WebMD Health - Parenting - Young Child (5 years to 8 years)

Aug 4, 2010 3:15 PM

How to Boost 5 Essential Nutrients Kids Need

Certain essential nutrients have gone missing from our kids' diets. The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" from the U.S. government encourages children to eat more foods with these five nutrients -- calcium, fiber, magnesium, vitamin E, potassium -- as part of a balanced diet.

Your child may resist your efforts to help him eat better, so use the stealth health tip in each section to covertly include what he needs to develop a strong, healthy body and ward off common illnesses.

Calcium: Essential Nutrient for Bolstering Bone

Dairy foods are the best sources of calcium, a mineral that's vital for bolstering bone strength and development in growing children, and promoting normal heart and muscle function and blood clotting. Dairy foods are the best calcium sources; most kids need three servings a day.

  • Serve up a bowl of whole-grain cereal topped with milk and fresh fruit for breakfast or snack.
  • Make smoothies with milk, yogurt, or calcium-added orange juice or soy beverages and fruit.
  • Top pancakes or waffles with a mixture of yogurt and fruit instead of syrup.
  • Serve cheese and fruit for snacks or dessert; add a slice of hard cheese, such as cheddar, to sandwiches.
  • Stir reduced-fat shredded cheese into scrambled eggs; sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on popcorn.
  • Serve milk with every meal; flavored milk and lactose-free milk have just as much calcium as plain. Nonmilk drinkers should sip calcium-fortified soy beverages or orange juice.
  • Make pudding with low-fat milk and serve it to children instead of cookies, cake, and candy.

Stealth Health Tip: Microwave oatmeal with 8 ounces of milk instead of water.

Fiber: Essential Nutrient for Digestion

Fiber does more than keep a kid's digestive system in working order. Getting into the habit of including fiber-rich foods may curb your child's chances of developing heart diseaseheart disease and type 2 diabetesdiabetes down the road, too. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are generally fiber-rich.

  • Serve sliced, raw or cooked vegetables with peanut butter or a yogurt-based dip.
  • Include a fruit or vegetable with every meal and snack.
  • Swap white bread for whole-grain types, and refined cereals for whole-grain choices, including oatmeal.
  • Try whole-wheat pasta and brown rice as side dishes.
  • Add chopped vegetables such as broccoli and carrots to marinara sauces.
  • Focus on whole fruit for the most fiber, and limit juice intake.

Stealth Health Tip: Prepare your favorite chili recipe with twice the beans and half the meat.

Magnesium: Essential Nutrient for Growth

You probably know little about magnesium, even though it's a mineral that gets around. Magnesium participates in hundreds of bodily functions that keep a child's body running smoothly. Plus, magnesium contributes to a fracture-free skeleton by bolstering bone densitybone density. Nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains are packed with magnesium. So are certain fish.

  • Encourage older children to munch on nuts and seeds, including pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds, and cashews as snacks. (Chop nuts and seeds well for children under age 4.)
  • Serve halibut, pollock, or haddock in place of meat or chicken.
  • Experiment with magnesium-rich grains including quinoa and bulgur (cracked wheat).
  • Start your child's day with whole-grain cereals or waffles.
  • Prepare a stir-fry with vegetables and tofu, or half tofu and half chicken.
  • Have hummus on hand for snacks and sandwiches.
  • Encourage your kids to munch on flavored roasted soy nuts.

Stealth Health Tip: Puree cooked white, black, or navy beans and add to soups and stews to boost magnesium and fiber.

Vitamin E: Essential Nutrient for Immunity

Vitamin E protects against cell damage and bolsters a healthy immune system. Oils and nut and seed products are rich in vitamin E and fat; green vegetables have vitamin E, but less.

  • Serve vitamin-E-fortified cereals to kids.
  • Use sunflower or safflower oil instead of corn oil for cooking and salad dressings.
  • Swap peanut butter for almond butter or sunflower seed butter.
  • Stir wheat germ into yogurt.
  • Top green salads with sunflower seeds or slivered almonds.
  • Add finely chopped dark green leafy vegetables to soups and stews.
  • Substitute wheat germ for some of the meat in your favorite meat loaf or meatball recipe.

Stealth Health Tip: Add ground almonds or wheat germ to smoothies and quick breads.

Potassium: Essential Nutrient for Muscles

Potassium means more than orange juice and bananas. Every food has potassium. In fact, meat, dairy, and seafood are packed with the potassium your child's body needs for normal heart rhythm, muscle function, and blood pressure. When it comes to kids getting enough potassium, the fresher the food, the better.

  • Serve fresh (cooked) meat to your child. Pork tenderloin and pork center roast are particularly high in potassium.
  • Encourage three servings of low-fat dairy foods daily, such as yogurt and milk.
  • Toss drained and rinsed canned beans into salads, soups, and stews.
  • Puree fruits canned in juice to use as a topping for low-fat yogurt. Or mix with plain yogurt.
  • Prepare a fruit crisp for dessert instead of cookies.
  • Make frozen juice pops with 100% juice.
  • Concoct a sandwich with peanut butter, sunflower seed butter, or almond butter and banana or apple on whole-wheat bread.
  • Top cereal with fruit.

Stealth Health Tip: Make your own high-potassium trail mix with chopped dried apricots or peaches, whole-grain cereal, roasted soy nuts and a few mini chocolate chips.

Make use of these easy hints and stealthy tips -- or come up with your own -- and your kids can easily get more of these five essential nutrients their growing bodies need.