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. The biggest challenge is to fix meals your kids want to eat that also deliver all the vitamins and minerals they need. And lest you worry about being fussy or overprotective, consider this: More and more research suggests deficiencies in nutrition can lead to behavioral, developmental, and health problems—everything from allergies and asthma to ADHD. (Blood testing may reveal a severe nutrient deficiency, but your child can be missing out on nutrients without being clinically deficient.) And it’s not just “superstar” nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamins C and A that kids need. Even if you get your children to eat, say, fish, broccoli, and carrots (certainly an achievement), there’s still a world of nutrients they may be missing. We consulted the experts, who all agreed that focusing on real foods is the way to go. “Any food found in nature is a superfood…and all will provide a much better balance of nutrients than a processed, fortified ‘food product’ can,” says Ashley Koff, a registered dietitian in Los Angeles, Calif. With her help and the help of others, we compiled this list of must-have vitamins and minerals and the kid-friendly foods that contain them.
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.