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From junk-food junkie to glowing health

We've asked nutrition experts for their suggestion of foods that the children should be consuming regularly to set them on a path to a lifetime of healthy eating.

03 Apr 2007

There's no end these days to talk of how much junk food our children are eating.

"Tomatoes contain lots of carotenoids, which are especially useful to protect children against cancer," says nutritionist Kay Gibbons. The most important carotenoid, lycopene, is only really released when tomatoes are cooked. So something such as tomato sauce, with long cooking time, is actually very good.

Get them to eat it: "Most children love tomato sauce on pasta, even if they don’t like fresh tomato," says Gibbons.

Whole-wheat bread
This is a great energy source. Its Glycaemic Index is lower than that of white bread, which means that it sustains children for longer. Whole wheat also contains fibre, antioxidants, minerals and important B vitamins.

Get them to eat it: If your children prefer white bread, compromise by making sandwiches with one slice of wholegrain, and one slice of white.

Children either love broccoli or they hate it. Broccoli contains vitamin C and folate. vitamin C is excellent to help keep gums healthy and combat infections, and folate is good for bone health.

Get them to eat it: Broccoli and cauliflower have a high sulphur content so they tend to smell when overcooked. Don’t cook broccoli for too long.

Strawberries are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. It has a secret weapon called ellagic acid, which has been shown to be very potent at inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.

Get them to eat it: Add fresh ones to yoghurt and ice cream or go for strawberry juice.

Sweet potato
Research has shown that sweet potato could help stabilise blood sugar levels, making it an excellent choice to curb your child’s sweet tooth during dinner.

Get them to eat it: Spread with a little oil and roast in the oven for a tasty change from ordinary chips.

Nuts Nuts are an excellent source of protein, which your child needs to keep hunger at bay, and for growth.

Get them to eat it:
Ensure that your child doesn't have a nut allergy. Children under five should be supervised when eating nuts. Use nut butters, not just peanut butter – find other types at health shops. Sprinkle nuts over cheese sandwiches, salads and yoghurt.

Oats contain soluble fibre can prevent constipation and protects against high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Get them to eat it: There’s nothing better than good old-fashioned porridge or muesli for breakfast. Also add oats when baking muffins.

Lean beef, lamb and pork are great sources of protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins.

Get them to eat it: Add mince to pasta sauces or make meatballs. Iron is especially important for healthy blood and brain development.

"Eggs are very good for us, and not the cholesterol bomb they were once thought to be," says Barnes. They're also packed with protein and vitamin D, needed for healthy bones.

Get them to eat it: Make finger-sized slices of toast for children to dip into soft-boiled eggs, or add chopped hard-boiled egg to mashed potatoes. Or use as a sandwich filling, mixed with mayo.

Soya and tofu
"Soya contains phytochemicals, which aren't available in many other foods, and are particularly beneficial for reproductive health, so introduce them to children early on," says Gibbons.

Get them to eat it: Some breads contain soya, or try calcium-fortified soya milk, soya yoghurt and flavoured milk.

Ever-popular bananas are rich in potassium and vitamin B6, and give instant energy, without an ensuing energy low. Bananas also promote muscle growth and brain function.

Get them to eat it: Great for snacks. Or serve them mashed on toast.

There's no such thing as a bad food. "Some of the foods we think of as treats might be doing us some good," says Gibbons. "Many contain active secret ingredients such as amine in chocolate, for instance, which is an antioxidant, and is also believed to be a mood enhancer."

Get them to eat it: Let them enjoy it occasionally and in moderation.

Dried fruit
Dried fruit contains essential nutrients and protective antioxidants.

Get them to eat it: Serve as a snack or chopped over porridge and cereal.

- Ideas


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