These gut-friendly foods can help keep your kids healthy. Here's how to serve them.

By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
January 30, 2019
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Fermented foods are all the rage right now, and it's a trend worth embracing--including for kids. Foods that are fermented have been naturally preserved by bacteria, making them beneficial for our "microbiome", the trillions of bacteria living in the gut. The microbiome plays some pretty major roles in our physical health, everything from boosting immunity to helping maintain a healthy weight. A well-balanced microbiome may even mean better mental health too.

It's easier than you think to make fermented foods doable for your kids. Here are five to include more often:

1. Yogurt

This is an ancient food made from milk that's been fermented by bacteria. Those "good bugs" help populate the gut, leaving less room for harmful bacteria. Just be sure your carton says "live and active cultures". Good news: Many people with lactose intolerance can handle yogurt, since the bacteria also ferments and breaks down the lactose.

How to serve it: A no-brainer, right? But if you're concerned about sugar, swirl plain and flavored together or try one of the new lower-sugar varieties. You can also add a spoonful in place of sour cream or mayo for dips and spreads.

2. Kefir

Like yogurt, this thick, fermented milk drink (pronounced kuh-FEAR) has been around for thousands of years. It's tangy and mostly lactose-free. A great source of calcium and protein, kefir is usually stocked in the dairy aisle and comes in plain and flavored varieties.

How to serve it: A lot of kids will like flavored kefir straight-up in a glass. You can also swap in plain kefir for milk or yogurt in smoothies and for buttermilk in pancakes.

3. Miso

This is a thick, fermented paste made from soybeans and grain that has a rich, savory "umami" flavor. It's typically found in the ethnic foods aisle of the grocery store or the refrigerated section.

How to serve it: You can put miso in salad dressings and marinades. You can also stir a spoonful of miso into simmering low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth, then add in veggies and ramen noodles (throw the super-high-sodium seasoning packet away) for a quick noodle soup.

4. Tempeh

Tempeh is an excellent plant-based source of protein (16 grams per half-cup!). It's made from soybeans like tofu, but (unlike tofu) it's also fermented. Tempeh is firmer and chewier than tofu and has a nutty flavor. Find it alongside the tofu in your grocery store.

How to serve it: After a quick simmer on the stove (to reduce any bitterness), cut it into cubes or thin slices and then bake or stir-fry it. My kids eat it with this easy peanut sauce drizzled on it.

5. Sauerkraut

It's made when bacteria break down the natural sugar in cabbage. Look for plain sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of the store. Gut-friendly sauerkraut should just contain cabbage and salt--not vinegar, sugar, or additives.

How to serve it: Piled on a hot dog of course!

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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