As parents we tend to obsess about what our kids eat and fret about the lack of green vegetables in their diets. Truth be told, there’s a good reason why junior does not crave steamed broccoli or a raw kale salad, and it’s not the fault of bad parenting. Hooray!
Growing children need nutrient-dense foods, and unlike most of their fully grown relatives, kids need foods that are more calorie dense as well, since they are both growing and constantly moving and playing. In Chinese Medicine, we know that children are born with weak digestive “Qi” (energy) so it makes sense that in their formative years, kids need foods that are easier to digest than Brussels sprouts.
Adults (who often have more years under their belts with less than optimal diet and lifestyle) benefit from the cleansing, hydrating properties of green veggies, and usually have slower metabolism but stronger digestion than their young offspring. So while mom and dad and teenagers can stand to eat a plate of greens (and may even crave them) with their protein and fat, young kids don’t need huge portions of vegetables for optimal nutrition.
So what are the best health foods for kids? Glad you asked. You may be surprised!
1. Saturated Fats
Despite the demonizing of this nutrient, kids need saturated fats and cholesterol for proper brain and nervous system development, healthy tissues and cell membranes, optimal immune systems, and strong bones and teeth. Children should eat plenty of whole fat dairy, meat (not necessarily lean), and eggs produced from pasture-raised animals. NOTE: This last phrase is key; animal products from factory raised meat are NOT healthy and should be avoided. This includes meat found in restaurants. Organic is good, but the best option is to seek out local, farm-raised sources near you. Additionally, nuts, avocados and healthy oils like coconut or olive oil are good sources of saturated fat for kids. Traditional fats like lard and tallow, have amazing health benefits when derived from pasture raised animals too.
2. Bone Broth
Homemade broth is rich in vital nutrients that benefit kids far more than a zucchini slice. Bone broth may sound like a strange food, but it is essentially a staple found in most cultures and used as the base of “mom’s homemade chicken soup”. Bone broth can be easily made from scratch using beef, chicken, fish or other bones. The minerals, gelatin, and glycosaminoglycans in bone broth promote proper development of bone and dental structure, as well as healthy hair, nails and joints. Bone broth can also help with digestive problems, food allergies, and immune health. It is a great medicine food for children’s developing digestive tracts as well as a home remedy for treating the common cold.
3. Cultured Foods
“Cultured” foods have nothing to do with coming from a foreign country or a fancy art gallery, though in the not so recent past, most traditional cuisines always included some cultured foods – from pickled ginger in Japan and Kimchi in Korea to sauerkraut in Germany and yogurt in the Mediterranean. Cultured foods contain naturally occurring probiotics that provide kids with a wide variety of health benefits by populating the digestive tract with healthy bacteria. Cultured foods and beverages are allowed to sour or ferment naturally through a process called fermentation which boosts their nutritional value, making your entire meal easier to digest. The taste of cultured foods may need to be gradually acquired for some kids, so start slow with full fat yogurt and then move into traditional cultured beverages like kombucha or kefir “sodas” before venturing into sweet gingered carrots, pickles, and more adventurous cultured veggies.
4. Seasonal, Local Produce
Now that you know you don’t need to lose sleep over your kid’s lack of green vegetable consumption, lighten up and make veggies fun! While they don’t need to clean their plates, all kids should eat some locally grown, seasonal fruits and veggies daily. In addition to being free of pesticides and other toxins, local organic fruits and veggies have more flavor and nutrients than their grocery equivalents. Take your kids to to the farmer’s market to choose their own fresh produce and let them help prepare it. Better yet, get them involved in a garden project so they can ‘farm’ their own – kids love to taste the fruits of their labor. If farmer’s markets or your own garden are not an option for you, research organic produce and CSA farm boxes for delicious local produce delivered to your door.
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