Parents are bombarded with nutrition recommendations to help fulfill the needs of growing kids, but all the information can be overwhelming. Antioxidants are particularly confusing, but important enough to deserve some attention.
Here are tips and tricks to help parents demystify antioxidants and reap the benefits by making them part of the daily diet.
What Are Antioxidants?
Normal body processes create damaging substances known as free radicals. These substances can attack and destroy healthy tissues and over time can wreak havoc in the body. Free radicals also promote inflammation, which also causes damage to healthy cells. Excessive amounts of free radical damage have been linked to cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses.
Here’s where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants are substances that destroy free radicals and therefore protect healthy cells. Antioxidants are found in a wide variety of foods—many are plant based. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are some of the most impressive sources.
In addition to many other important functions, vitamins A, C, and E plus the mineral selenium are also classified as antioxidants. Antioxidants are also found as part of plant based compounds collectively called phytochemicals. Examples include polyphenols that protect plants from damage, and flavonoids, colorful pigments that give plant foods their unique shades.
The occasional piece of fruit and a baby carrot stick every few days won’t be enough for your child to meet their antioxidant needs. For best results, parents and kids can work together to discover ways to make them fixtures in the diet.
Antioxidants are accessible to little ones via all kinds of kid-friendly foods. Here are five all-stars sources.
Take your pick. All types of berries are teeming with antioxidants. Strawberries, blackberries, wild blueberries, cherries, and cranberries are just a few. Dark colors mean they are rich in pigments and the burst of flavor makes them especially appealing to tiny palates.
Green veggies like spinach, Swiss chard, kale, arugula, and collard greens are famous for being nutrient dense. Leafy greens like kale and collards are fairly bitter and may not appeal to kids when raw, but cooking them down helps make them sweeter and easier to chew.
Tomato products boast plenty of lycopene, a red flavonoid also found in pink grapefruit and watermelon. Cooked tomato products have more lycopene than raw tomatoes so enjoy canned tomatoes, marinara sauce, chili, and tomato soup regularly.
Dried fruits offer a concentrated dose of antioxidants. Similar to the grapes (and wine for mommy), raisins are an easy option for kids as a healthy alternative to chewy candies.
A lesser known source of antioxidants, whole grains such as brown rice, oats, barley, and sorghum are filled with tummy-pleasing fiber and antioxidants. Regular consumption of these grains has been linked to prevention of chronic disease like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Get the little ones started on whole grains early instead of the more highly processed “white” grains.
Ways to Get More
Instead of sneaking fruit and veggies, gets kids involved in identifying and choosing which types of antioxidants they would like to eat from day to day. Here are a few ideas and recipes to help keep your kitchen well stocked.
Smoothies allow for tons of high antioxidant foods to be fresh, cold, and sippable. Whether you choose fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, the antioxidants are plentiful. You can try these for starters:
- Peanut Butter Banana Blueberry Acai Smoothie
- Wild Blueberry Cheesecake Smoothie
- Energizing Matcha Mango Green Smoothie
Yes, pizza. Combine a whole grain crust, lycopene rich tomato sauce, and a blank canvas to pile veggies upon. Try this recipe for starters.
Kale and Butternut Squash Pizza
Makes 12 slices
1 package dry active yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup marinara sauce
6 ounces sliced provolone cheese
2 cups roasted butternut squash*
2 cups chopped fresh kale
6 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- Combine yeast, sugar and water in a large measuring cup and whisk to combine. Allow to rest for 15 minutes.
- Place flours and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the yeast mixture and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Run machine on low until ingredients are just combined, then increase speed medium for 3 to 4 minutes, until dough has come together in a large ball.
- Transfer dough to an oiled bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise for one hour.
- Preheat oven to 450F and place a 13×18 sheet pan in the over to warm. Once the dough has risen, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll flat using a rolling pin.
- Carefully remove sheet pan from oven and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Transfer dough to pan and gently press dough to the edges of the pan.
- Top with marinara, provolone, squash, kale and finally, mozzarella.
- Bake for 16 minutes, turning pan once half way through cooking.
Another opportunity for whole grains, combined with natural sweetness from dried fruits. Make a mix of whole grain cereal, nuts (another good source of antioxidants), and a few handfuls of your kids’ favorite dried fruits. Try these recipes:
- Pumpkin Pie Spice Roasted Almond Trail Mix
- Savory Spiced Nuts Snack Mix
Hot and Cold Cereals
Oats are the whole grain base for both granola and a morning bowl of oatmeal. Plus, a recipe like this is easy to pack along to school.
Makes 3 1/2 cups
2 ½ cups rolled oats
½ cup shredded coconut
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup maple syrup or agave nectar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup dried cranberries
- Preheat oven to 300F.
- Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Combine oats, coconut, salt, maple syrup, and canola oil in a large bowl.
- Toss well and transfer to prepared baking sheet.
- Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (about 15 to 20 minutes). Remove from oven.
- Once cool, mix in dried cranberries. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.