March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
When the temperatures drop and the daylight hours are shorter, energy levels can take a big dip, right along with mood. Kids might be less active in the cold, winter months, making it extra important to focus on adequate nutrition this time of year. And while it hasn't been well-studied in children, kids could experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern, just like adults. Changes in mood, energy, focus, appetite and sleep are some common signs. These foods will help your kids stay healthy — and happy — this winter.
The tryptophan in salmon and other animal proteins is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation. Salmon is also packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown in some studies to help manage depression. Some kids will eat salmon broiled or grilled — try using a marinade or sauce they love on other foods — or cut the fish into small pieces and make kebabs with veggies.
Clementines are an adorable winter citrus packed with vitamin C and fiber. They also contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium for strong bones and good muscle function. Kids love that they're usually seedless, easy to peel and fun to eat, making them perfect for school lunchboxes or snacks. You can also toss the sections into salads to make greens more appealing.
Winter squash is rich in vitamin A and carotenoids, which have been shown to benefit heart health and immunity while promoting healthy skin. They're also a good source of fiber, which helps keep blood sugar levels stable.
Lisa Brown, MS, RDN, CDN, a registered dietitian in New York City, encourages parents to make winter squash part of the regular rotation. "Most winter squash varieties are naturally sweet, and what kid doesn't like sweet? Try roasting butternut squash and tossing with cinnamon and maple syrup," she says. "You can also mix spaghetti squash with your kid's favorite pasta sauce."
Another great source of fiber, sweet potatoes are also packed with vitamin A and potassium. Their mellow, sweet taste works in all kinds of recipes. Slice into thin "coins" and toss with canola or olive oil before roasting. Sweet potato puree can also be used in foods like macaroni and cheese, oatmeal and brownies. Pediatric dietitian Laura Gibofsky, MS, RD, CDN, suggests swapping in baked sweet potatoes as an alternative to french fries. "Have your kids help with peeling so they're involved in the cooking," she says.
This member of the cruciferous veggie family has been noted for its high phytochemical content and potential to help prevent cancer and inflammation. Cauliflower is delicious on its own but easily blends with other flavors. It's rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as many B-vitamin. But that's not all. Cauliflower provides a small amount of protein (1.1 gram per serving), plus potassium, magnesium and manganese — important for growth and development — while the fiber promotes stable energy levels and good digestion.
Cauliflower is delicious roasted, but if your kid is averse to eating veggies, Brown has some creative ideas. Try making cauliflower "rice" in a food processor and adding it to stir-fries, she suggests.
"You can also use riced cauliflower for pancakes," says Brown. "Just microwave for 45 seconds, then blend it into the batter." Don't worry, the pancakes don't taste like cauliflower!