It’s hard to imagine a time before nutritional labels. They’re like little dietary signposts, indicating what we should and shouldn’t feed our families. Funny thing is, many of the foods that are good for us don’t come with any labels at all; they come with skins and rinds and shells instead. Here are 28 of the healthiest, tastiest foods you can feed your family. Consider this story to be one big nutritional label.
Many people might equate avocados with high fat content, but that’s not giving these fruits a chance. Most of the fats in avocados are monounsaturated, which means they’re easy to digest and good for the heart. They also contain a significant amount of potassium (60 per cent more than bananas, ounce by ounce) and vitamin E. Sneak it in: Make a spread by puréeing avocado with plain yogurt, and serve it on toasted whole-grain bagel pieces.
Most experts agree that the small but mighty blueberry contains more antioxidants than any other fruit. Collectively, these antioxidants help lower risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce damage by age-accelerating free radicals and help maintain normal cholesterol levels. Blueberries are low in calories and contain iron, fibre, potassium, magnesium, folate, vitamins E and C and calcium. Sneak it in: Try our easy blueberry banana smoothie in your wee one’s favourite cup.
Luckily, one of kids’ favourite veggies also happens to be great for them! Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which is converted in the body to vitamin A — an important nutrient for growth, skin health and vision. Preliminary testing has also indicated that vitamin A can decrease the risk of cancer in the skin, breast, liver, colon and other sites. The darker the carrot the better, and avoid baby carrots if you can, because they contain far fewer carotenoids than mature carrots. Also, carrots absorb pesticides readily, so opt for organic (in your garden and at the grocery store). Sneak it in: Carrots don’t need much sneaking: simply peel and chop into sticks and serve with a tasty dip.
Dairy foods, including cow’s milk, cheese and cottage cheese, are good for growing kids. All three are great sources of protein, and milk and hard cow’s-milk cheeses (like Cheddar) are full of calcium. Unfortunately, many kids are sensitive to dairy products, and goat-, sheep-, and soy-milk products are good alternatives.
Sweet and chewy, dried fruit can be a great alternative to sugary packaged snacks. Dates, prunes and raisins (golden or black) all contain fibre, iron and some B vitamins. Dates and raisins are both rich in potassium, which helps keep all of the body’s cells and nervous tissue functioning properly. And of course, prunes are known for their laxative effect, which can ease constipation. Make sure that you’re not buying dried fruits coated in sugar or oil. Sneak it in: If your kids won’t eat them straight up, try chopping first and adding them to cereal, or making a trail mix with dried fruit, unsalted nuts and dark chocolate chips.
Think of eggs as little powerhouses. They’re chock-full of protein and essential fats. Omega-3 eggs are even better, as omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve skin, allergies, mood and attention span. Eggs also contain lecithin, which helps to convert fat into energy, disperses dangerous fat deposits and prevents heart disease. Organic, free-run eggs are your best bet for nutritional quality. Sneak it in: Serve egg salad on fresh whole-grain bread.
Another kid-friendly fave that is good for them! Apples are full of phytonutrients, which promote bone health, as well as natural fruit sugars, which can help regulate blood-sugar levels. Apples are also rich in pectin, a soluble fibre, which can help the body get rid of cholesterol and toxic heavy metals (lead and mercury, for example). Sneak it in: Unsweetened applesauce, sprinkled with cinnamon, is a great afternoon snack.
Garlic is jammed with calcium, vitamin B6, phosphorus, selenium, vitamin C and manganese. These ingredients are good for the digestive system, heart and lungs and can also protect against infections by boosting the immune system. Old, sprouted garlic has lost its potency, so buy it fresh. Sneak it in: Roast a clove of garlic and mix it into mashed potatoes.
This natural sweetener is a great alternative to white sugar. Honey contains antioxidants as well as alpha-tocopherol and oligosaccharides, which increase the number of good bacteria in the colon and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Honey is also a natural energy booster (so easy does it). Note that kids under one shouldn’t eat honey, due to the risk of botulism. Sneak it in: Try a drizzle on hot cereal or whole grain toast for a tasty breakfast treat.
Broccoli is related to the cabbage, but your kids don’t need to know that. It’s rich in potassium and beta-carotene, but it also contains a good amount of iron, as well as vitamin C, which aids iron absorption. Sneak it in: Steam broccoli florets and sprinkle with sesame seeds or a bit of grated Cheddar for a tasty side at dinner.
The little fruit from down under trumps the orange when it comes to vitamin C content and bests the apple when it comes to fibre. Kiwis are also loaded with potassium and contain vitamin E, which is an antioxidant. And more good news: kiwis keep much of their vitamin C content even after up to six months in storage. Sneak it in: Check out our recipe for fruity yogurt oatmeal!
Fresh lemon in a glass of hot water is great for breaking up mucus or calming an upset tummy. Beyond that, lemons are a rich source of vitamin C and dietary fibre, contain vitamin B6, iron and potassium and are also anti-bacterial. Sneak it in: Add fresh lemon juice to a simple vinaigrette for your next salad.
All beans are loaded with protein but are low in fat. They’re also a good source of fibre, B vitamins, calcium, iron and magnesium. Canned beans will do in a pinch if you haven’t got fresh or dried but these can be high in salt, so drain and rinse with cold water. Sneak it in: For a quick meal on a busy night, try baked beans in sugar-free tomato sauce served on toast.
For those who aren’t allergic, nuts are a super food. They’re a good source of protein, heart-healthy fats, antioxidants and fibre (but avoid the pre-packaged, salted variety). Once it’s been established that your tot is safe to eat them, and has passed the age where choking on them is a danger (if he’s over three, you’re probably OK), try these options in a healthy trail mix with dried fruit and dark chocolate chips:
Walnuts — These tree nuts are an excellent source of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids and also contain vitamin E, potassium, zinc and some B vitamins.
Almonds — Just a few of these deliver B vitamins, zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium.
Peanuts — This legume (not actually a nut!) is a good source of vitamin D, magnesium, iron and zinc.
Pistachios — Eat these fresh out of the shell for a good dose of magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium.
Oats are low in fat and high in complex carbs, which keep kids feeling full longer (curbing the need to snack on junk). Oats contain folate, iron, magnesium, zinc, fibre, protein and some omega-3 essential fatty acids. Oats are rich with B vitamins, which can calm nerves and relieve exhaustion. Stay away from flavoured instant microwaveable oatmeal — it’s loaded with salt and sugar. Sneak it in: Check out our simple and
delicious recipe for fruity yogurt oatmeal!
Tasty Trivia: Because of their stabilizing effects on blood sugar levels, oats were used to treat diabetics before insulin was discovered.
They might be a tough sell at first, but onions are great for kids. High in flavour and low in calories, onions provide
dietary fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium. They are good for the lungs, heart and digestive system. Parents will also benefit: onions also contain generous amounts of a flavonoid called quercetin, which protects against cataracts, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Sneak it in: Try the sweet flavour of caramelized onions on a pizza, or whip up a toasty onion soup on a chilly day.
When freshly squeezed or recently picked, oranges are a powerhouse. They’re a fantastic source of vitamin C, fibre, folic acid, potassium and calcium. One orange packs 170 phytochemicals and 60 flavonoids. Together, this vitamin and nutrient combo gives oranges anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-viral and anti-allergenic properties. Stay away from orange “drinks,” which are packed with sugar, and go for unpasteurized orange juice, as most of the vitamin C in oranges is destroyed during this process. That said, whole, fresh oranges are always best. Sneak it in: Most kids love to dive into a plate of fresh orange wedges or a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
Pomegranates are certainly the super food du jour. And it’s not just hype: this funny-looking fruit really does deliver. They contain tons of antioxidants (seven times more than green tea) and are very good for heart health. They’re also a good source of vitamin C and potassium. The seeds contain fibre, and new research suggests that they are also great for the digestive tract. Sneak it in: Mix pomegranate juice (which might be too tart for developing palates) with pure, unsweetened apple juice for a healthy snack. If your child is old enough, the seeds are tasty on their own, or sprinkled on a salad.
Choose the orangest pumpkins, as they contain the most cancer-fighting carotenoids. Pumpkins are full of vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium (which counteracts the effects of sodium on high blood pressure) and fibre. Sneak it in: Try pumpkin soup on a cool day or bake a batch of pumpkin muffins.
White rice is unfortunately stripped of its fibre and much of its mineral content, so stick with the brown stuff. It contains the B vitamin thiamin, which helps to digest carbs. It also contains folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, zinc, complex carbs and protein. The longer cooking time for brown rice is clearly worth the effort (bonus: brown rice is harder to overcook). Sneak it in: Serve brown rice with beans for a healthy, meat-free dish.
Rice Tip: Soak brown rice for 30 minutes to two hours in advance to shorten cooking time.
The many forms of soy — tofu, miso, yogurt, milk, soy sauce and edamame (green soybeans) — can contain more protein than dairy products, without the cholesterol. It’s the only plant-based food containing all the essential amino acids. Soy products can contain soluble fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. Soy is rich in B vitamins, antioxidant vitamin E, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and zinc. Sneak it in: Add tofu to your kids’ favourite smoothie.
These orange beauties are brimming with nutritional value. They come loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. Virtually fat-free and low in sodium, they also contain fibre, potassium, calcium and folate. They promote a healthy digestive system and because they are a source of complex carbs, they’ll help your little one stay full (and full of energy) long-er. Sneak it in: Roasted sweet potatoes sprinkled with a bit of coarse salt make a delicious side dish.
There are roughly 7,000 varieties of tomato, and all are rich in vitamins A, C, K and E, beta-carotene, potassium and the antioxidant lycopene (which may help protect skin from sun). Cooking actually improves a tomato’s nutritional value by releasing its lycopene, making it easier for the body to absorb. Sneak it in: Try cherry tomatoes served with homemade dip for an afternoon snack.
Spinach’s many carotenoids, converted to vitamin A, have been shown to help fight infections, cancers and heart disease. B vitamins boost energy and the nervous system. Spinach is also rich in zinc, vitamins C, E, K, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, magnesium and fibre. To get the most nutrients, eat spinach raw or cooked just until wilted. Sneak it in: Add chopped fresh spinach to pasta sauce.
The essential fatty acids found in salmon belong to the omega-3 family, and are
essential to the healthy functioning of cells, especially those in the brain. Though Health Canada states that farmed salmon is perfectly fine, it admits that wild salmon contains smaller amounts of PCBs, which can adversely affect brain development in unborn children. Sneak it in: Try our recipe for Lemon-Baked Salmon.
If you have to use a fat, extra-virgin olive oil is a good one. It’s a great source of vitamin E, carotenoids, polyphenols and phytosterols. Extra-virgin olive oil reduces the risk of breast and colon cancer, lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health. Tip: Look for a cold-pressed oil that is slightly greenish: the green colour indicates a higher level of polyphenols. Extra-virgin olive oil is perishable, so buy only what you’ll use in two to three months. Sneak it in: Whole-wheat pasta tossed in extra-virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese is a simple (and tasty) dish.
Yogurt has loads of calcium — which helps ward off osteoporosis — as well as protein, B vitamins, phosphorus and potassium. Yogurt’s carbohydrates keep insulin levels stable, stalling the breakdown of protein. Try bio-yogurt, also known as live or probiotic yogurt, which contains the good bacteria your kids’ digestive system needs. Buy plain yogurt, as flavoured varieties are often full of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Sneak it in: Check out our quick breakfast recipe.
A skinless turkey breast is a rich source of low-fat protein, and its dark meat contains significantly more iron and zinc than white-breast meat. This high zinc content helps keep the immune system strong, while the selenium repairs DNA and lowers risk of cancer. Turkey’s many B vitamins help ward off heart disease, and folic acid protects against birth defects. To get the most flavour, use the best quality: air-chilled and grain-fed. Sneak it in: Turkey breast can be prepared just like chicken.