We don't have to tell you that a steady diet of PB&J and fried potatoes can't provide the variety of nutrients kids need. But did you know it could also put your child on a path toward a lifetime of similar food choices? "It takes a long time to develop a palate," says Leanne Ely, a nutrition consultant in Charlotte, North Carolina. "To raise a healthy eater, you need a sense of adventure in your own kitchen."
The American Dietetic Association recommends eating approximately eight ounces of fish a week. Arctic char is an environmentally friendly alternative to farm-raised salmon. It has a milder flavor and is low in mercury. Plus, it's high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain development and may provide protection against disorders including asthma and ADHD. When you first serve fish to your kids, try a teriyaki marinade and grill it outside if you can—you don't want the strong odor of seafood to turn them off before you even get it on their plate.
Unlike most types of sugar, this sweetener is packed with calcium, copper, magnesium, and manganese (which helps bone formation and metabolism). One tablespoon provides as much iron as one ounce of red meat. On its own, the flavor can be potent, so combine it with other seasonings in baked beans or poultry dishes. Even though it contains less sugar than regular molasses, you can use it in sweets. Try it in place of half the sugar in gingerbread cookies, suggests Jodi Greebel, a registered dietitian in New York City and founder of DinDins organic toddler food.
Help kids break out from bland land by sprinkling this spice on oatmeal, yogurt, applesauce, squash, or sweet potatoes. A dash of cinnamon goes a long way—it provides a healthy dose of calcium, iron, and antioxidants, and a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found it may tame blood-sugar levels.
Using a pair of kid-safe scissors, your child can snip these fiber- and flavor-filled morsels into small pieces for a chicken salad. Or remove the pit and fill the date with cream cheese for an afternoon snack. Dates are another great source of iron.
Choosing produce in a variety of colors means you'll get a wide range of nutrients. Check off the color purple with this fruit (yep, fruit). Eggplant may be made up of 92 percent water, but it still provides loads of fiber and phytonutrients that may have antioxidant benefits. Make eggplant "pizzas": Lightly bread thin slices, then bake until they get soft (about 15 minutes). Top with a spoonful of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.
These mighty little beans are rich in iron, protein, and fiber. You'll have to shuck them from their pod, but you can enlist your kids for the job —we bet they'll think it's fun. Then, enjoy them simply sauteed in olive oil, cook them and add them to a cold pasta salad, or puree them to create a spread.
This vitamin C-rich soup is filled with raw ingredients. Try Leanne Ely's green version: Combine 1 medium avocado, chopped; 1 cup chopped cucumber; 1 chopped jalapeno pepper; 1 clove pressed garlic; 3 sprigs chopped cilantro; 1 Tbs. lime juice; and 1 cup water. Blend half of the mixture until smooth. Mix both halves together and serve the soup immediately.
If your child likes to dip his veggies, try this fiber- and protein-packed salad-dressing alternative. Make your own by pureeing a can of drained chickpeas, 2 cloves pressed garlic, 1 to 2 Tbs. lemon juice, and 2 Tbs. tahini until smooth.
This miniature and mild variety provides B vitamins and minerals such as copper, potassium, iron, phosphorus, and even selenium—a nutrient rarely present in fruits and vegetables. Create a stir-fry featuring inoki mushrooms, bok choy, onion, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce.
It looks like a potato, but it's super-crunchy and has a mild, sweet flavor reminiscent of an apple or pear. Sprinkle chili powder and lime juice over raw pieces for an easy Mexican-style side dish that'll supply fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.
Your kids can dip slices of this citrus fruit—which tastes a bit like a strawberry and is loaded with vitamins C and K—in plain yogurt.
They have a milder flavor than their cousin, the onion, and are very high in allicin, the same powerful antiviral phytonutrient found in garlic. Pair them with another veggie your child already likes in a frittata or an omelet, or add them to mashed potatoes for a flavor hit.
Serve chunks over sorbet or low-fat vanilla ice cream for dessert to give a sweet treat a boost of vitamin C—and vitamin A, which is important for eyesight and growth. (By the way, if jicama goes over well, toss together raw strips of it with mango for a tasty summer salad.)
Unlike traditional cabbage, this green variety is mild and sweet. Try serving it raw in a salad or cooked in soups or stir-fries for a dose of folate, iron, and vitamins A and C.
Grill this vegetable on skewers to give it a crisp, smoky flavor. Okra provides a nice hit of vitamins C and K, calcium, folate, and manganese.
It's packed with vitamin A in the form of the powerful antioxidant beta-carotene. Add a couple of tablespoons of canned pumpkin to your next batch of pancakes for a nutritional punch.
You'd never guess that this whole grain is a protein that's as complete as milk, meat, and eggs. But quinoa contains all eight essential amino acids, making it a smart option for vegetarians, or kids who don't like other lean-protein sources. It's also high in fiber, manganese, magnesium, folate, iron, and phosphorus, and lower in carbohydrates than many other grains. With a light nutty flavor, quinoa can be served as a hot breakfast cereal, in place of rice in rice pudding, or as a side dish.
Kids need lots of calcium, so adding nondairy sources to their diet is always a good idea. Bake rhubarb muffins or a pie to enjoy the tart yet slightly sweet flavor of this low-calorie, high-calcium vegetable.
Made of buckwheat, this Japanese pasta boasts fiber, manganese, and magnesium. Plus, it's gluten-free, so it's a safe bet for kids who have celiac disease.
Another calcium-packed food, this purple root vegetable has a strong flavor when raw but tastes milder when cooked. Mix with mashed potatoes or add to stews.
True to its name, this tangerine-grapefruit hybrid looks goofy, but the flavor is sweet. It's juicy, easy to peel, and loaded with vitamin C. It's usually only available from November to May, so snap it up when you can.
Sweeter and less acidic than traditional oranges, these little ones are perfect for making fresh juice with your kids. Serve one six-ounce glass at breakfast.
Looking for a little crunch? Add these potassium- and fiber-rich root vegetables to chicken or tuna salads or mixed vegetables—they stay firm even when cooked.
This is basically a smaller watermelon, a food your kid is probably already eating. Make it more fun by incorporating it into a smoothie: In a blender, combine 3/4 cup diced melon, 3/4 teaspoon sugar, 2 or 3 ice cubes, and 1/8 cup water. Blend until smooth, and you've got a drink that's loaded with potassium and vitamins A and C.
Did you know that this veggie offers more vitamin C than citrus fruits? Dip raw pieces in hummus or use it in place of green peppers, which can taste bitter.
The list of nutrients in this vegetable is seriously impressive: fiber, manganese, vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, potassium, folate, copper, and riboflavin. Grill slices and top with balsamic vinegar or Italian dressing, or swap zucchini for potatoes when cooking potato pancakes.