By Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK
What kids eat can mean the difference between being hyperactive and being happily alert. Here are five foods every kid needs.
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It doesn't come with any slick advertisements or cutesy cartoon characters to sell it, but plain old H2O is one of the quickest energy boosters out there. When kids become dehydrated, their energy plummets and their brain gets foggy, which makes it hard to concentrate.
How to get them to drink it: Kids often don't realize when they're dehydrated, so keep water handy and offer it often, especially if they've been playing a lot or have been out in the sun. Skip flavoring packets, which are often full of artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavors. You can try adding a squeeze of lemon for flavor, but I've found that most kids don't like any "floaties" in their water. The trick is in the packaging-let your child pick out a fun water bottle (they can even decorate it themselves with permanent markers) or stock up on twisty straws and funny ice cubes. You'll be amazed at how much water they'll drink.
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Grains have been getting a bad rap lately, but whole grains are still one of the best sources of energy we have-especially for little bodies that are still growing. The fiber and carbohydrates in oatmeal provide a long-lasting, consistent source of energy that can be dressed up in a million different ways.
How to get them to eat it: Skip the pre-fab packets and cook your own. Microwaving a serving of rolled oats won't take you any longer than the packaged stuff, and you'll save on all the added sugars, flavors and colors. Add some real butter (yes, it's okay now!) for satiating fat, then cool it down by adding frozen berries (another great food for energy). To make it fun for little ones, let them add a few sprinkles or chocolate chips on top.
Everyone knows that protein builds strong muscles and helps keep you full, but I've yet to meet a young child who wants to sit down with a big steak and a bottle of horseradish. Thankfully, eggs are a clean and easy source of protein, and with as many different ways to cook them as there are kids, it's easy to keep them interesting.
How to get them to eat it: Scrambled eggs with cheese is classic kid comfort food, but a boiled egg can be a fun addition to a sack lunch (draw a funny face on it with a pen or marker!). German pancakes (or egg pancakes) are a tasty option for tots who prefer sweet to savory.
Many kids are surprisingly potassium deficient-a problem that can manifest in a variety of ways, including lethargy and memory problems. This necessary nutrient, which is also found in dried apricots, figs, and plums, helps regulate the body's nervous and muscular systems.
How to get them to eat it: Thankfully, most kids already love bananas but if your little one has an issue with the texture or taste, try blending frozen banana chunks with yogurt and fruit for a creamy smoothie.
Research shows a link between memory, test-taking skills and, gulp, eating fish for breakfast. While that's not typically pleasing to little palates, the benefits are huge. The omega 3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like wild salmon have been proven to reduce depression and hyperactivity and increase focus and concentration. In addition, all that high quality protein keeps kids' blood sugar (and therefore their moods) steady while keeping them full for hours.
How to get them to eat it: Studies have shown that pregnant women who eat fish have kids that are more likely to enjoy the taste. Since the womb is a one-way ticket; however, the next best thing is repetition. Try starting with something familiar like tuna melts, then adding some canned salmon to scrambled eggs. You can also try a milder-tasting fish like cod. Encourage kids to eat whole foods over supplements. Sadly, goldfish crackers don't count (although they are yummy!).
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Permissions: Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.