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Top 10 foods for growing bodies

Fuel your little one with healthy food

Fuel your little one with healthy food

Before I became a parent, I imagined my future children gratefully accepting whichever healthy food I whipped up for dinner that night. The reality is that if my kids had their way, they would eat a bowl of Nutella for every meal. Like most parents, I want my children to get as much of the "good stuff" as possible.

Diet has a direct impact on the health and behavior of our children, yet it can be challenging to know which foods they really need to fuel their growing bodies and minds. I spoke with local doctors, nutritionists and moms to round up a list of best foods and nutrients for children.

1. Fruit. Local mom Dr. Padma Garvey says that the number one thing she tells parents is to focus on unprocessed foods, which even applies to fruit such as apples. "Packaged purees or packaged pre-sliced apples may be marketed as real food, but they are still processed and contain preservatives. You are much better off preparing your own fruit," she recommends.

Dr. Joseph T Malak, of Bambini Pediatrics in Poughkeepsie, suggests eating seasonal fruit for maximum benefits. "For instance, watermelon is a great food and is now available year round. But it may not be the best choice for breakfast in winter," he says.

2. Vegetables. "Providing a variety of vegetables ensures children are consuming sufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals, and fiber," says Vicki Koenig, a master's level registered dietitian in New Paltz. Incorporating a "Meatless Monday" into your meal rotation is a great way to encourage the whole family to eat more vegetables in creative ways. Dawn Bennett of Wappingers Falls searches for new recipes that cater to her children's tastes. "Rather than just giving them a pile of something like cauliflower, we try different recipes with a vegetable as the main ingredient," she explains.

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3. Fish. "Fish contains omega -3 fatty acids which are needed for brain development and health, energy, and eyesight," explains Dr. Mark Goldhirsch, a clinical nutritionist serving the Hudson Valley. "Omega -3 fatty acids may be helpful in preventing conditions such as ADHD, allergies, asthma and other immune-related conditions."

Goldhirsch suggests a little creativity to make this dish more appealing for children. "Cutting up slices of fruit as eyebrows, using blueberries as eyes and a slice of banana as a mouth can go a long way in adding appeal to a plain piece of fish," he says.

4. Whole grains. "Whole grains such as oatmeal, hummus, brown rice or even popcorn, digest slowly and provide the body with long lasting energy," says Kelly Bennett, a nurse and mother in Hopewell Junction. They are also a great source of fiber, which according to Dr. Garvey, is something most children do not get enough of in their diets. Fiber promotes healthy digestion and keeps kids full longer. Whole grains also provide B vitamins, iron, and magnesium.

5. Eggs. "Eggs are an excellent source of choline for strength of cell membranes," says Goldhirsch. "A healthy cell membrane creates a healthy cell by keeping nutrients in and toxins out." Choline also aids in memory development. Eggs are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. My own children love having breakfast for dinner once a week, and we are able to create our own healthier version of a deli egg sandwich.   

6. Yogurt. As long as you are mindful of avoiding varieties with added sugars, yogurt is a great option for kids. "Yogurt provides calcium, which is important for healthy bones and teeth, as well as B vitamins," explains Koenig. Yogurt is also full of good bacteria which promotes a healthy gut. Goldhirsch notes that yogurt may also lead to improved sleep, and may help with hyperactivity and muscle spasms or cramps. Dr. Garvey suggests buying or making a soy yogurt as a dairy free option.    

7. Healthy fats. "Healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, or extra virgin olive oil improves brain function and memory. They act as antioxidants to protect against cell damage, maintain healthy skin and can diminish inflammation in the body," says Goldhirsch. For young children in particular, getting enough healthy fat in the diet is essential for the development of the brain and nervous system.

READ MORE: Shift from junk food to healthy food

8. Water. Water is an integral part of a healthy diet and a properly functioning body. "Water is the most important fluid to transport nutrients from our food into our cells and eliminate toxins from the cell," says Goldhirsch. Experts recommend letting your child's thirst be your guide as to how must water they should be drinking. Offer water between meals and avoid sugary or caffeinated drinks.

9. Lean protein. "Foods with high levels of protein contribute to adequate growth. They can provide a sense of fullness preventing all-day grazing," says Koenig. Chicken, turkey, or lean beef are great options. Kelly Bennett suggests replacing high fat options, such as a cheeseburger or a hotdog, with lean turkey or skinless chicken on whole wheat bread.

10. Herbs and spices. This is a fun way to experiment with different flavors while also boosting your child's health. "Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, basil and oregano, to name a few, are packed with vitamins and minerals and add flavor to otherwise unpleasant tasting foods for kids," says Goldhirsch. Try growing an herb garden to get kids interested in different flavors or encouraging children to smell different spices to see which they may like to taste.  

Caren Bennett is an editorial assistant for the American Payroll Association. She lives with her husband, 3 children and rambunctious Labrador.