With more attention than ever on the state of kids' health parents are giving their pantries a second look in an attempt to get healthy as a family.
According to both the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the American Dietetic Association, a private organization of nutrition professionals, kids and young adults are consuming higher calorie diets that are low in nutrients with disturbing effects: the rate of childhood obesity has "doubled among children ages 2 to 11 years, and tripled among adolescents ages 12 to 19" in the last 40 years, research has shown.
Want to kick start healthier days for your family? Here's a list of 10 nutrition rich foods and recipe ideas to get you started.
Digest This: Technicolor Food!
What to Eat: Carrots
The idea that carrots make your eyes pretty is no joke. The beta-carotene that makes carrots orange really does help vision. Plus vitamin K, vitamin C and potassium make the humble carrot a powerful and snackable food.
What It Does: In general, foods saturated with color, like carrots, peppers and collard greens are rich with beta-carotene. Our bodies convert beta-carotene to vitamin A as needed, an essential nutrient our bodies can't produce on their own. It's important to our vision and skin. Beta-carotene itself also has anti-oxidant properties, which protect our cells.
Mix It Up: If you happen to have salad fans on your hands grate up carrots over a salad that includes chopped up tomatoes and avocado with a favorite dressing or vinaigrette. This combination isn't just yummy, it's an optimum way of pairing up foods to get the most of the nutrients they offer. Some nutrients, like beta-carotene, are best absorbed into the body along with a little bit of fat. The healthy fat in avocado, or from a little bit of olive oil satisfies that need. If your kids aren't big fans of raw carrots you can always cook them to make them soft, add them to soup, even grate them into spaghetti sauce or muffin batter.
What to Eat: Spinach
Like other dark leafy greens, it's high in iron. Spinach is also a good source of protein, fiber and niacin.
What It Does: Niacin is a type of B vitamin and according to the Mayo Clinic it helps the body "turn carbohydrates into energy. Niacin also helps keep your nervous system, digestive system, skin, hair and eyes healthy."
Mix It Up: Try replacing iceberg lettuce with this nutrient packed leafy green in salads and sandwiches. And for a wild, yet sweet tasting idea try green milk shakes.
What to Eat: Oats
Oatmeal is a great source of dietary fiber and has been shown to reduce "bad" cholesterol making it a heart healthy food. It's low fat and filling. Plus it's quick.
What It Does: Research shows fiber helps keep some cholesterol from being absorbed by the body, which is how this powerful grain can lower levels of bad cholesterol.
Mix It Up: Prepare plain oatmeal ahead of time and freeze it into individual portions. When you need it heat it up in the microwave and add some brown sugar and milk, or try honey and some fresh fruits like banana and strawberries. Oats can be enjoyed in cold cereals too, and found as muesli, which is just uncooked rolled oats with nuts, dried fruit or chocolate mixed together.
What to Eat: Blueberries
Blueberries are a great on-the-go snack, on their own or with some seeds, nuts or other berries.
What It Does: These small blue fruits are throwing a nutrient party: they’re a good source of vitamin C, fiber and manganese. Vitamin C is known to help our immune systems, but also helps our bodies absorb iron. And manganese is an essential nutrient that plays a role in forming bones, and metabolizing fats and proteins.
Mix It Up: Throw some blueberries on a salad for a boost of fresh flavor. They can also go in hot or cold cereals to brighten up the morning, or smoothies for on-the-go. And of course they’re great as part of a dessert. The next time you bake a cake think about mixing blueberries into the batter. It’ll add moistness to the cake, too.
What to Eat: Beans (Black or Kidney)
In general, beans are a great food. They’re a source of iron and calcium, and are low fat. Beans are a good source of fiber, too.
What It Does: Other reasons fiber is good for you? A little fiber in your diet promotes a healthy digestive system, and helps control blood sugar levels which is important for diabetics. Our body is busy as bees creating new cells - skin, hair, etc. Folate, which you can get from beans, helps it create those cells.
Mix It Up: Try adding kidney beans to soup, or top off tacos or nachos with black beans. They’re both great as a simple side dish, or as part of a burrito, wrap or salad. If using canned beans rinse them with water to wash off excess sodium.
What to Eat: Almonds
They might make you think of trail mix, but almonds are one versatile nut to crack (no actual cracking required).
What It Does: Rich in monounsaturated fat, calcium, iron and vitamin E, almonds have a little something for the whole body, from your heart, to healthy skin and bones.
Mix It Up: A handful is great for a quick snack, but you can throw them into salads too, crush them up and sprinkle them on top of a bowl of soup or top off a casserole.
What to Eat: Sweet Potatoes
They’re as easy to prepare as a regular potato and packed with even more benefits.
What It Does: The sweet potato has a low glycemic index rating which means it digests slowly, raising blood sugar gradually and leaving you feeling “full” longer. These little orange power houses are a great source of beta-carotene, anti-oxidants, B-complex vitamins, manganese and potassium.
Mix It Up: They can replace potatoes in almost every instance, from french fries to casseroles. Try this recipe idea for sweet potato fries with garlic aoili dipping sauce.
What to Eat: Avocados
Their creamy texture make avocados stand out already, but they’re in the spotlight for lots of healthy reasons, too.
What It Does: According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Avocados are loaded with nutrients such as dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and folate. They're also cholesterol and sodium free.” And they’re a source of monounsaturated fat, which is healthier for your heart than saturated fats.
Mix It Up: Avocados are a great add to sandwiches, burgers, salads. And many people are familiar with them through guacamole, which is really easy to make fresh on the spot at home. Guacamole is a great vegetable dip for carrot and celery sticks, too.
What to Eat: Tomatoes
From Heirloom, Roma, cherry to Cherokee Purple, tomatoes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, making them a common food item.
What It Does: Tomatoes are another beta-carotene rich veggie. They’re also known for their lycopene (what gives tomatoes their red color) and other antioxidants. They’re a good source of vitamins A, C, and vitamin K which is important for our blood and bone health.
Mix It Up: Tomatoes are everywhere, from sauces to soups, fresh diced salsa, sandwiches to salads. Here’s a great homemade spaghetti sauce to try.
What to Eat: Salmon/Tuna
Fish cooks fairly fast and is great for the grill, or even to steam cook or pan fry with a little oil.
What It Does: Salmon is a great source of potassium which is important to the muscles and cells in our body, even the nerves. Both types of fish are great sources of lean protein, important for building and repairing muscles, and phosphorous, which helps strengthen bones and generate energy in our cells. Look for “wild caught” on salmon labels; it means those fish were active and ate a diverse diet; they’ll offer the most nutrients. Research has shown farm raised salmon don’t contain the same benefits as their wild counterparts.
Mix It Up: Serve it up as a classic meal with rice or mashed potatoes and veggies. Or try something different and put together some great fish sandwiches, salmon burgers or salmon tacos. For real adventure the family can try making sushi, (even with cooked fish). If your dinner table and kitchen aren’t ready for a salmon fillet yet, canned tuna is ready to go. Canned light tuna is especially recommended. Worried about mercury? According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, up to 8 ounces a week (less for young children) of a variety of seafood is okay to eat.