Not all healthy food is created equal, but how is a parent to know which foods are the most important? We asked nutritionist, chef and author of ‘Falling in Love with Food’ Zoe Bingley-Pullin for help.
“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,” says Zoe. “But with so much information and so many food options to choose from, sorting fact from fiction and really understanding what your kids should be eating can be confusing.”
On a mission to keep both food and nutrition simple, stripping it back to basics and focusing on filling kids’ plates with nutrient-dense wholefoods, Zoe has shared the top five foods your kids should be having every day.
Natural yoghurt (calcium)
Calcium is critical for proper bone and teeth development as well as nervous system function, and natural yoghurt is also a good source of protein, B12, magnesium, potassium and vitamin D.
“Opt for full fat, good quality natural yoghurt, free from added sugars,” says Zoe. “If your kids prefer flavoured yoghurt, stir through your own berry or mango puree or finely dice fresh fruit to add sweetness. This way, your kids are also getting the added fibre, vitamin and mineral benefits of fresh fruit.”
For a boost of good probiotics, Zoe also suggests offering kefir to your kids.
“If you’re new to the world of fermented foods, kefir is a fermented yoghurt drink that contains live bacteria full of probiotics,” says Zoe. “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, offering fibre to support digestive health, carbohydrates which provide energy for growth, concentration and play, and an array of vitamins and minerals – think 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,” says Zoe. “Adding fruit to smoothies is another easy way to bump up their intake.”
“Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and chia and hemp seeds are all sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, also known as essential fats,” says Zoe. “Eating these fats is particularly important because our body cannot make its own supply – thus, 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, so they shouldn’t be neglected.”
Leafy greens provide a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to nutrient density, and they are also very easy to integrate into your kids’ diets.
“My top picks for kids are spinach and kale – both leafy greens contain fibre, beta-carotene, vitamins A, C and K, folic acid, calcium and iron,” says Zoe. “Try wilting kale and spinach through a risotto, stir-fry or Bolognese sauce, or finely chopped in meat patty mixes.”
“More and more research is pointing to the benefits of adding plant foods to our diet, including plant-based protein such as legumes,” says Zoe. “Legumes are a great food choice for kids because they offer protein, which is needed during each meal to support muscle growth and repair, and to help ward off sickness and infection.”
They are also a source of iron, which is important to facilitate growth, help with energy production, boost immune function and transport oxygen around the body – helping with concentration. What’s more, 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,” says Zoe. “In order to add them to your kids’ diet, try adding them to a pasta sauce, blending them into a dip to spread on sandwiches, or buy packets of chickpeas or fava beans as snacks (or make your own!).”
You could also add legumes to mince dishes for extra bulk – Zoe says this works particularly well in taco mixes. And, as an alternative to consuming legumes every day, mix them up with other sources of plant-based protein like tofu, 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 doesn’t have to be a challenge,” says Zoe. “By keeping these five food types in mind, you will be making sure their nutritional needs are covered. Use the foods I’ve mentioned as a guideline for the types of foods kids should ideally be getting in their diet daily, and aim for a variety within each category.”