“Eat your vegetables!” is a familiar refrain of parents the world over. When I was a young girl in Southeast Asia, my father insisted I eat my vegetables. He was a doctor and he knew the power of eating whole, fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Today, I see so many quick-service restaurants offering meat and cheese and bread (pizza, hamburgers, mac & cheese, chicken nuggets) but no cooked vegetables. It’s distressing. And although some fast-food chains now offer salads, many kids don’t really enjoy eating them. So what is a parent to do?
For children to get the benefits of nutrient-rich foods, first they have to want to eat them. Fortunately, the same nutritional compounds that I feature in my cookbook, FoodTrients (my word for antioxidant-rich, vitamin- and mineral-packed nutrients) are available in kid-friendly foods. Leafy greens, colorful fruits, seeds, and nuts are some foods that are high in FoodTrients. Incorporating FoodTrient-rich foods into kids’ diets is fun and easy and will help them create lifelong, healthy-eating habits.
Tomatoes are an obvious FoodTrient favorite because of their lycopene content. One of the 26 FoodTrients I feature in my cookbook, lycopene is high in antioxidants.
Another, less-obvious antioxidant-rich food is pomegranates. If you have time to seed these large red globes, kids will eat the seeds right up. One of my friends calls pomegranate seeds “nature’s Skittles” because they’re so sweet and compact and fun to eat. Because of their growing popularity, many supermarkets have begun offering pomegranate seeds in the produce section next to the cut fruit. You may also find them in the frozen fruit section. I wrote about all the benefits of eating pomegranate seeds in a recent article.
Small fingers also enjoy grasping blueberries and popping them into little mouths. Fresh, organic blueberries are a perfect FoodTrient-packed treat because they are so full of antioxidants and vitamin C. Kids can enjoy them as a morning or afternoon snack, and they like the effect of blue teeth and fingers that inevitably results. If fresh blueberries are not in season, try using frozen organic blueberries in healthy beverages such as protein shakes or as a fun coloring agent. My Blueberry Hemp-Milk Smoothie recipe is easy to make with your kids.
Another delicious dessert recipe is my Almond-Blueberry Gelatin Parfaits. I layer blueberry gelatin and gelatin made with almond milk—a drink loaded with FoodTrient power—to make pretty and healthy parfaits that your kids will go nuts for! And you will appreciate giving them the health benefits almonds provide from the FoodTrients vitamin E, zinc, and fiber. Almonds are extremely high in antioxidants and Omega-3 oils, which keep the heart healthy and can pull cholesterol out of the bloodstream. Almond milk can be used in place of cow’s milk in breakfast cereal or as a beverage, especially if your child has problems digesting milk.
Add a little “stealth health” to kids’ meals and snacks with flaxseeds, those tiny brown seeds that are full of Omega-3 oils and protein. Flaxseeds promote healthy skin, hair, and nails. Because they don’t have a strong taste, they can be hidden in all kinds of meals for a FoodTrient boost. Try sprinkling them in oatmeal, or topping mac & cheese with a breadcrumb-flaxseed mixture for a nice crunch. Flaxseeds can also be mixed into granola and then layered in a cup with yogurt and raisins, another kid-friendly food high in the FoodTrients antioxidants and resveratrol, the same heart-healthy compound found in red wine. And if your kids enjoy helping you in the kitchen, stimulate their appetite with my Meatloaf with Flaxseeds, which they can help you mix up with their hands.
Organic apples are also an obvious and wonderful food that kids love. All varieties of apples contain the FoodTrient quercitin, a compound that helps support the immune system, therefore keeping the doctor away. Of course, my dad knew that all along.
All of the recipes mentioned in this article can be found in my cookbook, FoodTrients: Age-defying Recipes for a Sustainable Body.