During the growing years, foods that supply protein, calcium, iron and vitamins are critical to the growth and development of children. Without them, children may be stunted and, in serious cases, it can impact the development of their mental and motor skills.
These nutrients are present in the major food groups – grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein foods. There’s a plethora to choose from, but here are 10 top picks:
Strawberries and blueberries are rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and phytochemicals. They protect healthy cells from damage, boosting the immune system. Use berries as toppings for ice cream, yogurt, pancakes and cereal. Add blueberries to pancake batter to make blueberry pancakes.
High in protein and vitamins, eggs are one of the richest sources of choline – an essential nutrient that aids brain development. Boil, fry or scramble them, or make omelettes. Add them to soups, porridge, gravy, rice and noodles, or make desserts like custard.
3. Cow’s milk
It is a good source of calcium and phosphorous, which are important for building bones and muscles. Serve full-fat milk, not low-fat or skimmed varieties, if your child is not yet two years old. For a quick and easy breakfast, serve milk with cereal or cookies, or blend with fruits to make smoothies.
4. Peanut butter
Rich in monounsaturated fats, peanut butter provides children with energy and protein. However, some brands contain added salt, sugar, palm oil and partially hydrogenated fats, which reduce nutritional quality. Spread it on biscuits, or eat it straight from the jar. You can also drizzle it over ice cream or waffles.
5. Wholegrain foods
Fibre in these foods maintains digestive health and prevents constipation. Give your child wholegrain cereals and biscuits as snacks. Mix whole grains (brown rice or wholegrain bread) with refined grains (white rice or white bread) to help them get used to the taste.
It is a great source of protein and iron. Iron optimises brain development and function, and supports the immune system. Choose tender cuts of meat, and mince or cut into small pieces. Mix minced beef, chicken or fish with mashed tofu, eggs, breadcrumbs or mashed potatoes to make meatballs or patties.
Packed with protein, fish helps build healthy muscles and bones. Oily fish like salmon, tuna and sardines also contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which support eye, brain and nerve development. Coat fish in a batter of rice krispies, crushed cornflakes or wholegrain breadcrumbs. Mix fish with rice, tofu or potatoes to make sushi, fishballs or fishcakes.
Filled with protein, calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D, cheese is great for healthy bone growth. Children may prefer the milder taste of mozzarella and American or European cheeses, such as edam or emmental.
Serve them in slices, cubes or strings. You can also toast cheese on bread or pizza (it tones down the smell), or grate and sprinkle over pasta, fried rice or noodles.
It is packed with nutrients that optimise eye development and ward off cell damage. It also provides lots of fibre that boosts digestion and prevents constipation. Cut broccoli into small florets and blanch. Serve with dips (salad dressing, cheese sauce, tomato ketchup or sesame sauce) or sprinkle grated cheese over it. You can also use the vegetable as a topping for pizza or a filling for omelettes.
10. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables
These include carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato, tomato and papaya, which are high in beta carotene and other carotenoids that are converted into active vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for good skin and vision, growth and repair of body tissues.
Cut vegetables into sticks and steam them before serving with dips like salsa, cheese sauce or hummus. Turn fruits into ice popsicles by cutting them into cubes and freezing them.