We have all grown up hearing “An Apple a Day keeps the Doctor Away!” Now, as a mom, I am focused on providing the right nutrition for my daughter so she can grow up strong and healthy. I began by asking myself ‘What are the rules that we should be nutritionally living by?’ I know that healthy habits should start early, beginning with exercise, portion control and choosing the ‘right’ foods – these habits will set the stage for the rest of her life. Children learn by observing their role models – mostly family – so I did some research to educate myself about the necessary nutrients needed to make our entire family healthy. Here is a list I’ve complied – it is just what the doctor ordered!
Calcium is crucial for bone mass development, but a third of 4 to 8 year old children don’t get enough. A bonus is that many high calcium foods are also high in Vitamin D – helpful for preventing Type 1 diabetes. Foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D include milk, cheese, yogurt (excellent but watch the sugar), fortified cereals, soy products and some juices.
Iron is essential – it helps red blood cells carry oxygen to cells throughout the body, directly affecting brain development. Studies show that up to 20 percent of kids are not getting enough Iron. If this deficiency is left unchecked it can lead to learning and behavioral problems. Some of the best sources of Iron are lean meats including shrimp, beef, and chicken. If your child is a vegetarian or doesn’t care for the taste of meat try beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Although Iron from plant sources is not absorbed easily by the body, Vitamin C based foods can increase the absorption level. Foods high in both Iron and Vitamin C are broccoli, Swiss chard, and other dark green leafy vegetables.
What is important about Vitamin E? It is an antioxidant that protects our cells from damage. It is estimated that 80 percent of children under the age of 8, and more than half of preschoolers, are lacking sufficient amounts of the vitamin. To my surprise, eating fat free foods, since they generally lack essential oils, is part of the problem. Make sure your child’s diet includes small amounts of nuts (if no allergies,) avocado, tomato sauce, wheat germ or spinach. Fortified cereals may have Vitamin E but all-natural cereals do not.
This seems to be a buzzword for adults, but it keeps children regular, fills them up and may help protect them from other illnesses later in life. An easy way to establish a goal for grams of daily fiber is to add the number 5 to your child’s age. It’s ideal to have at least one high-fiber food at every meal. Cereal can be a great way for your child to obtain fiber – just make sure it has 5 grams or more per serving. Other great sources of fiber are fruits, beans, lentils, chickpeas, whole-grain breads, oatmeal, nuts, sweet potatoes, popcorn and green beans. My daughter LOVES hummus and just 2 tablespoons has as much fiber as a half cup of brown rice.
…and last but not least, Potassium:
Potassium is the main contributor to maintaining healthy muscles that contract and maintaining beneficial fluid balances and blood pressure. Most kids are getting slightly more than half of the recommended dose needed. Remember getting a muscle cramp as a kid and hearing your mom say, “Eat a banana!?” She was right! Bananas are one of the best sources of potassium, along with oranges, dried apricots, cantaloupe, honeydew, sweet potatoes, fish, and tomatoes.
As the mom of a two year old girl I know it can be difficult to get all of these needed nutrients into your child! Fortunately many of these suggested foods, like beans or nuts, can serve a dual purpose. If you have a finicky eater you may want to talk to your pediatrician about adding vitamin supplements, but IT IS possible to get all they need by eating the right foods.
I found something that was interesting and fun…the US government has a food pyramid and website just for kids with lots of helpful hints about their health - Check it out!
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