Children and teens need the right fuel for growing, learning and developing. This means your kids need foods and beverages with plenty of nutrients (protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals) and not too many calories, fats or sugars —providing a strong foundation for a healthy life.
The secret to feeding a healthy family is to serve delicious nutrient-rich foods at every meal and snack. When children fill up on the right stuff — high quality nutrition for their bodies and brains — they will naturally have less room for nutrient-poor choices (soft drinks, chips, candy, desserts).
Here are some quick and easy ways to serve children high-octane choices from every food group, morning, noon and night.
Whole-Grain Foods with Carbohydrates, Fiber, B-Vitamins and More
Whole grains pack a lot of nutritional value, and their carbohydrate provides the fuel for young bodies to grow and keep active. In recent years, there has been an explosion of new grain products on grocery shelves. With so many options, it's hard to know which ones to pick. Choose items that list whole grains as the first ingredient on the label. Give kids whole-grain cereals for breakfast, kid-friendly "white" whole-wheat bread for sandwiches, crunchy whole-grain crackers for snacks and whole-grain pastas for dinner. To add variety, try quick-fix whole grains such as quinoa, whole-wheat couscous and quick-cooking brown rice on their own or mixed with other foods.
Fruits and Vegetables with Vitamins A and C, Potassium and Fiber
You can't go wrong with fruits and vegetables: fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100-percent juice.
For kids and adults alike, eating more fruits and vegetables at every meal is important for health. At breakfast, enjoy fresh or frozen berries on cereal or in a smoothie, slices of melon or a glass of 100-percent orange juice; at lunch, serve crunchy baby carrots or sliced apples; for dinner, put brightly colored vegetables (broccoli, corn, sliced peppers, frozen peas or leafy green salad) at the center of every plate. Juice is a delicious way to get valuable nutrients; but it can’t replace eating whole fruits and vegetables, so get at least half of fruit choices from whole fruit.
Low-fat Dairy Foods with Protein, Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium and Phosphorus
The nutrients in this group are important for kids, but most young people in America are not getting enough calcium or potassium. Fortunately, it's easy to consume the three daily dairy servings to get these nutrients that children and teens need. There are many nutrient-rich, low-fat dairy products to choose from: an 8-ounce glass of low-fat milk with breakfast, lunch and dinner; fat-free or low-fat yogurt parfaits for breakfast or an after-school snack; or string cheese for an on-the-go energy snack. Non-dairy sources of these nutrients include fortified soy milk, soy yogurt and calcium-set tofu.
Lean Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Beans or Nuts with Protein, Iron, Zinc and B-Vitamins
Whether it's growing muscles or active brains, these nutrients are crucial for children. Getting enough protein at every meal and snack helps with extending satiety (feeling comfortably satisfied after eating).
While most kids eat plenty of protein at lunch and dinner, they don't necessarily get their protein fix with breakfast or snacks. Start their day with eggs, bean burritos or last night's leftovers. For snacks, provide nuts, peanut butter or other nut butters, hummus or other bean dips with raw veggies, sliced lean turkey.