When you are trying to feed a growing family on a tight budget and limited time, eating foods that offer the biggest bang for the buck takes precedence. That's why choosing the cheapest, easiest-to-prepare foods packed with the most nutrition is the way to go. To that end, I have put together my list of favorite, tasty super foods for children that won't break the bank.
It's difficult to come up with a short list of top foods because so many qualify as great choices for growing bodies. So how did I decide? First and foremost, foods had to be kid-friendly and filled with nutrients to make the grade. That rules out the likes of kale, Brussels sprouts, and liver, for example. They may pack nutrients, but nearly all youngsters turn up their noses at the prospect of eating them. Once a food made it past the primary criteria of great taste and good nutrition (according to my taste buds), I looked at how it fit in with the other entries. I needed to narrow down the list while concentrating on providing a variety of selections for parents and children, which is why there is an array of choices. You'll see foods from every food group listed here.
What about the foods left off the list? I couldn't include everything, just the choices I thought most worthy. So if your family favorites are missing, that doesn't necessarily make them bad-for-you foods. Admittedly, the list lacks dozens of nutritious foods, most notably fruits and vegetables. Yet, all plant foods have something wonderful to offer kids by way of nutrition, so you should never rule out any of them.
Just because they're good for you doesn't mean children will eat all of the super foods highlighted here. Chances are, your kids will reject many of my favorites on the grounds of taste, but keep trying. Some day your little tike will surprise you when he actually asks to snack on sweet potatoes or demands hummus for lunch. Hey, stranger things have happened.
Why they're good for a growing body: These sweet tubers taste great warm or cold, and they're pretty at look at, too. A sweet potato provides carbohydrate, potassium, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and carotenoids, substances that the body uses to make vitamin A and to fight off disease.
How to serve: Slice cold, cooked, peeled sweet potatoes for a snack or side dish. Mash cooked sweet potatoes with orange juice for an extra boost of vitamin C and folate. Thinly slice peeled sweet potatoes, toss in canola oil, and bake. Serve warm or cold as a potato chip substitute. Cut peeled sweet potatoes into wedges and roast along with sliced apples or white potatoes. Bake a crustless sweet potato pie and serve with low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt for a calcium-rich treat.
When to begin offering: There's no reason why sweet potatoes can't be one of the first vegetables your child eats during infancy. My kids loved pureed sweet potatoes straight out of the jar. You can make your own by thoroughly mashing or pureeing a cooked skinless tuber with breast milk or infant formula. Make sure the consistency is right for your infant's developmental stage.
Why it's good for a growing body: Broccoli is packed with energy-producing carbohydrate, as well as fiber, a carbohydrate with no calories, but lots of health benefits. Broccoli also supplies numerous vitamins and minerals in healthy doses, including calcium, potassium, folate, and carotenoids that foster peak eyesight, ward off cell damage, and serve as the raw material for vitamin A production in the body.
How to serve: Kids are funny about broccoli. Hannah and Hayley liked it when they were just out of infancy, but it fell out of favor with both of them when they reached two or three. Broccoli's strong taste can be off-putting, which is why I let my children slather it with reduced-fat salad dressing. Broccoli is so beneficial that I will let them eat it however they want. Your children may take to broccoli more easily than mine did (and then, didn't), in which case serving it raw or lightly steamed is your best bet. In fact, cooking broccoli until it's just crisp-tender frees up some of the beneficial phytochemicals, helping the body to better absorb them. When children refuse plain broccoli, try making soup out of it.
When to begin offering: Babies can try pureed broccoli at six months or so.