Boost kids’ nutrition with tips on creating a balanced plate
It’s no secret a wholesome diet helps keep kids healthy while giving them the energy and nutrients they need to concentrate and excel at school. Healthful meals and physical activity are essential for child growth and development, and parents hold the key to proper nutrition for the entire family.
Fortunately, eating right doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money or time in the kitchen. By relying on nutritious and convenient canned and frozen foods, in addition to fresh, any parent or caregiver can create quick, delicious, nutritious meals the whole family will love.
The best place to start when planning a healthy meal is to consider ingredients and portion sizes. MyPlate, the food graphic that replaced the food pyramid, is an easy guide. The graphic emphasizes building a plate with variety and appropriate portions of fruit, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy.
Focus on fruits and vegetables: According to MyPlate, kids should be eating a variety of fruit and vegetables, with slightly more emphasis on colorful veggies. Fortunately, there are many ways to enjoy these nutrient-packed foods. All forms of fruits and vegetables, whether they are canned, fresh, frozen, dried or 100-percent juice, count toward the recommended daily intake. Stock up on canned fruit and vegetables to save on prep time and keep nutritious foods at your fingertips year-round.
Vary your protein choices: It’s easy to default to chicken and beef when it comes to getting protein into meals. But variety is the spice of life, and a diet rich in different protein sources helps children expand their palate. Animal sources of protein include meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Plant sources of protein include beans, peas, soy products, nuts and seeds. Experiment with main dishes made with canned beans, seafood or chicken, nutritious protein options that can be part of dinner on any busy school night. How much is enough? Most people ages 9 and older should eat 5 to 7 ounces of protein each day, recommends the USDA. One ounce of protein is equal to: 1 ounce lean meat, poultry or seafood; one egg; 1/4 cup cooked beans or peas; 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds; or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.
Add whole grains: Bread, pasta, breakfast cereals and tortillas are just a few examples of grain products people eat often. Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal or barley counts. Strive to make whole-grain foods at least half of your family’s daily intake of grain by choosing whole-wheat bread and pasta or getting creative with unique sources like brown rice, barley or even canned hominy to add to soups and casseroles.
Don’t forget the dairy: As an alternative to plain milk, try offering other dairy options like yogurt and cheese. Start the school day right with an energizing breakfast of whole grain cereal topped with low fat yogurt and canned fruit like peaches or Mandarin oranges; this will keep even the pickiest eaters satisfied until their lunchtime.
Listen to health experts: A recent survey of health professionals found that the vast majority of dietitians (95 percent) regularly rely on canned ingredients at home and agree canned foods are a great way to meet dietary goals. In fact, 9 out of 10 dietitians say they regularly recommend canned food to others. And while moms and dads are turning to canned ingredients because they are convenient, often less expensive than fresh and available year-round, the survey also found they still have a number of concerning misperceptions about canned food compared to dietitians. Check out an infographic at www.mealtime.org to learn more about what these nutrition experts already know.
Keep taste top-of-mind: If kids don’t like the taste of a food, they won’t eat it. Be creative and prevent mealtime battles by adding vegetables to spaghetti or mixing them with their favorite casseroles and soups. Or try engaging kids in meal preparation or building their own plate with easy-to-make recipes like these Family Fiesta Tacos from Mealtime.org.
Family Fiesta Tacos from Mealtime.org
For the taco meat filling:
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 pound extra-lean ground beef or ground turkey
1 can (4 ounces) diced, mild green chilies
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, no salt added, drained
1/2 cup drained canned corn
1/2 cup drained and rinsed canned red kidney beans
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt, to taste (optional)
8 (8-inch) whole-wheat flour tortillas, warm according to package directions
1/2 cup fancy, shredded monterey jack cheese
1 cup finely shredded lettuce
1 cup diced avocados (optional)
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add onion and saute until lightly browned, stirring often, about 4 minutes.
3. Add beef and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.
4. Add chilies, tomatoes, corn, beans, chili powder, cumin and pepper and stir until heated through, about 3 minutes.
5. Season to taste with salt, if needed.
6. Transfer to a serving bowl and keep warm.
7. To serve the original Family Fiesta Soft Tacos, plate up warm tortillas, dish up the cheese, lettuce, and avocado (if desired).
8. Serve with taco meat filling.
9. Assemble and enjoy.