Defining a Superfood
The term "superfoods" is everywhere these days. While the list of so-called superfoods varies depending on who you talk to and grows every day through new research, they all make for healthy eating. Some foods considered to be superfoods include blueberries, almonds, broccoli, salmon, avocado, sweet potatoes, soy beans (edamame, tofu), lentils, kale, beans, barley, and yogurt.
"The idea of an extraordinary food product relates to the amount of 'bang for its buck' concept of being a nutrient-dense food rather than an energy-dense food," says Jennifer Stokel, a registered dietitian with the Nova Medical Group in Ashburn, Virginia. "Nutrient-dense foods are full of antioxidants, micronutrients (think vitamins and minerals), fiber, and healthy doses of macronutrients (the fats, carbs, and proteins). Energy-dense foods are merely packed with calories, either from fat (the most dense of the macronutrients) or disproportioned carbs and protein sources."
Since babies and toddlers can be picky eaters, packing as much nutrition as possible into what they eat is very important. Their small size also plays a factor in the importance of good nutritional food choices. "Toddlers, whose stomachs are still developing and [are] not able to hold a huge amount of food, need nutrient-dense foods to nourish them for adequate growth and development patterns," Stokel says.
Wendy Stetson, a mom from New York City, has been feeding her 13-month-old daughter super foods for about five months. "Her little brain is developing so rapidly at this point that I feel she needs foods that will nourish her and keep her healthy while also promoting the healthiest and fullest brain development possible," she says. "From what I've read, baby brain development is affected tremendously by their nutritional intake. I figure if these are the foods grownups are being encouraged to eat to encourage brain health, they are definitely going to be good for my baby girl!"
Making Superfoods Kid-Friendly
Admittedly, some superfoods aren't typically popular fare for young children. It's not often you'll find broccoli and lentils on the menu of a 2-year-old. But don't despair! You'll be surprised what your little ones will eat with a little trial and error.
According to Texas pediatrician Dr. Negar Vazirinia, offering superfoods in combination with other super foods, in a blended mix, frozen, and a combination of both, can help your kids grow to love eating healthy. "The first step for success is to be keen about the likings of your child with regard to major categories of taste, texture, color, and shape when selecting food items," Dr. Vazirinia says. "Be persistent and do not give up easily when it comes to what your toddler has to eat. Present the rejected item in a different form, and be creative."
Dr. Vazirinia's favorite super food recipe is a simple dessert called "Bee Sweet." It contains four to five scooped portions of cantaloupe topped with a handful of blueberries or raisins and a couple of spoonfuls of plain or vanilla yogurt, with sprinkles of dry cereal or any other topping. "No chilling is necessary if items were already chilled, and interchanging of the items can introduce plenty of variety to enjoy!" she says.
Elizabeth Ward, a mother of three and registered dietitian, believes you can get kids accustomed to nutrient-dense foods early in life. "When children are exposed to healthy foods early on, they are more likely to develop, and to keep, healthy eating habits for a lifetime," she says.
Even foods like broccoli can be enjoyed by little ones. "Roasting broccoli makes it sweeter and takes some of the strong taste out," says Ward, the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. "Just chop into toddler-size pieces and coat lightly with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until tender, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Or puree cooked broccoli so that it doesn't look like broccoli."
Be creative, too, in how you prepare super foods. The combinations are endless and can turn a food your child might dislike into a favorite. Ward suggests mashing cooked sweet potato with orange juice or baking them, letting them cool, then slicing them for your toddler as a finger food. "Also, don't rule out a sweet potato smoothie!" Ward says. "Mix cooked, mashed sweet potato with yogurt and honey or sugar to taste and some milk to get it to the desired consistency. (Note: Honey should not be given to children under 1 year of age.)