Healthy Food for Kids
Cancer is an increasingly prominent health condition in today’s world. There are factors in our environment that we cannot change, but there are others we can, and that is where we should focus our energy. When thinking of our children, we worry about the risk of cancer in their future, especially if we have faced it ourselves or if we have other family members or close friends who have dealt with cancer. The risks are derived from environmental factors that we cannot change (air quality, exposure to toxicants, etc.), patterns of behavior or habits that can become detrimental to our health (poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyle, etc.) and genetic predispositions which only account for only about 2 to 5% of cancer risk.
The foods we eat and feed our kids are definitely among those factors that we have control over and should change if needed. Just as eating healthy can be a great challenge for an adult, it can be even more challenging when preparing food for our children, especially when taking into consideration making them both happy and healthy.
We have written a lot about what eating healthy means, but always from the standpoint of an adult body, energy level, capacity to ponder and choose. When considering your kids, it can get a bit trickier and the best choices may not be what most people think and especially not what the food industry wants you to believe.
This is the moment we come to your rescue! In this post you will learn how to easily incorporate healthier foods into your kids’ diet, ditch the unhealthy foods and snacks, and contribute to their vitality and happiness.
1. Feeling like something sweet?
Nature gave us the perfect sweet food! In beautiful colors, various shapes and diverse tastes. Fruit! Kids can and should have more than one portion of fruit daily! You can still choose fruits with lower sugar content and with low glycemic index. What fruits are we talking about when mentioning low sugar content?
Fruits like berries (cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, ohelo berries, boysenberries – so many to choose from…) grapefruit, plums, cherries, green apple, apricot, peach, blueberries, guava, green pear. And avocados. Yes, avocados are a fruit, and a super healthy source of fats.
It is also ok for your kids to enjoy a sweeter piece of fruit daily, like ripe banana, mango, or papaya.
Whenever possible, opt for fresh fruits, if not available, then canned fruits with no additives, or dried fruits can be an option. The secret is diversity and trying to choose in season and ripe.
To sweeten your dishes or desserts you can use dates, tamarind, figs or raw honey. There are many alternatives to the highly processed and devoid of nutrients table sugar, you just need to experiment and find out which one your kids (and you) like better.
2. Nutrients are essential for healthy growth and development. How to add more to your kids’ diet?
You probably already know the answer: vegetables! A variety of fresh vegetables will ensure proper nutrition for your kids. A bountiful of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients.
At first it may seem a “mission impossible” to give your kids more vegetables, but it is mostly a question of habit. The sooner you start introducing vegetables, the easier it will be for them to enjoy them and to eat them regularly and lifelong.
Plus, you can get creative: make cauliflower puree instead of potato puree, switch from French fries to sweet potatoes or pumpkin baked in the oven, use a dehydrator to prepare deliciously crunchy vegetable chips, using kale, beet, carrot or other root vegetables. Add some sea or Himalayan pink salt, or other natural seasonings and surely, they will love the crunchiness!
Lacking ideas? Here is a small list of healthy vegetables:
- Cruciferous: Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, napa cabbage, Chinese cabbage, swiss chard, arugula, watercress, collard greens, kohlrabi, kale, green and red cabbage, radicchio, raw sauerkraut, kimchi
- Leafy greens: lettuce (all), baby leaves, spinach, fennel, mustard leaves, parsley, mint, algae, seaweed, endive, dandelion greens, perilla, basil, purslane, wild greens, burdock, chickweed
- Others: nopales cactus, celery, onions, leeks, chives, scallions, chicory, carrots, carrot greens, artichokes, beet greens, radishes, sunchokes, hearts of palm, cilantro, okra, asparagus, garlic, konjac
Use extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on raw or slightly steamed vegetables or prepare some healthy seasonings or dressing using their favorite flavors. You can even do your home-made healthier versions of spreads, mayo, guacamole or hummus. Follow our social media and website for ideas and recipes.
3. Kids are growing, they need energy and healthy cells
Growth and development are associated with new cells, and that means kids need plenty of healthy fats! Almost every kid loves nuts, and that is a good way to introduce nutrients, energy and fat into their diet.
Almonds, macadamia, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, they are all highly nutritious and rich in different vitamins and minerals, hence variety matters.
It is important to remember that peanuts are actually not a nut and tend to be highly allergenic and carry potential toxins, like molds. If you buy peanuts for your kids, choose organically grown and from trusted suppliers, local if possible. The recommendation in the past has been not to give peanut products to children under two, though currently some agencies recommend not before six months.
When eating nuts, ideally you want to soak them (each nut has a minimum ideal soaking time, but overnight is usually a good amount), then drain and remove excessive moisture for immediate consumption. You can also keep them in the fridge or freezer or dehydrate for storing and extra crunchiness. You can season the nuts with your kids’ favorite flavors, like salt, barbecue seasoning, cinnamon, or even stevia for some sweetness.
Besides nuts, seeds are also great sources of nutrients and fat. Flaxseeds (freshly ground), hemp seeds, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, poppy seeds. Add them to your recipes or nut mixes.
Other amazing sources of healthy fats are avocados and coconuts. You can use avocado to prepare guacamole to eat with raw vegetables or vegetable chips, or you can even make ice cream or chocolate mousse with it! Coconuts are a good alternative to dairy products when it comes to milk, cream, yogurt or ice cream. There are many absolutely delicious versions of these products using coconut instead of dairy!
4. I try to avoid simple carbs, what about my kids?
Kids can and should eat a variety of healthy carbohydrates. First, both fruits and vegetables are good sources of healthy carbohydrates and fiber. You can also add healthy carbs from whole foods and grains, such as oats, quinoa, buckwheat or rice, but also organic wheat or rye (or other grains), if there is no gluten intolerance.
A completely natural, unadulterated, antioxidant-rich and nutrient-rich source of complex carbohydrates are root vegetables. Also called tubers or starchy vegetables, root vegetables are considered all veggies that grow underground. Some of the most common root vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, fennel, beets, parsnips, jicama, yams, radishes, turnips and Jerusalem artichokes. But also, onions, garlic, ginger and turmeric. Not so common are taro, daikon, cassava, batata, arrowroot, burdock root, and water chestnuts.
Limit or totally eliminate refined grains and ultra-processed foods such as white bread, crackers, pasta, pastries, cakes, cookies, breakfast cereal, etc.
5. Avoid ultra-processed and processed food
As we mentioned above for carbohydrates, you should avoid giving your kids, as much as possible, processed and especially ultra-processed foods, even if they contain some “healthy ingredients”.
For example, a frozen vegetable lasagna may contain some broccoli, but it is still not a healthy meal because it is highly processed and contains unhealthy ingredients. Some breakfast cereal may have oats, but also added sugar, preservatives, and dyes. Even “healthy snacks”, like bars and nuts, often contain many additives, refined oils, sugars and added sodium.
The most important thing is to learn to read labels. Look at the ingredients. Does the product contain whole foods that you recognize? Or are there names and things you can’t even picture and do not know what they are?
Ideally, you want to buy foods that contain one ingredient, or solely with added water, sea salt or other plain whole food ingredients. Then you can prepare your own combination of foods.
For example, instead of buying instant oatmeal with raisins and nuts, buy plain organic whole oats. Soak them overnight and soak your favorite nuts. In the morning mix the oats (cooked or not), with the soaked nuts, maybe some fresh fruit and a dash of sea salt or cinnamon. Delicious homemade oatmeal!
Now that you have some basic ideas of how to make your kids’ diet healthier, it is time to do some shopping for whole foods and delicious preparation! Give it a try and let us know how it went.
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Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.