This article first appeared in the July-August 2003 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
Let’s face it -- some foods are healthier than others. As parents of growing children, it’s important to know the kind of foods that will make our kids healthy, happy and bright.
So, we did some research and asked dietitians, pored over books and went through food pyramids to give you the healthiest of the lot. Here now is our top ten list of foods best for kids, in no particular order.
1. Rice In a paper he wrote for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), esteemed pediatrician and author Benjamin Spock, M.D. said whole grains like rice, whole wheat pasta and whole grain bread are not only filling but also nutritious. “Their complex carbohydrates are a great energy source for growing children, and they also have protein, fiber, and important vitamins. Whole grains could easily be fifty percent of a meal.” As to how much rice a child must take, Daisy C. Persia, UERM Medical Center staff dietitian says, “The energy needs of a child is determined by his basal metabolism and activity. The recommended intake is about 105 kilocalorie per kilogram (kcal/kg) for those who are one to three years of age and 90 kcal/kg for children aged four to six years old.”
2. Eggs Leanne Ely, nutritionist and author of Healthy Foods: An Irreverent Guide to Understanding Nutrition and Feeding Your Family Well, wrote, “Eggs are a great source of protein and a host of other nutrients, including the B vitamins, vitamin E, and zinc to name a few.”
Eggs are not only highly nutritious, they are also inexpensive and easy to chew. They can also be prepared in a number of delicious ways from boiled to sunny-side-ups to frittatas and omelettes. Recent research indicates that egg eaters are more likely than non-egg eaters to have diets with adequate amounts of essential nutrients.
3. Milk Persia recommends “a glass of milk daily to meet the need for calcium, protein, and B vitamins.” The Food Pyramid Guide for young children designed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourages parents to opt for skim or low-fat dairy products. Skim milk contains riboflavin (vitamin B2), which is important for good vision. A cup of skim milk has 86 calories. Yogurt is another great source of calcium, says Ely, and is easier to digest than regular milk.
4. Mango A medium-sized mango has 57 milligrams of vitamin C, 8,000 IU of vitamin A, 135 calories, one gram of fat and four grams of fiber. That’s a lot of nutritional value for something that’s oh-so delicious to eat. Persia says, “Fruits contribute vitamins and minerals as well as dietary fiber to the diet.” The USDA recommends two servings of fruit every day. Melon is another great fruit. As Ely writes, “Vitamin C, betacarotene, bits and pieces of B vitamins and trace minerals and calcium fill every juicy bite.”
5. Nuts “Nut butters are great fast foods for kids. Kids need the fat (it’s a good fat if it doesn’t have hydrogenated oils mixed in it) and they need the protein,” writes Ely. An ounce of peanuts has 166 calories, 14 grams of fat and two grams of fiber. Persia says nuts and dried beans are essential for growth and repair of body tissues since they constitute the major part of the body’s building blocks.
6. Fish Proteins found in fish, meat and poultry are essential for growth. Ely writes, “The fact is growing kids need protein to keep growing. How you’re going to give it to them can vary widely, according to your preferences. Good choices include legumes, beans, soy products like tofu, or meat, fish or poultry.” Persia adds that protein is also a source of energy. “If energy intake is inadequate, dietary and body protein may be broken down to be used as a source of energy. In order to achieve the proper balance of amino acids, it is recommended to include animal products or dried beans in the diet,” she says. The USDA recommends two servings of protein foods a day for growing kids.
7. Broccoli and other vegetables Broccoli is one of the best vegetables around because it has potassium, beta-carotene, and B vitamins. A cup of chopped broccoli has 25 calories, zero fat and three grams of fiber. Persia says, “Vegetables are noted for their vitamin and mineral content as well as dietary fiber. The green and yellow vegetables are particularly rich in betacarotene that is converted to vitamin A in the body. Some may contain minerals like calcium and iron. When eaten raw or slightly cooked, these vegetables also contribute some vitamin C.” The USDA recommends three servings of vegetables daily.
8. Squash Squash contains huge amounts of vitamin C and betacarotene. A cup of cooked squash has 80 calories, a gram of fat and six grams of fiber. Persia says, “Non-leafy vegetables also provide significant amount of nutrients to the diet such as some B-complex vitamins and minerals. They also supply dietary fiber, which give bulk and roughage to the diet and variety to the meal.”
Some studies have even suggested that squash may work better than carrots in maintaining good eye health. In a 12-year study of nurses at Harvard University, women who ate fruits and vegetables high in betacarotene had a 39 percent less chance of developing cataracts than those who didn’t. And the women who didn’t develop cataracts ate significantly more squash than those who did.
9. Tomato Scientifically called lycopersicon lycopersicum, tomatoes are a good source of vitamin A as well as vitamin C. Tomatoes are one of a few food sources of the antioxidant lycopene which is related to betacarotene.
A study conducted in Italy showed that consuming seven or more servings of tomatoes a week reduced the risk of developing colon, rectal and stomach cancer by 60 percent! A tomato has 26 calories, 0 fat and 1 gram of fiber. And technically, it’s a fruit!
10. Oatmeal A certified children’s favorite, oatmeal is good kid food. Ely writes, “A fabulous breakfast food, full of B vitamins, iron, zinc and calcium. Old-fashioned oatmeal offers quick energy for busy kids with its carb load and fiber count.”
Oatmeal is a whole grain complex carbohydrate that is low in fat and cholesterol-free. It contains both soluble and insoluble fiber and is one of the better sources of protein among all major grains. Oatmeal is also one of the most filling foods providing long-lasting energy and helping you to feel full longer. This makes it a great breakfast food.
Studies have shown that eating oatmeal may reduce your cholesterol by up to 10%, which could reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 30%.