A-Z of “Super-foods” for kids
Most of us know that to be healthy we need to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day. We also need a good mix of non-dairy protein, whole grains and starch, and dairy. Within these food groups there are some foods that are just a little bit more special because of the health benefits they offer, such as improved concentration, boosted immunities, happier tummies or even help for conditions such as asthma. We’ve therefore compiled the below A-Z of “super” foods which are particularly great and appealing for babies and children (but also pretty good for mums and dads too!)
Pound for pound avocados provide more heart healthy monounsaturated fat, fibre, vitamin E (good for skin complaints such as eczema, and promotes healing), folic acid and potassium than any other fruits. They’re also very easily digested so ideal for small babies.
Great source of vitamin C and soluble fibre (energy and concentration), and they can also help in cases of diarrhea – but what makes them truly super? The pectin binds to heavy metals in our bodies, such as lead, and removes them via the gut. Cool.
Research carried out at the US Department of Agriculture found that blueberries had the highest antioxidant capacity of 40 tested fruits and vegetables. Black currants, however, contain even more antioxidants and vitamin C. They are also higher in anthocyanin - purple pigments present in dark skinned berries believed to protect against cancer and heart disease. However all berries have their health benefits, and could be classed, as a fruit group, as a superfood. Cranberries, for example, are amazing at cleansing the urinary tract and thought to rid the gut of harmful bacteria (ie those nasty stomach bugs). And strawberries are one sweet treat children can enjoy in large quantities, with their ability to keep the heart healthy, reduce the risk of cancer, improve vision, prevent allergies and even ease pain.
This sometimes unpopular vegetable contains many health benefits, which include two power anti-cancer substances. It’s packed full of vitamins C, E and K (nutrient that promotes blood clotting), folate, potassium, beta-carotene* and may even help with frequent tummy troubles in children.
In particular Spring Greens which is the first cabbage of the year. They are four times richer in bone-building calcium - nearly double the amount found in milk. They contain 77mg vitamin C per 100g. But standard cabbage is still packed with calcium, vitamin C and folate (essential in times of rapid growth).
Very high in fibre, much like banana’s but dried apricots are much higher in magnesium and iron. They’re also high in potassium, which keeps the kidneys, heart nerves and muscles functioning properly. Many kids don’t get enough potassium. It’s also great for constipation, although to much can have quite the opposite effect. It’s also sweet so a much better alternative to sugary snacks.
One of the most nutrient rich foods available to us. They are rich in the B vitamin family, and also contribute vitamins A and D. In particular, egg yolks are one of the greatest sources of riboflavin (vitamin B2 for rapid growth), B12 and choline (nutrient very important in early brain development and protecting the liver). With the B vitamins plus iron and zinc content, eggs could actually help reduce bad behaviour in toddlers! It’s also a great source of Omega 3 which is good for boosting energy levels.
Fish in general are packed full of vitamins and minerals (such as calcium) and is a good source of tissue rebuilding protein. But oily fish, such as salmon, is the best fish due to it’s high levels of Omega 3. Sardines and tuna are also good sources of Omega 3, although children should have no more than 2 portions a week due to possible toxins they also carry.
It has natural anti-viral and antibacterial properties that will help with the common cold and flu as well as gastric infections. It’s also used to help lower blood pressure (although not a problem for babies). It also has the same anti-cancer properties found in the other members of the Allium family (onions and leeks).
People give grapes to those who are ill or infirm for a reason. Rich in easily digested sugars, they also contain good amount of substances that aid the immune system. The darker skinned red grape is more potent than the white ones, the white grape juice replenishes the iron content present in the body and prevents fatigue so a good energy booster. Grapes are also found to have strong anti cancer properties due to the anti-inflammatory effect of resveratrol present. (NOTE: always cut up grapes for small children and babies as they are a choking hazard)
The healing nature of honey has been valued since biblical times. It eases cold and flu symptoms, can boost immunity and is also a natural instant energy booster. It can even be used on the skin for cuts and grazes due to it’s antibacterial properties. It’s also been found recently that eating local honey can reduce the effects of hay fever. And the best thing is that it tastes delicious and is a great substitute for sugar. NOTE: only give to babies after 12 months
Not a commonly thought of “Super” food – especially the shop bought ones which are often full of additives, colourings etc But make your own at home with natural juice, or even fruit smoothies, and you have a fun way of getting super fruit into your kids. Plus ice-lollies are great for teething.
Oranges as a whole are rich in calcium, the powerful anti-toxidant beta-carotene**, Vitamin B6, Potassium and of course Vitamin C. Jaffa oranges in particular are great for kids as they’re sweeter and contain less pips.
Despite it’s relatively high allergy risk, for those who can eat it, the kiwi is a clever little fruit. Not only is it full of vitamins (more vitamin C than oranges) and antioxidants, it’s also as fibrous as bananas and according to recent studies in Italy, it has been found to prevent Asthma in children. And even if your child is just prone to coughs and croup, it can reduce coughing and wheezing, particularly at night.
Leeks have similar nutritional benefits as onions and garlic. They provide a good source of fibre, folic acid, vitamins B6 and C, manganese, and iron. Studies have also shown that leeks (just as onions and garlic) can improve the immune system and fight cancer.
Whether it’s breast milk, formula milk or (post 12 months) normal cow’s milk, milk is a super food for every child from the minute they’re born. Formula and breast milk obviously contain all kinds of extra benefits, particularly breast milk. But even cows milk, not only is it a good source of vitamin A, B2 and B12, as well as phosphorus and iodine, it’s real super star status comes from it’s bone building calcium content. For strong bones and teeth it’s vital for young children to take in enough calcium, and the best source is from milk, and other dairy products.
Parents of young children usually stay clear of nuts, which is understandable if there’s a history of nut allergies in the family. But if there isn’t likely to be an allergy, nut’s are an amazing source of protein and healthy fats, not to mention all the vitamins (including antioxidants) and minerals they contain. Nut butters are a great way to introduce nuts to your child (almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and cashews are good ones to start with). NOTE: Do nut give whole nuts – they’re a serious choking hazard.
Onions, like garlic, are members of the Allium family and both are rich in powerful sulfur-containing compounds that are responsible for their pungent odors and for many of their health-promoting effects. The health benefits of onions are still being discovered. As with garlic, onions have been found to reduce and possibly prevent some types of cancer developing. They also help to lower blood sugar, and blood pressure and can also help with bone health, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
A great energy food, it’s high soluble fibre content and low GI, it will stop you’re kids asking for sugary snacks every five minutes, and boost their concentration and brain capacity. They could also help make them happier, by boosting the brain chemical serotonin. And they also contain plant compounds which act as antioxidants.
The vegetable every child loves – and luckily full of several B vitamins, vitamin C and the minerals iron, phosphorus and manganese. They’re also a very good source of soluble fibre which keeps blood-sugar levels steady, helping to boost concentration, lower blood cholesterol and prevent hunger. Could also help to ease diarrhea.
Often mistaken as a grain, but actually a seed, Quinoa is full of phytonutrients (chemicals that have a beneficial effect on the body), antioxidants and can even help balance your blood sugar. It contains all 9 amino acids needed for muscle building and as it also containing good levels of the vital minerals of copper, magnesium and manganese it could help lower blood pressure and rid the body of cancer causing substances. It can also be a good source of calcium. Cooked, it’s good for bulking up purees.
Health benefits of rice include providing fast and instant energy, good bowel movement, stabilizing blood sugar levels and providing essential source of vitamin B1 to the human body. It’s also a very gentle food, easily digested, and gluten free. One of the best foods for starting your baby on, rice mixes well with sweet and savoury food. Rice water is an age old remedy for diarrhea.
Popeye isn’t the only person who can grow strong from eating spinach. Spinach and other dark leafy greens like kale, collards, Swiss chard, turnip greens and bok choy are loaded with calcium, folic acid, vitamin K and iron. Spinach is also rich in vitamin C, fibre, carotenoids (lutein) and bioflavanoids, all great for the human body, especially a developing one, which makes spinach a nutritional powerhouse.
It’s sweet and brightly coloured and most children love it. It’s also a whole grain which means it has the same health benefits as brown rice, oats, wholemeal bread etc High in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, they can prevent constipation and also help prevent type 2 diabetes. Sweet corn also has twice the antioxidant activity of broccoli, spinach, wholewheat and oats.
These popular fruit (and often mistaken as vegetable), are full of health promoting vitamin C and E and beta-carotene**. But they also have a very special component called lycopene, which is the disease fighting plant chemical responsible for the red colour. It acts as an antioxidant, preventing cancer, and possibly easing asthma. And it’s even better when cooked.
Ugly fruit (citrus fruits)
This is a citrus hybrid, a cross between a grapefruit, orange and tangerine. It’s only a superfood in that all citrus fruits are pretty super. Packed with vitamins and minerals, as well as dietry fibre which is essential for normal growth and development, it’s also fat and sodium free, so kids can eat it as much as they like.
Just looking at this list and from the endless “5-a-day” messages we hear, we know that all vegetables have strong health benefits (some more than others) and our diets should be based on plenty of these. But getting vegetables into kids is quite hard. Which is what makes vegetable soup, super. Cook up as many veg as you like, blend them until you have a smooth soup, perhaps add noodles or croutons, and your child will love it, and reap the health rewards.
Whole grain foods and flours include 100% whole wheat, brown rice, bulger, corn, buckwheat, oatmeal, spelt, and wild rice. They are a good source of B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fibre, as well as other valuable antioxidants not found in some fruits and vegetable. For children they are vital for growth and concentration and sustained energy as will as being immunity boosting and anti-cancerous.
This is Chinese for watermelon – possibly one of the most loved fruits by children. Colourful, sweet and juicy, it’s rich in vitamin C and A and packed with beta-carotene providing plenty of antioxidant action. It’s also a great source of vitamin B6 and B1 and it contains an amino acid which helps flush the urinary tract. It can also help reduce severity of asthma.
Yams and sweet potatoes
Americans usually call sweet potatoes yams, but actually they’re two different vegetables, but very similar in looks, taste and health benefits (yams are slightly more fibrous). A healthier substitute to the potatoes, children love the sweet taste, which is great as they top the list when compared with nutritional values of all other vegetables. They are packed with energy vital fibre, and immunity boosting antioxidant beta-carotene** and vitamins C and E.
Otherwise known as courgettes, are a member of the watermelon and cucumber family and are actually baby marrows. They’re not particularly super as vegetables go, being 90% water (which is actually quite good as it makes them virtually fat free), although they contain vitamins A and C, plus folate and potassium. But what makes them super is that not only are they a veg that begins with Z, but they’re also really easy to grow. They thrive in the UK and teaching your child to grow food, and where food comes from it’s an important part of their learning development.
NOTE: We were determined to find a healthy food for every letter A-Z but did get a little stuck on some, for which we’ve used a little creative license.
* The term “super-food” is quite loosely used here. Some of the foods in the list are indeed classified as super foods (although there is no official classification of what a “super-food is”) and all (barring perhaps a couple of obvious ones) are pretty amazing when it comes to the health benefits, particularly for children.
** Many of the super fruits and vegetables are super because of their beta-carotene content. It’s basically a molecule occurring in dark orange and green fruit and veg and has loads of benefits to humans. To read more click here
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