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Eating a healthy meal can seem like a daunting task, especially when children tend to be picky and stick to their favorite foods. Here are 4 easy ways to add more nutrition to the foods you already enjoy!

Tip #1: Choose whole grains.


            Whole grains have three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. On the other hand, refined grains only have the endosperm. Whole grains give you energy, fiber, protein, and vitamins. Refined grains mostly provide energy, so if you choose them, you're missing out on the fiber, protein, and vitamins that you would get from whole grains. Eating whole grains as part of a healthy diet can benefit heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease.


            To add more whole grains to your meals, swap out white bread, refined pasta, or white rice with whole grain versions such as whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, or brown rice. If you want to ease these whole grains into your diet slowly, try mixing whole grain foods with refined grains. Cook white rice with brown rice or mix in some whole grain pasta with your pasta dish.


Tip #2: Sneak in vegetables.


            Most Americans, especially children, do not get enough vegetables in their diet, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The quality of children’s diet at their age is especially important as it impacts their growth and development. Vegetables are rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. A diet high in vegetables can maintain physical health and prevent diseases such as some cancers, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.


            To sneak vegetables into your diet, you can make vegetable-based dips, dressings, or pasta sauces such as an eggplant dip with pita chips, avocado dressing over salad, or cauliflower alfredo sauce. You can also add neutral-tasting vegetables to your baking repertoire such as zucchini or carrots to your muffins or cakes or mash sweet potatoes or butternut squash to your pancake batter.


Tip #3: Pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods.


            Iron is a mineral found in some foods that aid in children’s development and growth. It helps our bodies use and store oxygen. Iron comes in two forms—heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal sources and non-heme iron is found in plant sources. Heme iron is much more readily absorbed in the body compared to non-heme iron. To increase the absorption of non-heme iron, pair them with vitamin C-rich foods.


            You can pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C foods by squeezing juices of citrus fruits like lemons over vegetable sautés, adding slices of fruits such as strawberries or kiwis over oatmeal or pancakes, and lastly topping bell peppers or tomatoes on sandwiches or pasta.


Tip #4: Add seeds.


            Seeds are a small but mighty ingredient that you can add to your foods for a good source of fiber, protein, minerals, and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can support heart health. Most seeds contain minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous. These minerals help to support bone, bowel, and brain health as well as repair cells filter waste, and help our body use oxygen.


            Some fun ways to add seeds to your diet are to pair seeds with fruits, add them to oatmeals or smoothies, or sprinkle them on top of pancakes or salads. You can also try seed butter spreads such as sunflower seed butter or pumpkin seed butter on your toast.



For your next meal, try incorporating one of these easy tips for an added nutrition boost!


About the Author: Justine Resuello is a dietetic intern completing a Master’s degree in Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago

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