, healthy breakfast recipes you can try so that your child or teen looks forward to eating breakfast every day.
- For packaged breakfast cereals, select least processed, low-sugar, low-sodium alternatives containing whole-grains ingredients, like oats, muesli, granola, and whole-wheat flakes.
- Keep all the processed foods and beverages out of your child’s reach.
- Keep healthy snacking options handy and provide options, such as a bowl of fruit or a small bowl of air-popped popcorn. Avoid deep-fried, high-sugar, and high-fat snacks, such as fast foods.
- Serve healthy vegetable and fruit smoothies, salads, soups, 100% juices, and healthy mocktails occasionally.
- Cook new recipes and add a variety of food groups in every meal. Ask your child’s feedback and try giving them new and healthy food options.
- Go grocery shopping with your child and tell them about the benefits of eating seasonal fruits and veggies.
- While selecting packaged foods, guide them to read food labels, and understand the difference between various foods based on nutritional values. Motivate them to look for low-sugar, low-sodium, low-fat, or fat-free products.
- Prefer lean cuts of meat, such as chicken and fish, to red meat, which is high in saturated fat. Buy fresh meat instead of picking deli meat, which is highly processed.
- Develop a habit of eating dinner early and serve healthy dessert choices, such as fruits or yogurt, instead of cakes, pies, jellies, etc.
- Try to eat-out as less as possible and guide your child or teen to make healthy choices if eating out.
- Healthy eating is incomplete without healthy beverages. Encourage your child to pick healthy beverages, such as coconut water or plain water instead of soda, high-sugar fruit juices, and energy drinks.
Eating healthy is necessary for children to grow, develop, and sustain healthily. As healthy eating habits start early, ensure to train and guide your child or teen by involving them at different levels, such as grocery shopping and cooking. Discuss with them the importance of nutrition and set the right examples by eating healthy together.