It's not easy feeding fast-growing kids in a fast-food world: The hot lunches at school often consist of hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and other processed foods, and if your homemade lunch isn’t tasty enough, your children are more likely to mooch junk food from their friends. Your challenge is to fix meals your kids want to eat that also deliver all the vitamins and minerals they need.
More and more research suggests deficiencies in nutrition can lead to behavioral, developmental and health problems—everything from allergies and asthma to attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. (Blood testing may reveal a severe nutrient deficiency, but your child can be missing out on nutrients without being clinically deficient.)
Even if you get your children to eat, say, fish, broccoli and carrots (way to go!), there’s still a world of nutrients they might be missing. The best way to combat any deficiencies, say experts? Feed your children real foods. “Any food found in nature will provide a healthier balance of nutrients than a processed, fortified ‘food product’ can,” says Los Angeles-based dietitian Ashley Koff, R.D., co-author of Mom Energy (Hay House). Here, the must-have vitamins and minerals kids need.
WHY KIDS NEED IT: Magnesium is as important as calcium for children’s development, says Koff. In fact, the two work together—calcium is a muscle contractor and magnesium is a relaxant—to help kids get a good night’s sleep, build strong bones, regulate blood sugar, support a healthy immune system, and keep nerves and muscles functioning properly.
SIGNS YOUR CHILD ISN’T GETTING ENOUGH: “Twitchy” legs or restless leg syndrome, inability to settle down at night, muscle cramps, constipation, fatigue, weakness, anxiety, and hyperactivity.
HOW MUCH KIDS NEED: 110 mg for kids ages 4 to 8; 350 mg for children ages 9 to 13
WHERE TO FIND IT: Soybeans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables
FUN MAGNESIUM-RICH FOODS: 2 ounces pumpkin seeds (300 mg) Toss lightly in oil and sprinkle with sea salt, then bake on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes at 425˚F. 2 tablespoons almond butter (97 mg) Make an almond-butter sandwich for a magnesium-rich alternative to peanut butter and jelly.1/2 cup black beans (61 mg) Grind beans in a food processor with a bit of garlic, salt, and lime or lemon juice. Serve with baked tortilla chips for dipping. 1/2 cup oatmeal (56 mg) Bake into an oatmeal-raisin cookie or serve for breakfast with cinnamon, honey, and nuts.