Nutritious noshes you should always have in your kitchen -- and how to serve them so your child will gobble them up.
The clear winner because every serving packs a big dose of lycopene, an antioxidant associated with lower rates of cancer and heart disease. Tomatoes also contain loads of vitamin C and a fair amount of fiber. If your child won't eat them fresh, chunked, or sliced in a salad, try lightly grilling them with a little olive oil -- lycopene absorption is actually greater when tomatoes are cooked.
Next-best choice: Carrots, for the beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body, and because kids love the crunchy texture.
Picky-eater idea: Go for tiny grape tomatoes, which are sweeter (remember to cut them up for toddlers). Try a creative presentation: Your child won't be able to resist a grape-tomato caterpillar.
Serve fortified bread so your kids will be getting iron, vitamins, magnesium, and zinc as well as fiber. Check the label -- whole-wheat flour should be listed as the first ingredient. One way to get kids to branch out from white is to serve whole-wheat bread toasted and topped with melted cheese.
Next-best choice: Brown rice, which has more than three times the fiber of white and twice as much vitamin B6. Instant is fine. You lose a small amount of fiber, but it's still healthier than white rice.
Picky-eater idea: Use cookie cutters to make finger sandwiches in fun shapes. Your toddler will be so excited to eat a giraffe PB&J, she may not notice that the bread is a darker color.
These tiny nutritional powerhouses are bursting with vitamin C and folic acid, minerals (including potassium), fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals, shown to help prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Wow! Plus, kids like to eat them -- sprinkled with a bit of sugar,
topped with whipped cream, added to muffins and pancakes, or plopped into oatmeal, yogurt, or cottage cheese.
Next-best choice: Cantaloupe, which ranks nearly as high in phytochemicals and is just as nutritionally good for you as blueberries. Use a melon baller to scoop out a bowlful.
Picky-eater idea: Even kids who won't touch fresh berries think frozen ones are a treat.
Jam-packed with vitamin A and folic acid, it'll also provide some vitamin C and iron. If your child turns up her nose at spinach, get creative. Dress it up (sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top) or sneak it into her favorite dishes -- baked into lasagna or meat loaf, pureed into tomato sauce, or layered in a sandwich instead of lettuce.
Next-best choice: Edamame, or soy beans, which are loaded with protein, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C, plus a little fat. Kids love pushing the nutty-flavored peas out of the pods and into their mouths.
Picky-eater idea: A no-fail way to get 'em to eat the green stuff? Believe it or not, baked into brownies. Visit parents.com for our popular "They'll never know there's spinach in it!" brownie recipe.
This ready-to-eat staple can be incredibly healthy, especially since virtually all major cereal brands are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Choose whole-grain options (an easy way to include much-needed fiber in kids' diets) like Cheerios or shredded wheat, and avoid brands with high sugar content -- sugar (including high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, and honey) shouldn't be one of the first few ingredients. Bonus: Kids are far more likely to meet their calcium needs if they drink milk with cereal. Opt for whole milk if your kid is under 2 and low-fat for an older child.
Next-best choice: Peanut butter on a toasted whole-grain bagel combines carbohydrates and protein with a little fat so kids feel fuller for longer.
Picky-eater idea: Breakfast is a must, so get little ones to eat something. Make it fun by letting your child dip a banana (rich in potassium) in flavored yogurt (good source of calcium), then in cereal (for crunch).
This treat is an ideal mix of carbs, protein (from shredded mozzarella), and veggies (tomato sauce). And it cooks up in just minutes.
Next-best choice: Whole-grain crackers -- a good option if the word "snack" at your house means something you grab out of a box -- topped with a cut-up slice of cheese.
Picky-eater idea: Well, really, what kid doesn't like pizza? To boost the fun -- and nutritional -- quotient, use cut-up veggies to make a smiley face.
Almonds are the superstars of the nut family: They're rich in heart-healthy, disease-fighting phytochemicals and vitamin E, and also have good amounts of fiber, magnesium, iron, and calcium. In addition, they're high in monounsaturated fat, which can lower LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and even boost HDL ("good" cholesterol). Let your kids eat them raw. (But remember, whole nuts are a choking hazard for children under 3.) Other ways to try them: ground fine in a blender, then sprinkled on cereal, yogurt, even vegetables; toasted in the oven; or combined with dried cranberries for a tasty trail mix.
Next-best choice: Dry-roasted or plain peanuts.
Picky-eater idea: Natural nut butters -- peanut, almond, cashew -- are a great option.
Lean beef is loaded with iron, and growing, active children need the nutrient to produce healthy red blood cells. Recently, doctors have been seeing an increase in anemia at every age as Americans replace red meat with other forms of protein in their diets. (If your family doesn't eat beef, be especially vigilant about serving iron-fortified products like cereal or breads.) Beef is also loaded with vitamin B12 and zinc. Cook up lean hamburger meat for tacos and lasagne, or serve spaghetti with meatballs.
Next-best choice: Drumstick, anyone? Chicken offers many of the same benefits as red meat -- it's the second-best source of iron -- but it has less saturated fat than beef, with the added bonus that most kids really like it.
Picky-eater idea: Serve hors d'oeuvres to your kids: Roll up paper-thin slices of deli roast beef and serve alone, or wrap the slices around string beans or mozzarella sticks.
Skip the ice cream, and treat the kids to low-fat frozen yogurt instead -- good for calcium with fewer calories. Add a teaspoon of sprinkles, or layer it with cut-up fruit for a festive parfait.
Next-best choice: Graham-cracker bears. They're relatively low-fat, low-cal cookies made with whole-wheat flour, and they're fun.
Picky-eater idea: Freeze a stick in a kid-size flavored-yogurt cup, and serve it Popsicle-style.
OJ is tops because of the vitamins, folic acid, and phytochemicals -- plus, kids just love the taste. And if your little ones won't drink milk, calcium-fortified juice will help them meet their daily requirement. About four ounces a day is plenty, though. Drinking too much can pack on the calories.
Next-best choice: Grape juice, the purple kind, for its disease-fighting phytonutrients. But beware of juice blends. They're often simply sugary drinks with fruit flavor and little nutritional value. Check labels.
Picky-eater idea: Make a kiddie cocktail: Add seltzer to OJ, and garnish with a fun straw.