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 getting the right nutrition this time of year. Changes in mood, energy, focus, appetite and sleep aren’t uncommon but could be signs of a more serious underlying condition. If you’re concerned about your child’s emotional and mental health, have a conversation with your child and their pediatrician. Healthful food choices also can help support your child’s mental health. Consider including the following foods to help your kids stay healthy — and happy — this winter.
Amino acids such as tryptophan, tyrosine and glutamine are a few of the building blocks of protein found in salmon and other protein foods. These amino acids produce neurotransmitters that contribute to mood regulation. Emerging research links nutrients in fish with lower risk of depression. Salmon is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown in some studies to help manage depression. While we need more research to confirm mental health benefits, we already know that fish is an excellent heart-healthy source of protein. 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, which helps keep immune systems strong. They also provide dietary fiber. Kids love that they're usually seedless, easy to peel and fun to eat, making them perfect for school lunchboxes or snacks. You also can toss the sections into salads to make greens more appealing.
Butternut squash is rich in vitamin A and carotenoids, which have been shown to benefit heart health and immunity. It’s also a good source of dietary fiber, which helps keep blood sugar levels stable. Most winter squash varieties are naturally sweet, and what kid doesn't like sweet? Try roasting butternut or acorn squash and tossing with cinnamon and maple syrup. Spaghetti squash is another popular winter squash. Try baking it and adding your child's favorite pasta sauce on top.
Packed with vitamin A and potassium, another great source of dietary fiber is sweet potatoes. 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 be used in foods including macaroni and cheese, oatmeal and brownies. Try swapping in baked sweet potatoes as an alternative to French fries. Have your kids help with peeling so they're involved in the cooking process.
This member of the cruciferous veggie family has been noted for its high phytochemical content. Cauliflower is delicious on its own but easily blends with other flavors. It's rich in vitamin C and a good source of vitamin K for a healthy immune system and healthy bones. And that's not all! Cauliflower also is a good source of folate, a B-vitamin important for growth and development, while dietary fiber promotes stable energy levels and digestion. Cauliflower is delicious roasted, but if your kid is averse to eating veggies, try making cauliflower "rice" in a food processor and adding it to a stir-fry.
Find a Nutrition Expert
Looking for credible nutrition information and recommendations? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' network of credentialed food and nutrition practitioners are ready to help!