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Best Foods for Kids

Child Nutrition Basics

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Updated April 11, 2009

Although you don't want to get in the habit of forcing your kids to eat foods they don't like or make them "clean" their plates, there are lots of healthy foods kids like. Parents often overlook these healthy foods and go straight to what they think are more "kid-friendly foods," such as hot dogs, pizza, french fries, chicken nuggets, juice and soda.

Your kids would be much better off learning to avoid those types of high-calorie, high-fat foods with foods that are high in fiber, low in fat and have calcium, iron and other vitamins and minerals, including these healthful foods that most kids love:

Milk

Milk is a great way to get calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein in your child's diet.
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It often seems like toddlers and preschoolers just can't get enough milk, but as they get older, many kids start to drink less and less milk. This probably isn't because they develop a distaste for milk, but rather because so many other drinks, including soda, fruit drinks and too much fruit juice, become available at home.

Milk is a good source of calcium, vitamin D and protein for kids and should be a part of every child's diet — unless they have a milk allergy. In fact, depending on their age, most kids should drink between 2 to 4 glasses of milk (low-fat milk if they are at least 2 years old) each day, especially if they aren't eating or drinking any other high-calcium foods.

Apples

Apples are a healthy snack food, since they are low in calories and have lots of fiber.
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Like most fruits, apples are are a great snack food. They are juicy, sweet (although some varieties are tart), have vitamin C, are low in calories (about 90 calories for a medium apple) and have about 5g of fiber for an unpeeled whole apple.

Unfortunately, apples are one of those healthful foods that can get turned into a "kid-friendly food" and lose a lot of their nutritional benefits.

Instead of giving their kids an unpeeled whole apple or a cut up whole apple, parents often give kids peeled apples, applesauce or apple juice as alternatives. Peeling the apple makes it lose about half of its fiber, and applesauce is also much lower in fiber than a whole apple and has more sugar and calories.

Peanut Butter

For kids who don't have food allergies, peanut butter is great food.
Photo by Peter Finnie

Although it would seem like a PB&J (peanut butter and jelly) would be a staple in most homes, many parents are avoiding peanut butter because of the worry about food allergies and because it is supposedly high in fat. Peanut butter is relatively high in fat, but it is mostly mono- and- poly-unsaturated fat, so it is better than the saturated fats that are found in many other high-fat foods.

Reduced fat peanut butter is also available, or if you choose a vitamin-fortified brand, such as Peter Pan Plus, it also provides your child with vitamin A, iron, vitamin E, vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc and copper, in addition to being a good source of protein.

Yogurt

Stick with low fat yogurt without a lot of added sugar when choosing varieties for your kids.
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Yogurt is a healthful food for kids, especially for kids who don't drink a lot of milk, as yogurt is a good source of calcium.

You make think that your kids are doing well with this one, because they already eat yogurt, but if all they eat is a kids' brand of yogurt with extra sugar and no added probiotics, then they may be missing out on some of the nutritional benefits of yogurt.

When choosing a yogurt for your kids, look for one with "live active cultures" that is low-fat and without a lot of added sugar. You may also look for one with added probiotics, although not all studies agree that they are helpful.

Tuna Fish

A tuna fish sandwich using whole wheat bread and low fat mayo can be a nutritious meal for kids.
Photo by John Shepherd

Fish can be a healthful food, unless your kids only eat fish sticks or fried fish sandwiches. Sometimes overlooked, tuna fish is a healthful fish that many kids like.

Parents seem to be serving tuna fish less often these days because of the concerns about mercury contamination, but it is important to keep in mind that like many things, tuna fish is OK in moderation. Even with the warnings, children are allowed up to two servings a week of canned light tuna or one serving of solid white albacore tuna.

Tuna fish is a great source of protein and provides omega-3 essential fatty acids and many vitamins and minerals. To make your child's tuna fish sandwich even healthier, use low-fat mayonnaise and whole wheat bread.

Breakfast Cereal

A bowl full of sugary cereal is not usually a good choice for a healthy breakfast.
Photo by Rebecca Ellis

No, a bowl full of a sugary cereal is not a healthy breakfast, but many other breakfast cereals can be a healthy part of your child's diet.

When choosing a breakfast cereal for your kids, try to look for one you can't simply eat out of the box like candy. Good choices include whole grain cereal that is calcium fortified and has added fiber. Depending on the rest of your child's diet, you may also look for a breakfast cereal that provides extra iron and other minerals and vitamins.

In general, some healthful breakfast cereals that many kids like include Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Wheaties and Total Raisin Bran. Add a chopped banana or strawberry to the bowl, and your kids will like it even more.

Eggs

It is healthier to serve your child boiled eggs or poached eggs instead of fried eggs.
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So eggs are healthy again? For a while, eggs did get a bad wrap as causing high cholesterol, but most nutrition experts now agree that eggs can be a healthy part of your diet.

Eggs are a good source of protein and contain some iron and many other vitamins and minerals.

What about cholesterol? Eggs do contain cholesterol, but they do not contain a lot of saturated fat, which is the more important factor in raising a person's cholesterol level. Still, an egg every other day is fine for most kids.

Vegetables

Carrots are high in fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and potassium.
Photo by Joe Gough

Of course, vegetables are going to be on the list of the best foods for kids, but that doesn't mean tricking your kids into eating them or trying to force your kids to eat brussels sprouts, broccoli and spinach.

There are plenty of vegetables that kids do like, such as cooked carrots, corn, peas and baked potatoes. Cooked carrots can be an especially healthful choice as they are high in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium.

Remember to introduce your kids to a variety of vegetables at an early age, offer lots of choices, set a good example by eating vegetables as a family and continue to offer very small servings of vegetables, even when your kids don't eat them. If you keep offering them, they eventually eat them.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a healthy high fiber food that most kids love.
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As much as infants enjoy oatmeal cereal, it is a little surprising that they grow up on white bread and other refined grains and don't often eat oatmeal and more whole grains.

You can combat that trend by serving your kids oatmeal, which many kids love, and more oatmeal foods and snacks (oatmeal cookies, oatmeal bars, etc.).

Oatmeal is a high fiber food that is good for your kids, just like most other whole grain foods.

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are a healthy snack, with fiber, iron, and many other vitamins and minerals.
Photo by Juan Monino

Although eating sunflower seeds may seem like a bad habit of kids on little league baseball teams, they are actually a healthful food that all kids can enjoy — as long as they don't throw the shells on the floor and are old enough so that the seeds aren't a choking hazard.

Sunflower seeds are high in fiber and are a good source of iron. They also have a lot of vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc and folate.

Although high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, those are the "good" fats. Sunflower seeds are low in saturated or "bad" fats.

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