Getting healthy foods for kids onto the plate is one thing. Getting them into your toddler… another thing entirely. But creating healthy eating habits for your child doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. (Really!)
All kids are different, and making healthy food for kids a parenting priority can be difficult for busy parents (oxymoron, right?), or those not so inclined in the kitchen. And if you’ve started out with a less than ideal diet for your child, getting them to embrace healthier options might be a challenge. But it can be done.
As a first time mom and longtime healthy food fanatic, getting my daughter to embrace healthy foods was (and still is) a high priority. She has never eaten food from a jar or a pouch—all her meals are made from scratch, even when her dad and I are too tired to cook our own meals. But this commitment has surprised me: At 14 months, my daughter loves to eat and will turn her nose up at unhealthy foods. I know it might not last, but it’s an inspirational start to what I hope will be my daughter’s long and delicious life.
So, what are healthy foods for kids they’ll actually enjoy eating? Here are some of my daughter’s favorites that are rather simple to make and full of good nutrients. Some took a few more tries than others, and that’s an important note: Introduce healthy foods over and over and over and over even if your child only takes one bite each time. It can take more than a dozen experiences with a food before it’s enjoyed. We never force our daughter to eat anything. If she is not into a food one day, I let it go. We all have food moods, after all. But I keep introducing foods and sometimes I’ve been pleasantly surprised when one finally clicks with her.
23 Healthy Foods for Kids
- Cauliflower – This one was a bit of a shock to me, but my daughter loves it. Drizzle it with olive oil and roast until tender. Surprisingly, she much prefers it to broccoli.
- Spinach – It’s soft and slightly sweet, so it’s not a huge surprise that kids like spinach. Plus, it’s bright green. Kids love bright colored toys, why not foods? Steam it with beans, quinoa and a little bit of spice like cumin for a yummy dinner or lunch.
- Nutritional Yeast – This is what we call “magic sauce” in my kitchen, because it makes any food more palatable for our daughter. Mix this vitamin-rich powder with a bit of warm water and olive oil for a dairy-free, cheesy tasting sauce to pour on almost anything.
- Chard – A lot like spinach, soft steamed chard leaves can mix well with fruit or other vegetables for a nutritious meal. It’s a much bigger hit at our table than kale. We also tried out the BroccoLeaf (I was recently sent samples) and that was also a huge hit.
- Beans – There’s not one my daughter doesn’t love. Mash ‘em up with greens, nutritional yeast and you’ve got a fiber-rich super healthy and tasty meal. We add all kinds of seasoning to beans from turmeric to oregano. Kids love spice (not spicy!) flavors and introducing them at a young age makes them better eaters as they get older and eat more “adult” foods.
- Lentils — Just like beans but quicker-cooking! Super friendly for busy moms!
- Squash – From acorn to zucchini, squash are super delicious, versatile and quick cooking. They’re a hit with my daughter. She adores butternut, spaghetti and delicata squash.
- Avocado – This is an excellent first food for babies (skip the rice cereal, please!). And it’s a shame if every child doesn’t love avocados. I remember trying one as a young kid and spitting it out because it tasted too oily. If only I had been introduced as a baby or toddler I wouldn’t have missed out on avocados for half my life! They’re loaded with healthy fat, protein, fiber and flavor! Mash with fruits to dilute sweetness or serve plain. Seriously, best food ever.
- Peas – I’m always a little bit shocked watching my daughter dig through her food to pull out the peas. But it makes me smile because they’re so good for her. A yummy plant-protein that cooks so quickly and works with pretty much everything.
- Brussels Sprouts – This one was also a bit of a shocker because of the stigma around these mini cabbages, but she loves the little, perfect hand-held size of the sprouts (that’s her in the picture above with a Brussels sprout in each hand). Roast them for a better flavor, but steaming works too.
- Cabbage – It makes sense that if kids like Brussels sprouts they’ll like cabbage. Or vice versa. Cabbage steams easily and works really well with mashed beans and other veggies.
- Cucumbers – Eating these isn’t the easiest for my daughter’s smattering of teeth just yet, but she loves noshing on strips of fresh cucumbers and sucking on the juicy seeds.
- Romaine lettuce – This is finally a hit with my daughter after months of trying. She now loves the crunch and mild sweetness of this lettuce. I offer it plain or with a mild vinaigrette dressing.
- Parsley – It’s my go-to herb for my food and it’s also one of my daughter’s favorites. That’s good news because parsley is nutrient-dense. I steam a few sprigs into lots of different meals for her.
- Tempeh — Fermented soybean cake, tempeh, is a versatile protein that cooks up quickly and takes on lots of flavor. I cut it into strips and let my daughter nosh on it plain, or season it and mash with veggies.
- Tofu — Just like tempeh, it’s versatile, quick to cook and takes on lots of flavors. It’s a soft, easy food for developing chewers.
- Sweet potatoes – No brainer, right? Loaded with natural sweetness and nutrition, get these on the plate early and often.
- (Nondairy) Yogurt – If you haven’t guessed by now, our kitchen is vegan and loaded with lots of yummy foods. And we love coconut yogurt in this house. It’s full of healthy probiotic gut bacteria and low on calories and sugars – excellent breakfast or lunch choice.
- Oats — I’m not much of an oatmeal eater myself, but because it’s a quick-cooking food and so full of healthy fiber and beta-glucan, it’s in regular rotation for my daughter’s breakfast – and she never puts up a fight about it. We don’t sweeten it: We just add a little bit of vanilla extract and spices like cloves and cinnamon and she gobbles it all up.
- Strawberries – Funny, I thought fruits would be easier to get my daughter to eat but she’s a tough sell on many of them. We’ve finally made some headway with strawberries. She’s getting into the sour-sweetness with a smile.
- Banana – If it were up to me, bananas would not be on this list. But sometimes, the fruit options are slim and a fiber- and potassium-rich banana is better than processed food. When in doubt, it’s an excellent and affordable item for kids.
- Tomatoes – For a while, this was her favorite food of all. She loves sucking out the seeds and noshing on the rest of the tomato. And it’s a healthy indulgence, as these fruits are loaded with antioxidants and vitamins.
- Water – We’re not a juice family, so we weren’t about to load our child up with sugary juices either. She gets water to drink – as much as she likes — and enjoys it as much as we do!
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
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Image: Jill Ettinger