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Children's Health

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Boosting 4 Vital Nutrients Kids Need

Easy tips to help your kids get more of 4 essential nutrients often missing from their diets.
WebMD Feature

Certain essential nutrients have gone missing from our kids' diets. The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" from the U.S. government encourages children to eat more foods with these five nutrients -- calcium, fiber, magnesium, vitamin E, potassium -- as part of a balanced diet.

Your child may resist your efforts to help him eat better, so use the stealth health tip in each section to covertly include what he needs to develop a strong, healthy body and ward off common illnesses.

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Calcium: Essential Nutrient for Bolstering Bone

Dairy foods are the best sources of calcium, a mineral that's vital for bolstering bone strength and development in growing children, and promoting normal heart and muscle function and blood clotting. Dairy foods are the best calcium sources; most kids need three servings a day.

  • Serve up a bowl of whole-grain cereal topped with milk and fresh fruit for breakfast or snack.
  • Make smoothies with milk, yogurt, or calcium-added orange juice or soy beverages and fruit.
  • Top pancakes or waffles with a mixture of yogurt and fruit instead of syrup.
  • Serve cheese and fruit for snacks or dessert; add a slice of hard cheese, such as cheddar, to sandwiches.
  • Stir reduced-fat shredded cheese into scrambled eggs; sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on popcorn.
  • Serve milk with every meal; flavored milk and lactose-free milk have just as much calcium as plain. Nonmilk drinkers should sip calcium-fortified soy beverages or orange juice.
  • Make pudding with low-fat milk and serve it to children instead of cookies, cake, and candy.

Stealth Health Tip: Microwave oatmeal with 8 ounces of milk instead of water.

Fiber: Essential Nutrient for Digestion

Fiber does more than keep a kid's digestive system in working order. Getting into the habit of including fiber-rich foods may curb your child's chances of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes down the road, too. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are generally fiber-rich.

  • Serve sliced, raw or cooked vegetables with peanut butter or a yogurt-based dip.
  • Include a fruit or vegetable with every meal and snack.
  • Swap white bread for whole-grain types, and refined cereals for whole-grain choices, including oatmeal.
  • Try whole-wheat pasta and brown rice as side dishes.
  • Add chopped vegetables such as broccoli and carrots to marinara sauces.
  • Focus on whole fruit for the most fiber, and limit juice intake.

Stealth Health Tip: Prepare your favorite chili recipe with twice the beans and half the meat. Puree cooked white, black, or navy beans and add to soups and stews to boost magnesium and fiber.

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