We all want the best for our kids. But when it comes to feeding them nutritious and healthy food which helps them grow and develop, it can feel like a bit of a minefield!
Whether your kid is a picky eater or will try anything, it’s important for them to consume the right nutrients to fuel their development. That’s why I wanted to boil it down to 3 essential nutrients that kids need to grow up healthy and strong — both physically and mentally.
What are nutrients?
Nutrients are the compounds in food that our body needs for life and health — they give us energy, they help our body repair and grow, and they regulate chemical processes.
Your nutrient requirements change as you grow and develop but they can broadly be broken down into 2 categories — macronutrients like carbohydrates, protein and fats, and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals.
Most of our diets are made up of macronutrients which give us energy, while micronutrients are essential in small amounts for healthy growth and development.
Here are my top 3 essential nutrients for healthy kids:
Zinc is a trace element which helps kids grow and is critical for a healthy immune system. In fact, it is used for the functions of over 300 enzymes! It has also been shown to raise GABA (a neurotransmitter) levels, which can help improve anxiety levels in kids.
Our bodies don’t store zinc, so it’s important to eat enough every day to meet daily requirements or look at taking a supplement.
Eat more zinc — nuts, legumes like chickpeas and lentils, pumpkin and sesame seeds, whole grains like quinoa, rice and oats, eggs and high-quality red meat.
2. Fish oil (omega 3s)
Omega-3 fats are essential for good health and can be taken at any age. All the benefits for adults also are true for children. In particular, kids benefit from the boost to brain function (and heart health) that omega-3 fats provide.
Eat more omega-3s — oily fish like mackerel, sardines or salmon. This can be tricky with kids, which is why we often recommend a fish oil supplement. You can read more about why not all fish oils are equal and why it matters which one you take.
Kids are often deficient in magnesium, which plays a key role in helping them to keep calmer and more relaxed during the day. It increases GABA levels which put a brake on the brain’s activity, helping your child remain calm and even get to sleep easier. Magnesium also plays a key role in learning and memory, making it a crucial nutrient for growing kids.
Eat more magnesium — dark green leafy vegetables, quinoa, almonds, black beans.
Do kids get enough nutrients?
One of my biggest worries about kids these days is the vast amount of nutrient-poor food available. Packaged and fast foods contain so much energy and so little micronutrients, meaning we feel full but we’re not getting the essential nutrients our bodies need to function properly.
One of the best ways to boost the nutritional value of your child’s diet is by eating more whole foods by shopping the perimeter of the supermarket or, better still, buying produce from your local farmers market.