10 Superfoods for Growing Children

Becoming a parent is the most rewarding, difficult thing a person can do. You are suddenly in charge of a tiny, helpless human being who can’t… Elizabeth Lilian - February 15, 2017

Becoming a parent is the most rewarding, difficult thing a person can do. You are suddenly in charge of a tiny, helpless human being who can’t even hold their own head up, let alone feed themselves a nutritional, well-balanced diet. Children are always growing. They do most of it in their first year, with babies averaging 10 inches of growth in length and tripling in weight. By age two, the growing has slowed down a bit, but still increases at a steady pace. Children grow roughly 2 and a half inches each year until they reach adolescence, where they undergo a huge growth spurt as they reach puberty.

To encourage the best growth possible for your children, here are 10 superfoods that can help.

1. Milk

Milk is one of the most popular beverages consumed all around the world, and has been for centuries. Milk was considered a status symbol in ancient Egypt, as only royalty and the very wealthy drank it. In 1862, a French microbiologist named Louis Pasteur developed a safer way of producing, storing and distributing milk, with the first commercial pasteurization machines introduced shortly afterwards.

Aside from water, milk is probably the healthiest beverage to give your children. It’s one of the best liquid sources of calcium, which is a building block for growing strong, healthy bones and teeth. Because children experience such a rapid amount of growth in their early years, they need as much calcium as possible in order to grow their bones to the fullest potential. Lack of calcium can leave them at risk of developing osteoporosis in later years, which is a disease that causes the bones to become thinner and less dense, increasing the chance of fractures. Calcium not only supports the growth of strong bones, it also plays a vital part in releasing hormones and enzymes, and ensuring muscles and nerves work properly.

In order to help your child achieve optimum bone health, recent guidelines suggest children from age two to eight should have at least 2 and a half cups of milk per day, with that number rising to three cups once they reach nine years of age. Avoid giving cow’s milk to babies under 12 months, as they can’t digest it well. Introduce whole milk at around one year of age, and aim for milk that has been fortified with vitamin D as this is also necessary for strong bones.

If you haven’t given your child milk before, it’s good to be aware of the symptoms of lactose intolerance and milk allergies. Symptoms can occur within minutes or hours of drinking milk and dairy products, and include nausea, abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and gas. If you notice any symptoms, be sure to talk to your paediatrician for more information.

2. Eggs

Childhood is an important time of development and growth, both physically and mentally. Lack of proper nutrition can cause obesity and poor health, which can in turn cause lifelong health problems. An inadequate diet may arise in children due to fussy eating and food allergies, but it’s important to impress upon them the significant health benefits of eating a well-balanced diet.

Eggs are a great source of nutrients for children. They contain 13 essential vitamins and other minerals like vitamin A, iodine, folate, zinc, iron and omega-3. Naturally low in salt and containing only 70 calories per egg, they can provide children with a unique composition of nutrients that meet a variety of their needs. The protein found in an egg is of extremely high quality, and is essential in building and maintaining lean body mass, so it’s perfect for growing kids. One large scrambled egg can provide six grams of protein, which is a little less than the amount found in a cup of milk.

Eggs are very versatile and can form the basis of lots of different recipes, so if you’ve got a fussy eater, you can try cooking eggs in various ways to suit their changing tastes. Some meal ideas include hard-boiled eggs and toast, scrambled eggs, ham and tomato omelettes or burritos.

Eggs can sometimes cause an allergic reaction in children and adults, so be wary when first introducing them to the diet. And as they are very high in cholesterol it’s suggested they eat just three or four eggs per week, as this often enough for them to receive all the nutritional benefits without worrying about too much cholesterol.

3. Broccoli

It may surprise you to hear this, but broccoli is actually a man-made food. It’s a derivative of cabbage, and was selectively bred from the flowering buds of the wild cabbage plants found in the Mediterranean almost 1,000 years ago. Broccoli has been a valuable source of nutrition among many cultures, but it wasn’t introduced to England and America until the 1700s.

Broccoli has anti-inflammatory benefits which can help protect the body from potentially dangerous toxins, and is rich in phytonutrients, with just 100 grams containing two days’ worth of vitamin C. Broccoli is dense in a particular phytonutrient called kaempferol, which has the ability to reduce the impact of allergens and help lower the risk of chronic inflammation.

Broccoli is also full of dietary fiber, which can benefit children’s regularity by supporting the movement of food through the digestive system. Another benefit is the presence of glucosinolates, which is a phytonutrient that is converted by our bodies into isothiocyanates, which help protect the stomach lining by preventing an overgrowth of bacteria. Broccoli also contains two carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) that are important in supporting eye health.

While broccoli may not be a favorite among some children, there are so many different ways in which you can cook it. However, the best way is to quick steam it for four minutes, as overcooked broccoli loses much of its flavor and nutrients. You can mix it in with spaghetti, or combine it with chicken and baked potatoes, or even in a soup. If your children have a bit of a sweet tooth, you can try your hand at baking savoury muffins with broccoli and cheese, which can be perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

4. Blueberries

Blueberries are a small berry that is one of the few fruits native to North America. There are a few different species in the blueberry family and they’re known by many names like cowberry, bilberry and sparkleberry. Blueberries are in the genus Vaccinium and have been used by Native Americans for centuries, who ate them fresh and dried them out in order to preserve them for winter. They also used the juice for cough syrup and to dye cloth.

The blueberries cultivated these days are high bush, a variety of wild berry that was domesticated in the early 20th century. Blueberries have one of the highest levels of antioxidants among all other fruits and vegetables. They also contain high levels of fiber, flavonoids and vitamins, and are very low in calories and fat. Blueberries support a strong immune system, which is very important in children as a healthy immune system helps them ward off colds and other viruses they may come into contact with.

Various research has been performed on the health benefits of blueberries, with satisfying results. One study published by the School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences in the UK examined the effects of flavonoid-rich blueberry drink on the memory of children aged eight to ten years old, which indicated there was a positive connection between blueberries and memory recall. And according to another study conducted by Ronald L. Prior, Ph.D, one half-cup of blueberries holds as much antioxidant power as five servings of other fruits and vegetables like peas, carrots, apples, squash and broccoli.

When adding blueberries to your children’s diet, ensure they are fresh, raw blueberries and not dried or processed blueberries as these won’t have all the essential nutrients and antioxidants, and are likely to be full of sugar and preservatives. A half-cup serving of blueberries three or four times per week will benefit your child’s health and wellbeing. Serve them in homemade muffins or pancakes, in smoothies and yogurt, or just by themselves as a snack.

5. Yogurt

Historians agree that yogurt was likely discovered by accident centuries ago, when milk was unable to be stored properly. Many historical accounts attribute yogurt to herdsman in Central Asia, who began milking their animals and storing the milk in animal stomachs, which they used as carrying containers. The natural enzymes would curdle the milk, essentially making yogurt.

Since then, yogurt has become a popular source of nutrients. It’s full of protein, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals. Yogurt is made when lactic-acid producing cultures (also known as probiotics) are added to milk products, which thickens and creates that sour taste. The cultures used to make yogurt are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Other probiotics can be added to increase health benefits by maintaining the balance of bacteria in the digestive system and promoting proper gut function.

Yogurt also helps boost the immune system, and can sometimes be enjoyed by people with lactose intolerance because it contains lower amounts of lactose than milk and other dairy products. It’s a great source of calcium and phosphorus, as well as vitamins A, C, D, E, K and more. Some yogurt can contain a lot of sugar in the form of flavoring and additives, so be sure to look for the most natural yogurt possible.

Greek yogurt is thought to be a healthier choice than other kinds of yogurt. It has almost twice the amount of protein as regular yogurt and less than half the sodium. Yogurt is an extremely versatile food, and can be combined with many other things to enhance flavor and health benefits. Serve it with muesli for breakfast, or combine natural yogurt with blueberries, raspberries and other fruits as an after-school snack.

6. Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are a herbaceous vine, and were discovered by Spanish explorers in North and South America at least 5,000 years ago. They grow best in warmer climates but can be found all over the world, like Japan and southern Russia. Sweet potato is a member of the Convolvulaceae family of flowering plants, and its relatives include chokeweed and water spinach. Contrary to common belief, the sweet potato is not related to the common potato.

Sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritional vegetables, and are a staple food item in tropical communities. They’re rich in potassium, phosphorus, manganese, copper, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and dietary fiber. And, according to the Center For Science in the Public Interest, sweet potatoes were rated number one on a list of the worlds healthiest foods. They also contain a wealth of carotenoid pigments, powerful antioxidants that gives sweet potato flesh that vibrant orange color. Recent studies have shown that sweet potatoes have the ability to raise levels of vitamin A in the blood, particularly in children.

Sweet potatoes also contain anti-inflammatory nutrients like anthocyanin, which has been shown to effectively reduce inflammation in test subjects after consuming sweet potato. Another benefit of sweet potato is its ability to potentially improve blood sugar regulation, even in those with type 2 diabetes.

Even fussy eaters may find it hard to resist the taste of sweet potato. They’re simple to cook, and can be done so in many different ways. For younger children, they can be steamed and mashed up with lean mince-meat to make child-friendly hamburger patties, or sliced up and baked as potato chips for older kids. Sweet potatoes are very versatile, and can be just as delicious served up on the side with meat and vegetables.

7. Oats

Oats were first seen in literature going as far back as 1BC and have since been a popular food source, though they haven’t always been so healthy. Oats were actually considered a confectionary in the 1900s and weren’t deemed a health food until the late 90s, shortly before their FDA approval. There are various different species and subspecies of oats, and all have been used as food for livestock and humans for centuries. Types of oats include whole, steel-cut, rolled and instant.

Oats have many health benefits that make them an effective remedy for many things. In the past, they’ve been used to treat rheumatism, chronic neurological pain, bladder weakness, insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression and nervous exhaustion. Oats also have a soothing effect on skin problems like dry skin, itchiness, eczema, measles, chickenpox, psoriasis and sunburn.

Oats are gluten-free and a great source of fiber. They contain more fat and protein than most other grains, as well as important vitamins and minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, folate and vitamins B1 and B5. Oats are one of the most nutrient-rich foods available. Rich in antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds, they can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Oats contain a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which may help release satiety hormones (the hormones that tell you you’re full) and delay emptying of the stomach. Oats are a perfect breakfast food because they are so low in sugar and high in protein and fiber, which can help your little one stay fuller for longer. You can enjoy them warm or cold, and add fruit and nuts to give an even bigger dose of nutrients.

8. Cheese

The making of cheese is thought to have occurred more than 4,000 years ago. Cheese is made by adding starter cultures (‘good’ bacteria) and coagulants to milk, which curdles and thickens it until it creates curds. These are then cooked, drained and pressed, becoming the cheese we see in the supermarkets. Cheese can be made from the milk of many animals like cows, goats, sheep, buffalo and even camels.

There are different types of cheese including cheddar, brie, gouda, camembert and parmesan, and they all have different nutritional values. Cheddar is likely the most popular cheese for children, because it can taste quite mild and holds lots of health benefits. Cheese is an excellent source of protein, fat and carbs. It’s also a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin B12, sodium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, riboflavin, vitamin A and vitamin K2. Eating cheese can support healthy bones and teeth, and may reduce the risk of hypertension and heart disease.

Similar to yogurt, cheese contains probiotics that can help regulate the bacteria in the gut and support a healthy digestive system. Cheese can be quite high in fat, so it’s best to eat in moderation. It also contains lactose, which may affect your child if they appear to be lactose intolerant, and it can cause flare ups in those with milk allergies, so be aware of this when first introducing cheese to your children.

The recommended daily serving of dairy depends on the age of your child, and one serve of dairy is equivalent to two slices of cheese. For younger kids aged four to eight, the serving suggestion is 1 ½ to 2. For those between nine and eleven years, aim for 2 1/2  to 3, and for children between 12 to 18 years old, aim for 3 ½ each day.

9. Fish

People have been fishing for food for thousands of years throughout history. Fish are such a high source of nutritional value, they are the primary diet source of many cultures. In fact, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA), around 85 percent of fish are caught for the purpose of human consumption.

There are countless health benefits of a diet rich in fish. One portion of 150 grams of fish can provide almost 60 percent of daily protein requirements for an adult, and a healthy dose of omega-3, an important fatty acid that can help lower risk of heart disease and relieve joint pain and arthritis. Omega-3 is also vital for neurological development in babies. Fish contains high quality protein, and a variety of other vitamins and minerals like vitamins A and D, phosphorus, magnesium and iodine.

Studies have shown that consuming fish regularly can reduce the risk of asthma in children, and it has also been linked to a 53 percent decreased risk of macular degeneration. A diet of fish can help boost immunity, increase energy, support healthy skin, reduce inflammation and stimulate growth and development. According to the World Register of Marine Species, there are over 240,000 accepted species of fish in the world as of 2017, and that number is only set to rise.

So with so many different species of fish, how do we know which ones to include in our children’s diet? Some species, such as shark and mackerel, are high in mercury, a pollutant and carcinogen. Salmon is said to be one of the healthiest, with tuna not far behind. Both types of fish can be enjoyed from a can, as canned fish tends to be a cheap, quick source of low-fat protein and vitamins. But be wary, as canned fish can sometimes contain more sodium than fresh fish. Limit your child’s fish intake to two or three serves per week in order to ensure they receive the best health benefits.

10. Beans

Beans are thought to be one of the earliest cultivated crops on the planet. They can be divided into two main groups: green or snap beans, of which you can eat the whole thing, and shell or dried beans, which must be shelled before eating. There are many different types of beans within these two groups, like black beans, black-eyed peas, cannellini, chickpeas, kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans and navy beans, and all host a multitude of nutrients.

Beans are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, containing folate, magnesium, iron, phytates, potassium, protein, fiber, vitamin B6 and zinc. Health benefits of beans include antioxidative effects, decreased rates of cancer progression, lower cholesterol levels, improved asthma symptoms, reduced blood pressure and stabilization of blood sugar levels. Beans also have an extremely low glycemic index, which means they make you feel fuller for longer.

With so many different types of beans, it’s best to know which ones are the healthiest to include in your child’s diet. Lentils are one of the most popular, as you can include them in many dishes like soup, salad and risotto. Black beans and kidney beans are also popular, and green beans are great to serve up next to some meat and other vegetables. Because they’re so versatile, you can experiment with lots of different recipes that are child-friendly, like Mexican tortillas, quesadillas, home-made nuggets, hamburger patties, or even protein bars.

To give your child the best start in life, it’s vital that they receive as much nutrition as possible. Though it can be hard at times, and most of the food might just end up on the floor, introducing them to a balanced, healthy diet as early as possible will set them up with healthy eating habits that will (hopefully) stay with them throughout life.