Superfoods are just as great for growing bodies as their name implies. What makes them so mighty? Calorie for calorie, superfoods pack more of a nutritional punch, fueling kids with the vitamins and minerals they need to stay strong, fight infection and disease, and even have better mood and focus.
The bigger question is: How do you get kids to eat them?
For starters, choose superfoods that err on the side of kid-familiar and -friendly. (We’ve yet to meet a 5-year-old who was super excited about sardines, flax seeds or spirulina.)
More, make superfoods fun by talking to your kids about their “super powers.” Did you know the vitamin A in carrots gives you night vision? The flavonoids that make blueberries blue also make your brain cells smarter!
And finally, be realistic: not every food on your child’s plate needs to be a superfood. But striking a more healthy balance now can help set the table for what your kids will eat later in life.
Ready to think outside of the macaroni (or pizza) box? Here are some of our favorite kid-approved superfoods and recipes that will give a healthy boost any kid’s diet.
Eggs contain just about everything a growing body needs: protein, healthy omega-3 fats, vitamin B12, folate, selenium, zinc, and choline (which is really important for brain development). Eggs are also one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, which helps that body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorous for building bone. Super versatile, eggs can be prepared quickly (even on a school day) and in a innumerable number of creative ways. Remember the cookie cutter Toad-in-the-Hole your mom used to make? This superfood is definitely an incredible edible. Try: .
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sweet potatoes are the “healthiest vegetable in the world.” Packed with nutritional value, these orange tubers are loaded with vitamins A, B, C, D and E, calcium, potassium, iron, fiber, and complex carbohydrates (that help keep energy levels stable). Even better, sweet potatoes have a naturally sweet flavor and creamy texture that make them super easy to introduce to kids of all ages, including babies and notoriously picky toddlers. Baked, roasted, boiled or steamed – no need to wait till Thanksgiving. Try: .
If it’s snack time, it’s time to get popping. Research at the University of Scranton has revealed popcorn boasts three to four times more disease-fighting polyphenols than many fruits and vegetables. (How’s that for a plot twist?) These “super antioxidants” are an important part of a healthy diet because they improve digestion and circulation, improve heart health, and reduce cancer risk. Aside from its remarkable polyphenol content, popcorn is a 100% unprocessed whole grain, a good source of fiber, and easily customizable to every taste. Enjoy it plain, or sprinkled with a pinch of parmesan, ranch seasoning, or a blend of cocoa powder and cinnamon for a sugar-free treat. Just be sure to skip the artificial movie theatre butter and prepackaged microwave stuff. Here’s how to make your own: .
Speaking of popping, edamame is another superfood that makes a perfect pick-me-up snack or side dish. Those fuzzy little pods (actually young soybeans) are packed with essential amino acids, omega-3s, calcium, iron, fiber – and the highest protein content of any plant. Because children need protein for both muscle growth and repair, edamame is a great option to have up your sleeve for kids who don’t care for meat (other than chicken nuggets). You can buy these beans fresh or frozen, in the pod or already shelled (but what fun would that be?). When it comes to edamame, your kids can’t get in trouble for playing with their food. Try: .
If your child has trouble falling or staying asleep, it’s superfood cherries to the rescue. Not only are they high in amino acids and antioxidants, these small, juicy stone fruits are also naturally high in the sleep hormone, melatonin. If you’re worried about the pits, younger children will love manning a cherry pitter. This ingenious $10 gadget works like a plunger to pop seeds out with a simple squeeze. If they’re not gobbled up immediately, cut your pitted cherries in half and tuck them inside your next peanut butter (or almond butter) sandwich. Your kids may never go back to sugary grape jelly again. Try: .
In 2014, the FDA upped their recommended amount of fish for children to two (three-ounce) servings per week. And with good reason. Fatty fish like salmon is high in protein and a great source of omega-3s, which are vital for healthy vision, blood pressure, mood, and brain development. While most kids say say they’re not fans of eating anything with scales and fins, it all comes down to preparation. Opt for wild caught salmon (it’s lower in mercury) and glaze with flavors they already like: think orange juice, teriyaki, pesto, maple syrup, or butter. And when all else fails, superfood salmon can also take the form of: crunchy sticks and nuggets. Mom, where’s the ketchup? Try: .
This superfood (actually a spice), has been known and prized for its medicinal properties since ancient times. In more recent years, science has confirmed its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects. When it comes to kids, cinnamon has been shown to help stave off colds and flu, and help regulate blood sugar, which may fend off some of those mid-day energy crashes (aka “meltdowns”). Cinnamon is super versatile and can be used in both sweet and savory foods. It’s a natural in baked goods, but it also elevates oatmeal, pancakes, yogurt, sliced apples, sweet potatoes, cooked carrots, and even ice cream to “super special” status. Try: .
Yes, they’re green. But they’re also mild, smooth, creamy – and so not a vegetable. In fact, avocados are technically a fruit. These giant, single-seeded berries provide kids with nearly 20 essential nutrients, including vitamins C, E and K, folate, potassium, protein, fiber and monounsaturated fats – the ones that are important for the normal growth and development of a healthy heart, brain, and central nervous system. And, there are so many easy peasy ways to eat them. Slice and serve with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and salt, mash and use in place of mayo on sandwiches, blend into fruit smoothies, or whip into a dreamy, decadent, nutritionally dense chocolate pudding for dessert. Yes, dessert. Told you it was super. Try: .
Diane Bobis is a freelance food and lifestyle writer who is slightly obsessed with Sting, gummy bears, and the formidable length of her little boy's eyelashes.