Eating the Rainbow: Superfoods for Kids

Let’s face it – getting our kids to eat healthily is a daily struggle for most parents. When’s the last time you heard a mom say, “My kid ate all the veggies I put on his plate for dinner.”? Yeah, exactly. The effort we take in getting our kids to eat healthily is tough (believe me, I know) but it’s worth it. Sadly, today, many kids are dealing with major complications from the foods they eat. It’s not only about drugs, tobacco, and alcohol.

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So how do you teach the basics of nutrition to a child? It can be hard for even us adults to understand what and how much to eat. But for kids, it takes a simple method: to eat as many different colors as they can. Essentially, they need to eat the rainbow. The colors in foods are indicators of nutritional value, and different colors mean different vitamins and minerals… and superpowers.

The bottom line: think color and superpowers. And fill your kids in on the secret!

RED

Rosy-colored fruits and vegetables offer loads of an important antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid associated with a hoard of health benefits. Those benefits include protecting the skin from sun damage and decreasing the risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer.

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The Superpower: Red food makes you dash like the Flash! The superhero Flash wore a red outfit for a reason. Lycopene-rich foods have been shown to decrease symptoms of wheezing, asthma, and shortness of breath in people when exercising.

Red Bell Peppers

Red fruit and veggies pack twice the vitamin C and nine times as much vitamin A as their green relatives! Red bell peppers help in the fight against everything from asthma to cancer to cataracts.

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Slice the bell peppers up raw and serve with hummus for a great and nutritious after-school snack. Or you can buy jarred roasted peppers and mix them into a soup. I find that if I cut the peppers in a way that keeps its star-like shape, my daughter is much more willing to eat it. Remember, it’s all about the presentation!

Tomatoes

Red’s superhero, Lycopene, is most strongly concentrated in the tomato. And surprisingly, cooked and processed tomatoes have even higher lycopene concentrations, so don’t shy away from salsa or marinara sauce. This queen of lycopene is also full of antioxidant-rich vitamins A and C, and vitamin K, which is important for maintaining healthy bones.

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This may just be an excuse to give your kids more ketchup. But remember that ketchup also has a lot of sugar. So maybe not too much. But when possible, try to buy organic. USDA researchers found that organic ketchup has three times as much lycopene as nonorganic ketchup.

Watermelon

Watermelon is definitely a summertime favorite and food that kids generally don’t argue with when mom gives them a slice. So while this one isn’t tough to add to your kid’s diet, it’s still good to know why and how you should.

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Watermelon is a big provider of vitamins A and C, which help to neutralize cancer-causing free radicals. Add some chunks of watermelon to a fruit salad, or you can blend some with yogurt, ice, and OJ for a yummy smoothie. Or just go simple and eat some slices as is.

Guava

Like most lycopene fruits and veggies, guava is also packed with vitamins A and C., But aside from those important vitamins, guava also has heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and that wonderful belly-filling fiber.

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You can get guava in the produce aisle of the larger supermarkets or Latin grocers. You can also stock a bottle of guava nectar in the fridge for some easy access to the beautiful fruit. Guava juice might just be your kid’s next favorite drink.

Pink Grapefruit

Pink grapefruit isn’t just a pretty face. This gorgeous and deliciously smelling fruit contains one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants that you can find in the produce aisle.

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Mix pieces of the grapefruit into yogurt and granola for their breakfast. You can also add some in a salad or swap the OJ for an occasional glass of ruby red grapefruit juice. My personal favorite method: cutting it into two and scooping out the wedges with a spoon.

ORANGE

Orange fruit and veggies get their dramatic orange color from the nutrient beta-carotene. Although the carotenoid is in a bunch of other vegetables (like spinach, kale, and broccoli, for example), the orange ones have the highest concentration. And once inside the body, it’s converted into vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant that supports immune health, improves communication between cells and helps fight off cell-damaging free radicals.

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The Superpower: Orange foods give you night vision! Vitamin A is vital for creating the pigment in the retina that’s responsible for vision in low-light environments. Just think of all the benefits of eating orange colored food: they can beat their friends at hide-and-seek, spy on their brothers or sisters, and spot the bogeymen!

Winter Squash

Squash has a real variety of nutrients and is a great source of many different vitamins, including a host of B vitamins, folate, manganese, and fiber. All this means that the more you give squash to your kids, the better!

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The best way to eat winter squash is to cut it into 1-inch wedges and bake them at 375 F for 40 minutes, until soft and caramelized. Trust me; they’re going to love the snack and ask you for more. Another great way to eat squash is in soup!

Oranges

It’s no news that oranges are as healthy as ever. The hyped vitamin C superhero has a band of critical phytonutrients which have been shown to lower blood pressure and contain strong anti-inflammatory properties.

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While drinking orange juice is fine, eating the actual fruit is a lot better. The secret, though, is in the peel. Oranges’ most powerful healing properties are found in the peel. So use a zester to grate the peel over all kinds of food, like yogurt, salads, or straight into smoothies.

Sweet Potatoes

The best part about sweet potatoes, aside from being as sweet as candy and being rich in beta-carotene, is that they’re loaded with fiber. All that fiber means they have a milder effect on your kid’s blood sugar levels than regular potatoes.

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Your ideal aim is to substitute baked sweet potatoes for regular baked potatoes. You can also mash them up like you would make regular mashed potatoes, or make fries out of them by cutting them into long pieces and drizzling olive oil on them and roasting in a 400 F oven for 30 minutes.

Carrots

Bugs Bunny’s go-to snack happens to be the richest carotene source of all. But who are we kidding? If we mention Bugs to our kids, they’ll stare at us in confusion. You can explain to them that carrots will help them see better! It’s not just some old wives’ tale, after all.

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Give your kids some baby carrots to dip into hummus or just simply snack on. But you can also try shredding carrots into a salad or marinara sauce for a touch of natural sweetness. Roasting them slowly in the oven with olive oil and salt is another easy and healthy side dish for a weeknight dinner.

Cantaloupe

Cantaloupe is a staple of every fruit salad and should also be a part of your child’s weekly diet. The high amount of vitamin A is important not only for the eyes but also for healthy lungs. The megadose of vitamin C helps the white blood cells ward off infections, too.

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Want a killer breakfast? Slice some cantaloupe and add some yogurt and granola. Or combine the pieces of cantaloupe and yogurt into a blender with some other fruit for a delicious smoothie. Kids love smoothies. Who says they have to be chocolate or vanilla only?

YELLOW

Yellow foods are orange foods’ close relatives, so they’re rich in carotenoids. The most common yellow carotenoid is beta-cryptoxanthin, which has about half the vitamin A as beta-carotene. Studies show it decreases the chances of diseases like lung cancer and arthritis. But kids don’t need to worry about that, so tell them about the superpower of yellow.

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The Superpower: Yellow foods make you jump higher and play harder! Foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin help decrease inflammation in the joints, which means a springy step. Studies also show that it can improve the respiratory system. Beating their friends in dodgeball and relay races just got that much easier.

Yellow Bell Peppers

Yellow bell peppers are rich with vitamin C, giving us two and a half times the amount we would get from an orange. What’s great about yellow bell peppers is their naturally sweet flavor, making it an easier addition to your child’s plate.

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Their sweet and mild flavor is perfect for kids, so add them to your favorite stir-fries, sandwiches, or just go ahead and cook some on the grill as a side to a chicken dinner. Cut them up in their natural flower-like shape and have your kid munch on them as is. Add some hummus, and you got yourself a perfect snack.

Corn

The staple of every summer barbecue is loaded with thiamin, which plays an important role in energy production and cognitive function. Boost your kids’ brains and their energy levels by adding corn to their diet every once in a while.

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If you’re not planning on BBQing anytime soon, you can remove the kernels from the cob with a kitchen knife and sauté them with a bit of olive oil. Eat them as is, or sprinkle the toasty corn bits on top of soups and salads.

Pineapple

This fruit might is high on the list of carotenoid-containing fruits, but it has some other benefits as well. Most notably, pineapple offers an abundance of bromelain, which has strong digestive benefits.

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One of the most delicious ways to eat pineapple is to skewer chunks and cook them on a hot grill. It makes for a killer dessert that your kids will beg for more. But you can also slice them up and eat as is or in a fruit salad.

Bananas

Bananas are chock-full of potassium, which will help your kids grow strong and durable bones. They also have a compound called a prebiotic, which makes it easier for the little eaters to absorb nutrients of all kinds.

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Here’s a pro shopping tip: Not all bananas are equally rich in carotenoids. So what you need to do is look for those with a deeper gold to their flesh. And I don’t think you need ideas for how to give bananas to your kids. You probably already know a dozen ways!

Yellow Squash

Yellow squash offers huge doses of fiber, manganese, magnesium, and folate, the yellow veggie proves to be a serious player in the nutritional game. Summer squash helps for a healthy and versatile addition to your meals.

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You can eat the squash raw, stir-fried, baked, grilled or sautéed. You can also drizzle grilled slices with a bit of basil pesto.

Next, let’s move onto the green fruits and veggies.

GREEN

Green foods aren’t just potent vitamin vessels that can strengthen bones, muscles, and brains; they are also among the most abundant sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, an antioxidant ‘power couple’ that promotes healthy vision.

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The Superpower: Green foods give you super sharp vision and superhuman healing abilities! Green fruits and veggies get their color from chlorophyll, which plays an important role in stimulating the growth of new tissue and obstructing the growth of bacteria. When used as a topical treatment, it can speed healing time by 25%.

Zucchini

The zucchini is actually in the summer squash family, despite being green on the outside. Zucchini is a dense and diverse source of nutrients, with everything from omega-3s to copper. It also has zero fat, and high in water and fiber.

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The easiest way to make zucchini is to bake it with olive oil and some salt and pepper. But you can also spice it up by sautéing zucchini with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Or you can grated zucchini to your favorite bread or muffin recipe.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussel sprouts often get a bad rap for being boring and are often used as an example of what kids don’t want to eat. But these little green veggie balls are well worth eating since they’re one of the strongest natural cancer-fighters on the planet.

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Combat the brussel sprout reputation by making them tasty and unforgettable. Try roasting them in a hot oven until crispy and caramelized. And you can always place them on the plate cutely or funnily just to make them a bit more appealing to your kids.

Avocado

The creamy and delicious fruit is bursting with monounsaturated fats, the kind of fat that’s proven to be great for your heart. Avocados offer about 20 vitamins and minerals in every serving, including potassium (good for blood pressure), lutein (good for your eyes), and folate. Avocados are a good source of B vitamins, which fight off disease and infection.

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You can always toss some avocado slices in sandwiches and soups, but your best bet for slipping them into your kid’s diet is to mash them up with garlic, onion, and lemon juice for yummy homemade guacamole. Dip some fresh cut veggies, and you’re good to go!

Asparagus

Asparagus is something of an underrated and overlooked vegetable. These green spears contain a special kind of carbohydrate called inulin, which promotes healthy bacteria growth in our large intestines, forcing out the more ill-behaved bacteria.

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Asparagus doesn’t have to be something you get at restaurants only. You can make some at home by wrapping them in thin slices of ham and bake in a 400 F oven until crispy. Call it asparagus in a blanket and your kids will be happy to try them.

Romaine Lettuce

Whereas iceberg lettuce has hardly one nutrient to its name, romaine is bursting at the leaves with nutrients. It has everything from bone-strengthening vitamin K to folic acid, which is essential to cardiovascular health.

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Other good lettuces that are nutrient-dense include Bibb, red leaf, and arugula. They’re perfect for salad and sandwiches. But since kids are not the biggest salad eaters, you might want to try and add this lettuce to a sandwich.

Broccoli

These amazing little trees have 2 days’ worth of vitamins C and K in every serving. Broccoli is also a great source of folate (folic acid) and provides potassium, and fiber, which keeps you feeling fuller and promotes digestive health.

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If your kids don’t want to eat broccoli alone, you can top a baked potato with a few steamed pieces and a bit of shredded cheese on top. You can also give them chopped-up pieces with a bowl of hummus and see if the dip-action gets them interested.

Green Peas

Beyond the insane amount of vitamins and minerals, a cup of peas has more than a third of your kid’s daily fiber intake. That’s even more than most whole-wheat bread. Peas are great for the little ones as they just love to eat them one by one.

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Some ideas for weeknight dinners: add frozen peas to a pasta sauce at the last second, or you can make a simple and sweet dip by pureeing them up with garlic and olive oil. Peas are also a great addition to rice.

Kale

You might be amazed to hear that kale has just about 2 weeks’ worth of bone-strengthening vitamin K! So try buying it at least twice a month. These deep-green leaves are a low-calorie source of calcium; with less than 40 calories, each serving has about 10%.

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Sure, kale isn’t something you can imagine kids flocking to beg for, but you can find ways to make it kid-friendly. For example, sauté some kale in olive oil until wilted, then add raisins and crushed pine nuts.

Spinach

Spinach is hands down one of your best sources of folate, which keeps your body in a good supply of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. It’s an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, folate, copper, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, and vitamin C.

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Spinach is actually an easy thing to sneak into your kids’ meals if they’re openly willing to try it. For example, you can add some to omelets, mix some into pasta, or add some leaves to your smoothie. They’ll never know the difference!

BLUE/PURPLE

Blue and purple foods get their color from the presence of a set of flavonoids called anthocyanins. Flavonoids improve cardiovascular health and prevent short-term memory loss. Researchers at Tufts University found that blueberries may make brain cells respond better and might even prompt the growth of new nerve cells. This all gives a new meaning to smart eating.

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Superpower: Blue foods make you the smartest kid in the class! So if they want to ace their next pop quiz, tell them to eat as much blue and purple fruits and veggies as possible.

Eggplant

In the peel of eggplant is a concentrated pigment called nasunin and studies have shown that it has powerful disease-fighting properties. Eggplant is low in calories and sodium, which is good news. It’s also a great source of fiber, potassium, and B vitamins.

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You can try simplifying eggplant parmesan by baking 1/2-inch-thick slices and layering them with marinara and cheese. You can also dip them in eggs and bread crumbs and fry them like you would chicken cutlets.

Blackberries

One cup of blackberries has 5% of your child’s daily folate and half the day’s vitamin C. They’re high in fiber, vitamin K, manganese. They also might boost brain health and oral health.

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You can make a super healthy salad dressing by pureeing blackberries and then combining that with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Blackberries can also be added to any fruit salad or smoothie.

Purple Grapes

Some researchers believe that despite the high-fat diet in France, the French are protected from heart disease due to their mass consumption of grapes and wine. When buying grapes, look for a deeper shade of purple because it’s an indication of a high flavonoid concentration.

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Want a refreshing snack for the hot summer months? Freeze some grapes and eat them as is. Grapes are also a staple of any fruit salad. And here’s a little treat for the parents who need a well-deserved break: those frozen grapes can also be perfect for a glass of rose wine.

Blueberries

Blueberries have already earned a good reputation as being a popular superfood. They’re the most abundant source of anthocyanins which has more antioxidant punch than red wine. It also helps the body’s vitamin C do its job better.

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Blueberries are the perfect addition to your kids’ morning oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt. Then add some granola or trail mix with almonds and some dark chocolate chips for an added bonus. Your kids will thank you later.

Radishes

You may think radishes are red, but they belong to the purple family. The nutritional benefits vary among the many kinds of radishes, but they all offer a huge amount of vitamin C and support the digestive process.

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Your kids might like eating some thinly sliced radishes on a bagel with low-fat cream cheese and a little bit of black pepper. Then again, your child might be like mine and simply like to eat them sliced as is, despite having a naturally spicy aftertaste!

Beets

This sweet vegetable derives most of its color from an awesome cancer-fighting pigment called betacyanin. Beets are edible roots full of fiber, potassium, and manganese. They can be eaten raw or cooked.

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You can toss roasted beet chunks with toasted walnuts and orange segments for a fun side dish, or grate them raw into salads. My favorite way to make beets is to simply bake them with olive oil and sea salt for about 45 minutes.

Plums

Another rich source of antioxidants is plums. Plums have also been shown to help the body absorb iron better. Plums are great for the heart, relieve constipation, protect against cancer, improve blood circulation, and are good for your skin and bones.

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If you want to treat your children to a delicious dessert after having eaten all these veggies, try this: roast chunks in the oven and serve them warm over a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Rainbow Pizza

Every kid loves pizza, right? If you’re looking for a way to make an otherwise less than a healthy meal a lot more nutritious, try this the next time you bake a frozen pizza on one of your busy weeknights.

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Take a little extra time to make your kids a pizza packed with veggies by adding some spinach, tomato slices, bell peppers, broccoli or any other veggie we named on this list. They’ll be so mesmerized by the colors that they won’t realize how many veggies they’re eating!

Fruit or Veggie Kebabs

This one doesn’t really need a recipe, but it’s a fast and easy way to pack in a bunch of produce at a single sitting. Since kids love to eat anything on a stick, play their game and skewer fruits and veggies. You just need a BBQ or a portable grill.

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The skewers make for a beautiful presentation and easy cleaning, too. Add some dressing or dip to make the raw veggies even tastier. And if kids like anything more than food on a stick, it’s an awesome dipping sauce.

Chocolate Strawberry Smoothie

Ingredients for one serving:

4 frozen strawberries
2 tbsp chocolate hazelnut butter
1 cup of coconut or almond milk (unsweetened)
1/2 cup of frozen chopped spinach
1 tsp organic raw honey
1 cup of water

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Directions: Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. If you prefer a more liquid-y smoothie, add more water. You can also use almond butter instead of hazelnut.

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