If you’re confused about what’s healthy and what’s not, we understand — there’s plenty of conflicting information out there. Here’s a rundown of basic principles of good nutrition and healthy growth.
Don’t forget: We make it easy for you to shop with confidence by doing lots of the research for you. Check out our Quality Standards for all the details on what’s not allowed on our shelves. No hydrogenated fats or artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or sweeteners in any food we sell is just the start.
1. Essential Vitamins: Learn Your ABCs
Plan meals with your kids to make sure you all get enough of the ABCs:
Vitamin A is essential for growth, development and a healthy immune system. Pre-formed A, called retinol, comes from animal products (liver, whole milk). Carotenoid A is found in certain colorful fruits and veggies — such as squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and apricots — and is transformed into retinol in the body.
B vitamins are needed for energy, brain function and stress management. Do you eat a lot of processed foods and refined carbohydrates? If so, you better boost your B intake with whole grains, dairy, eggs, meat, fish and poultry.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and is crucial for immune and brain function. Find it in red and green peppers, grapefruit, oranges, kiwi and more.
Vitamin D plays a major role in bone development. The good news: Exposure to sunlight causes the body to produce D — and kids love to play outside! Just remember that in winter, when living in northern climates or if you just don’t spend much time outdoors, you might need to supplement.
2. Discover Omega-3s
Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3s, are crucial for development and health of the brain, heart, nervous system, tissues, skin and immune system. Cold-water fish (salmon, tuna), flaxseed, dark leafy greens and walnuts are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Child-friendly omega-3 supplements are also available.
3. Eat a Rainbow
A colorful plate of natural purples, blues, reds, oranges, yellows and greens will nourish young bodies with the positive effects of phytonutrients, such as flavonoids, carotenoids and chlorophyll. Choose brightly colored fruits and vegetables like carrots, blueberries, eggplant, beets, winter squash and dark leafy greens.
4. Toss Out the Trans Fats
Avoid snacks and desserts with hydrogenated fats, which are added to many conventional processed foods aimed at kids. The hydrogenation process transforms vegetable oils from their natural liquid state into solid fats. The result is a fat that is rich in trans fatty acids. Remember: We don’t allow hydrogenated fats in any of the foods we sell.
5. Legume Love and Whole Grain Goodness
The legume family includes peas, beans and lentils, which are all great sources of plant-based protein. Canned beans, which you can find in no-salt-added options, is an easy choice to bolster salads or soups, make dips or toss with pasta. Other legumes that are good sources of protein include edamame, split peas, white beans, red beans and lentils.
Current nutrition recommendations say to “make half your grains whole.” Go beyond whole grain sandwich bread and serve up cooked cereals and porridges, whole grain pasta and grain salads and bake with whole grain flours.
6. Make a Sweet Deal
Trade refined sweets for delicious, more wholesome options that are higher in nutrients. Opt for plenty of fresh, seasonal fruits or dried fruits. Use unsweetened applesauce, apple butter and granola as toppings. For a fruity soft drink alternative, dilute 100% fruit juices with carbonated mineral water. Try alternative sweeteners such as maple syrup, molasses, honey and agave nectar for baking.
7. Go Low with the Glycemic Index
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate is digested, enters the bloodstream and raises blood sugar levels. High glycemic index foods, such as refined flours and high-sugar beverages, are quickly digested, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. Such effects have been linked to diabetes, overeating and obesity.
Low glycemic index foods, on the other hand, contribute to a steadier blood sugar level. Replacing high glycemic index foods with low glycemic index foods is an important step for balanced blood sugar levels and healthy eating habits. In general, foods high in fiber and protein have a lower glycemic index and help you feel full longer. Beans, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains have the lowest foods on the glycemic index.