1. Milk and dairy products
Milk is an important part of diet for most children, because it is a great source of protein and calcium, essential for building muscles and supporting healthy bones and teeth respectively. Milk is also fortified with Vitamin D, another important nutrient for the physical growth of the child.
2. Yogurt and cheese
If your kid does not like to drink milk, dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are also good alternatives in providing the essential nutrients found in milk. Yogurt also has the additional advantage in supplying probiotics, which are the good intestinal bacteria in supporting gut health. Although cheese has the same nutritional content as milk, it also contains salt and saturated fat and hence excessive eating of cheese is definitely not advisable.
Eggs are a great source of protein for the little ones, including those essential amino acids (which are the basic units of protein) that can’t be made by the body. They also contain several important vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, which is essential for healthy eyes, choline which is crucial for brain function and heart health, and selenium which has anti-oxidant properties and helps in thyroid function.
Blueberries are one of the richest sources of anti-oxidants in the fruit world, and hence they help in preventing the development of cancer and heart disease. They also contain Vitamin C which has important roles in wound healing and fighting infections, and Vitamin K which is essential for blood clotting. Lastly, animal studies have found promising results linking eating blueberries to improved brain function, mainly in the form of improvement in memory and motor function.
Tomatoes contain several vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, B, C and K, folate, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, all of which are necessary for good health. One of the most studied nutrients found in tomatoes is the anti-oxidant lycopene. Studies have shown that lycopene may help to ward against certain cancers and degenerative diseases of the eye, and could boost the skin’s ability to protect itself against UV rays. One useful tip is to cook the tomatoes, as the heating process releases more lycopene from the tomato cells.
6. Dark green leafy vegetables
Examples of dark green leafy vegetables are kale, spinach, boy choy, broccoli and cabbage. They are full of benefits for the body, being high in dietary fibre, folic acid, Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and lutein. Lutein in particular plays a protective role in the eye. Green veggies also contain a variety of carotenoids, flavonoids and other powerful antioxidants that have cancer-protective properties. Lastly, studies have shown that increased consumption of these vegetables is linked to a reduced risk in cardiovascular disease.
7. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of proteins, vitamins and minerals. For example, almonds are a wonderful source of copper, magnesium and phosphorus, and provide 6 grams of protein per 1-ounce serving. 1 ounce of Brazil nuts provides 780 percent of the recommended daily intake of selenium. And 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds contain more than 30 percent of the daily value of Vitamin E, phosphorus, selenium and manganese. Although nuts and seeds are high in fat, this is mostly in the form of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which are good for the body as they raise our “good” cholesterol levels (HDL) and contain essential fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. The best way to enjoy them is to have a small handful a day.
8. Whole grains
Whole grains are full of fibre, which is usually lacking in most processed foods. Diets high in fibre have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, constipation and unhealthy weight gain. They are also loaded with Vitamin B and many important minerals. Lastly, whole grains digest slowly and supply a steady usable source of fuel which helps kids have the energy they need for the day.
Fish is definitely one of the healthiest foods for children agreed by all. It is rich in protein, needed by the body to build strong healthy muscles. It has several essential vitamins and minerals, such as selenium which is an important anti-oxidant, iodine which is essential for a healthy metabolism, and zinc which helps to boost the immune system. The oil-rich fishes such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardine, are also rich in omega-3 fats.
Omega-3 fats are particularly important in children as they play an essential role in the early development of the brain and nerves. In addition, there are many studies looking at the potential role of these good fats in protecting memory and in preventing and treating conditions like dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and even heart disease in adult life.
A little cocoa powder in your child’s snack can indeed bring many health benefits. Cocoa is very high in flavonoids, which are believed to protect against heart disease and cancer, improve blood pressure and glucose metabolism, and even protect the skin from sun damage. Make sure you use cocoa with at least 70% pure cocoa and avoid cocoa processed with alkalis, as this removes most of the flavonoids. You can serve to your little one in the form of hot cocoa, sprinkling on pancakes or waffles, or melting it down as a dunk for fruits.
This article is contributed by Dr Chu Hui Ping, Specialist in Paediatric Medicine & Consultant, Raffles Children’s Centre