As parents, our child’s diet and the nutrition they derive from it is of prime concern to us. You may have heard of superfoods and their benefits to our health fighting disease. But do you know you can use the power of these superfoods to boost your child’s immunity and overall health too? Yes, superfoods for kids. Especially if you choose vegan superfoods since plant foods are known to be some of the most nutrient-dense foods available to humans.
Many parents especially those of toddlers are worried about how exactly to add these vegan superfoods to their child’s diet and make it palatable for them. It is a struggle for many to get their children to enjoy a variety of vegetables and plant foods. We will get to how to incorporate these superfoods into your child’s diet a little later. Lets first start with understanding superfoods;
What Are Superfoods?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a superfood is one that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health.
Today we know of many superfoods that have a wide range of health benefits. In this post, we will look at a few that are best suited for kids.
Why Vegan Superfoods For Kids?
Researchers have shown that a more plant-based diet may help prevent, treat, or reverse some of the leading causes of death, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Getting your children interested in plant foods early in life can thus help build their longterm health. In the growing years, children go through all types of food preferences and changes in likes, adding superfoods to their daily diet helps boost key nutrient consumption.
I have previously written about how to get your kids interested in healthy foods, and other topics related to children’s health and well-being. You can read those articles here:
Vegan Superfoods For Kids
Let's start with the easiest superfood to include in your child's diet, oats. Oats are a rich source of plant-based proteins, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Oats contain a powerful antioxidant called avenanthramide that is known to promote heart health. They digest slowly keeping kids full for longer and release a steady stream of energy. Oats are therefore the best option for breakfast. Giving children the right start to their day.
Avocados are a unique type of fruit. Unlike other fruits that contain mainly carbohydrates, avocados contain healthy fats. They are also referred to as “butter fruit“ for the same reason. Avocados contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals like Vit K, Vit C, folate, potassium, Vit B5, Vit B6, Vit E in addition to monounsaturated fats and fiber. No wonder it is considered a great first food for babies.
3. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have become quite popular in the health food world. They are considered one of the healthiest foods on the market. What is so amazing about chia seeds you ask? Well, they deliver a massive amount of nutrients for a very small quantity (28 gms/2 tablespoons).
Delivering fiber, protein, fats (mostly omega 3’s), calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and antioxidants. Thus adding chia seeds even a tablespoon or two a day in your child's diet can boost their health and immunity.
Flaxseeds contain heart-healthy fats like omega 3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber. Ground flaxseed is better absorbed by the body since it contains both soluble and insoluble fiber compared to whole flaxseed that mainly contains insoluble fiber. You can prepare small batches of ground flaxseed powder by roasting flaxseeds and grinding them to a powder texture. This can then be used as a topping on porridge, or in smoothies. Such a simple addition can easily up the nutrient density of the food you are eating.
Hempseeds are a rich source of plant-based protein, healthy fats, vitamins like Vit E and minerals like phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. They are considered a complete protein source, which means that they provide all the essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are not produced in the body and need to be acquired through the diet. Once again adding a tablespoon in your child's porridge or smoothie can help with their nutrient consumption for the day.
Quinoa is a gluten-free, high protein super seed. Even here the protein present in quinoa is considered a complete protein, one that contains all essential amino acids. It also contains B-vitamins, iron, calcium, and fiber. All key ingredients for a child's developing body.
Millets are one of the traditional vegetarian protein sources in India. These grains are gluten-free and rich in a number of vitamins and minerals. There are a variety of millets that you can add to your child’s diet like sorghum (jowar), finger millet (ragi), foxtail millet, pearl millet (bajra),kodo millet etc. There are many traditional porridge and soup recipes for these millets. And in countries like India mother’s use millet as one of the first foods to introduce to baby. What makes millets so beneficial to health is that they are rich in calcium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium, and antioxidants. Along with this, they contain protein and fiber. A great choice for any child’s diet.
Yes, beets. We all know beetroots are good for health. But many of us don’t take this root vegetable seriously. Beets can be a smart addition to your child’s diet. Not only do beets impart a lovely pink and red colour to food that is quite eye-catching for the little ones, beets are also packed in nutrition. They are a source of simple carbohydrates needed for energy, and many vitamins and minerals like B-vitamins, potassium, iron, manganese, and Vit C. In order to get maximum absorption of the iron from beets pair them with other Vit C rich foods like lemons, tomatoes, etc.
This fungi is a great source of protein, fiber, B vitamins and calcium. Mushrooms are also a source of ergothioneine (a powerful antioxidant) as well as selenium. Studies show that vitamin B-12 in mushrooms was found to be the same form found in beef, liver, and fish, suggesting that it is highly bioavailable. If they are exposed to UV light when cultivated then these mushrooms are also a source of Vit D. However, you may not know the exact conditions in which the mushrooms you buy are grown. So its best to not completely rely on mushrooms for Vit B12 and Vit D. These are more a bonus if present in the brand you buy.
There is also a lot of confusion on how to offer mushrooms and which type of mushrooms to offer a baby. Generally, the commercially available white button mushrooms are a good type of mushrooms to start with. Always cook mushrooms instead of serving them raw. Consult with your pediatrician to get more information on the different local varieties of mushrooms available, how and when to offer a baby.
The more color fruits and vegetables have the better. Colour in berries is imparted by natural pigments like anthocyanins that are also powerful antioxidants. These antioxidants help fight excessive free radicals that are known to cause damage to the body. In fact, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry have the highest cellular antioxidant activity and protect from cancers. A study in the European Journal of Nutrition found that a supplement containing freeze-dried wild blueberry powder improved brain power in children aged 7 to 10. Berries are also rich in Vit C which aids iron absorption from iron-rich foods. So topping oats with some berries is one power packed breakfast for the little ones.
11. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, arugula, bok choy, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and watercress. These are super veggies that pack in on phytonutrients, folate, vitamins C, E, and K, fiber and omega 3’s. Cruciferous vegetables should be one of the cornerstone vegetables present in your child’s diet on a daily basis.
12. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a starchy root vegetable rich in natural sugars, Vit C, Vit B6, Vit A, beta-carotene, potassium, and fiber. Sweet potatoes contain natural sugars that are released slowly into the bloodstream providing a steady stream of energy. The texture of sweet potatoes is also palatable for babies when they are just starting out on solids.
13. Green Leafy Vegetables
You heard your doctor say this, again and again," eat your green leafy vegetables" and it is not without reason. Green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins like Vit A, Vit C, Vit K and minerals like iron and calcium. They also contain fiber that’s great for digestion. Green leafy vegetables include cruciferous leafy greens, spinach, swiss chard, lettuce, and microgreens.
14. Beans & Lentils
Beans and lentils are another traditional vegetarian source of protein. These are rich in Vit B and fiber.
Lentils are legumes and are available in either whole form or split into halves. Lentils are an excellent source of folate. They are also a good source of protein, dietary fiber, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, and molybdenum, copper, phosphorus, manganese, iron, zinc, and potassium.
Soaking lentils prior to cooking helps aid digestion and reduces the cook time. There are different types of lentils - Red, orange or yellow split lentils, Black beluga lentils, French du Puy lentil, Brown or green lentils. I found this blog post by Vegan Richa useful in identifying the different types and names of lentils.
Beans like kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, soybeans, pinto beans are rich sources of protein, fiber, vitamin B, iron, folate, manganese, magnesium.
Adding beans and lentils to dishes increases the satiety level of food, which is extremely helpful especially with toddlers who eat tiny amounts of food at a time and takes care of daily protein intake for children. These are a must on the toddler food plate.
Coconut meat, water, and oil are used in many Indian recipes. So don’t forget to add coconuts to your child's diet too. Coconuts contain healthy fats, fiber, vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6 and minerals including iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. Especially raw coconut meat contains amino acids and proteins that are essential for muscle building, alongside calcium and iron. All these serve the growing body well.
Walnuts are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and healthy fats needed for brain development. Walnuts are also an excellent source of other vitamins and minerals like, folic acid, Vit B6, and Vit E, copper, manganese, and phosphorus.
Another benefit of adding walnut to your child's diet is that walnuts are one of the richest dietary sources of antioxidants like ellagic acid, catechins, melatonin. All of these help promote heart health.
An important point to note here is that walnuts are allergenic in nature. Because of this, there is a lot of debate on when to introduce it to the baby. Most pediatricians recommend introducing walnuts after 1 year of age. I would suggest speaking with your pediatrician and discussing family allergy history before introducing these nuts to your child's diet.
These are some vegan superfoods you can add to your child’s diet to help boost their nutrient intake. When I first made such a list of superfoods, I started by noting down food ideas I could use them in or add to.
I have prepared a free printable of food ideas using these superfoods that you can print and stick to your fridge for quick reference. This printout can act as a reference point as you start preparing your family meals for the day. It helps me build dishes making them extra nutrient dense. I hope you enjoy using this printout and it serves you with ideas on days you are lacking inspiration.
Which superfoods do you give your children? Do leave me comments, food ideas or any information you find useful. I love hearing back from you. To find more inspiration on what to serve little ones follow me on Instagram where I post meal ideas and recipes regularly.