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Superfoods Recipes for Your Child & You

Superfoods Recipes for Your Child & You

Look, I’ll start by apologizing for that clickbait headline, okay? Because I know that you know that superfoods are a myth, and nothing but marketing hype, really. (In case you do think there’s something to it, may I leave you with the reading list at the end of this article?)

However, let me explain a bit what we’re doing here, despite that headline! There’s a few different reasons we, at the Nestery, felt the need for this article:

  • Superfoods are being pushed at you, from every corner of every media screen and billboard and newspaper and magazine. You may as well evaluate the claims, yes?
  • You are likely also hearing a whole heap of new claims on foods for immunity in this Covid-19 pandemic, and perhaps panicking that your baby refuses to eat as much as or any of what is suggested as a panacea! 
  • Claims and marketing hype notwithstanding, we do want to offer our children—and indeed, the whole family—a wholesome, nutrient-dense diet in a world where refined and processed foods full of nutritionally empty(-ish), cheap calories are the norm, because shelf life!
  • There are no superveg (or superfruits!), but eating more than five types of fruit and veg a day is better for you—in fact, aim for 7-10 helpings while you are at it, or almost a kilo (800g) for adults —and less because of the antioxidants, more because of the minerals, vitamins and, critically, fibre.
  • We just wanted to help you with some easy options in these busy as well as festive times :)

Which superfoods are in your pantry? Image by Brincando Por from Pinterest


But first, one more myth to bust: raw veggies and fruits do not always trump cooked, and cooked can be quite handy nutritionally and in terms of other health support, like fighting cancer!

So… foods can still heal and improve immunity, right?

Nope, and in fact, if they could, ‘extra’ immunity or an ‘immunity boost’ is outright dangerous! Even with the novel coronavirus in play. Do read this, this, this and this. What you want is simply optimum immunity, which can be reduced by a poor diet. So as long as you follow basic guidelines on wholesome eating, your baby/toddler/older child will be doing fine.

Also remember, Immunity does not mean they never fall sick! Quite the reverse—a triggered immune system will actively make you sneeze, get a fever, make eyes water, etc. 

Wait… what’s a portion?

For an adult, a portion is 3 heaped tablespoons of any cooked vegetable, or a medium-sized fruit like a mandarin, apple or pear, or one small banana. For toddlers, however, a portion is as many tablespoons of any food as their age in years—so one spoon for a 1-year-old, two spoons for a two-year-old, and three spoons for a three-year-old.    

Leafy Green Vegetables

Leafy vegetables get such a bad rap—hard work to clean and cook, maybe hard for a baby to digest(?), often bitter or astringent, maybe slimy or stringy… Yet the truth is, all those antinutrients we worry about are easy enough to defeat with cooking

 

 Pizza is a great vehicle for veggies—and you can keep them as separate as your child likes or blend them into a sauce! Image by Willi Heidelbach from Pixabay 

 

Why you want them: The key reason they are promoted by child and maternal health watchdogs like WHO and UNICEF is because they are, like red-orange vegetables (see below), key foods for beta-carotene, the vitamin A precursor—which makes them critical to eye health—as well as vitamin C, which aids the absorption of iron. Many leafies contain iron themselves, or calcium, or both—and they pair well with legumes, fish, meats and eggs too! They are also the key to getting the elusive blood-clotting vitamin K and folate!  

How best to eat them: Try not to pulverize all the texture out of them each time. It’s fine to have them in a smoothie or soup sometimes; but chewing fibrous veg is good for your baby’s teeth and leafies are some of the easiest.  Do shred small for babies and toddlers, though—don’t offer large leaves, unless cooked crisp. Also, eat a variety of the seasonal greens, and try to serve some every day.

 

 

10 a day is not so hard when you get 5 or more in a meal—like this! Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay 

 

Child-endorsed serving suggestions:

  • Pasta sauces—call it a pesto or a green goddess, it is yummy with cheese and/or nuts, or even with plain cream or milk and a hint of nutmeg! Add a little lemon juice to counter the bitterness of some greens and aid iron absorption too. We like basil and pine nuts, basil and peanuts, spinach and walnuts...
  • Shredded and stir-fried, with chopped onions, and occasionally raisins or apples for sweetness, or even mixed in with pumpkin. This trick uses the interplay of bitter and sweet to make them that much more palatable—and notice, there comes the vitamin A and vitamin C as well.
  • For a simple stir-fry, we love almost every green with garlic and cumin, and a squeeze of lime at the end.
  • I have a special place in my own heart for radish greens with coconut.
  • Try mixing them into fried rice, and add some pineapple or peppers for a sweet-sour tang.
  • Remember you can maximize iron absorption by adding even small amounts of meat or seafood to the dish, if you eat them—a few prawns or a rasher of bacon, or something like gongura mamsam.
  • Sarson ka saag with spring onions is popular with many kids, mainly because of the dollops of butter and paratha on the side, I do suspect, just palak paneer goes down a treat because of the cottage cheese!

 

https://www.thespruceeats.com/sarson-ka-saag-1957985

Great with roti, great as a dip. Image by Julia Hartbeck from The Spruce Eats

 

  • Try tambli or dals with various greens—fenugreek, in particular, complements legumes beautifully.
  • Don’t forget chutneys and thokkus!
  • An unusual favorite with my own child is “green eggs”, a la Dr Seuss—which is nothing more fancy than mixing up beaten eggs and a little milk with finely chopped leafies, made into a fat omelette. 
  • Bathua roti and methi thepla are also much beloved, and often become a packed snack.  
  • Speaking of snacks, they are pricey, but if they do land in your lap… make these kale crisps! My infant used to devour them faster than the microwave could crackle the leaves. 

 

Bonus: Brassica, the gateway veg

Close cousin to the other leafies, the brassicas—cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kohlrabi—are also great for fibre and micronutrients, though not as much protein as leafies. 

 

 Here's another meal with 5 veggies or more already! It doesn't always take several dishes, you see. Image by ArtificialOG from Pixabay 

 

Why you want them: They’ve got vitamin K, again. Also, if you can get over the sometimes smelly aspect of these veg, they are often rather easy to flavour, being fairly bland on their own. They make great dipping sticks, for instance, like cooked beans, long before your baby or toddler is ready for raw carrots and cucumber.

How best to eat them: Well, you want to counter the sometimes stinky sulphurous smell and hopefully add some flavour, plus leave it easy for a child to pick up and chew, so consider steaming or roasting.

Child-endorsed serving suggestions:

  • Steamed broccoli with… nothing really! Or maybe some cheesy dip. 
  • Consider a salad like gado-gado with peanut butter paste.
  • Cauliflower is awesome roasted and dressed like a warm salad. 
  • Brussels sprouts are stunning with some bacon.
  • Try a Kashmiri kohlrabi, tops and all.
  • We adore a basic cabbage poriyal or thoran.

Cabbage with or without coconut or sesame seeds is a quick, easy side—and when they are older, try coleslaw or kimchi! Image by Nish Kitchen

  • I often make a variation if this soup with a can of baked beans, or leftover rajma or chickpeas, adding shredded cabbage in. 

 

Red-Orange Veggies

We are talking everything from orange sweet potatoes and carrots to pumpkins, coloured peppers aka capsicums, tomatoes, and even chilies, as well as papayas and mangoes. 

 

 

Why you want them: Like the green stuff, the key nutrient in these is beta-carotene—that orange stuff is hidden in the leafy greens, but shows up in full glory here. Also, most of these veggies have the benefit of lots of vitamin C, not just the vitamin A precursor. For some reason, probably because they are mostly fruits (which the plant wants disseminated, and seeds disseminated) or starch storage organs (carrots and sweet potatoes), they are also nice and yummy sweet, or at best bland.

How best to eat them: Daily, is all we want to say!

Child-endorsed serving suggestions:

  • Roasted is great for all the starchy veg here—pumpkin, carrots, or sweet potatoes—and they can substitute for grains on the plate, even. Just a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper or chilli flakes, with or without herbs is how we like them best.
  • For peppers, I used to always roast them, then sometimes puree into a pasta sauce or dip for bread and veggies, but my child actually prefers them raw in sandwiches and salads, or just on the side alongside rice and legumes.
  • Peppers are great for stuffing into portable meals and snacks—add potatoes, rice, mincemeat, crumbled paneer or tofu, whole legumes and beans…

 

https://in.pinterest.com/pin/295056213086630513/

Stuff and roast peppers for 20 minutes, with or without cheese or nuts on top. Image by Bloglovin from Pinterest 

  • I am not a fan of mangoes myself, but they can be surprisingly nice in a salad, especially one that is more protein-rich (with beans, legumes, meats or seafood—I like it best with prawns, or with some peanut butter dressing with Thai flavours).
  • You probably don’t need telling what to do with papaya, but I’ll tell you the unusual thing they do in my birth family—they sprinkle lime juice and black pepper on the slices!

 

Berries, True and False

The most common ‘berries’—think Strawberry Shortcake and Friends—are technically not berries for the most part! Cranberries, blueberries, lingonberries, gooseberries and Indian gooseberries (amla) are legit, as are grapes. But so are bananas, papaya, oranges, avocados, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes, brinjal… And strawberries and mulberries are not! For the purpose of easy conversation, though, we will stick to the commonly understood category of fruits—low-sugar but still sweet enough to be regarded as not-vegetables (that takes cucumbers and squash out), and let’s keep the mango and banana out of here.

 

How many berries are there in that...? Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

 

Why you want them: Most of them are yummy and easy to eat! Many of them freeze well too. They are also usually lower in sugar and calories (especially if you hold vitamins even in the balance) than stone fruits and tropical fruits. On the other hand, there’s no special nutrition in an apple, old saying or not; it’s just a nice treat. 

How best to eat them: Fresh or frozen, though they are still yummy in other foods and certainly a better sweetener than glucose, dextrose, sucrose, maltose… you get my drift! And most of them don’t need any prep. But really, don’t bother spending a week’s salary on blueberries and goji berries—they are not somehow outperforming everything else you eat. Just eat lower-sugar fruits, from apples to jamun and amla—and use them instead of candy and mithai and other desserts. In fact, a fruit basket—not a juice or dried fruits basket!—is one of the newer Diwali gifting traditions I can fully get behind, especially if you can’t convince people to stick to savouries (and then those have excess salt and spurious oils and high-temperature processing and refined flours to worry about). But don’t overdo it, as just because it is natural, does not mean fruit sugars (fructose) are harmless entirely. 

Child-endorsed serving suggestions:

  • Treat it as dessert, with cream or yoghurt.
  • Use it instead of artificial syrups or jaggery or jams to top a toast, a sundae, or even kheer.
  • Add it to a cheese plate.
  • Whiz into smoothies, and a handful of greens while you are at it.
  • Turn them into raita—not just pineapple and pomegranate, we like 
  • Don’t hesitate to add it to savoury sprouts chaats and salads! It’s an easy way to add another helping to take you from 5 to 10 a day! For school-age kids, here’s a fun version they can assemble (some hard foods in there, so not for toddlers.)
  • We like some fruits in cooked savoury dishes, like a guava curry or watermelon rind sabzi.
  • Pop them over curd rice or into koshambri, along with salad veg like grated carrots.
https://in.pinterest.com/pin/552465079293842931/

Even a curd rice can take veggies, once your child is old enough for the raw stuff, and pomegranate pearls are great even for baby gums. Image by Maayeka from Pinterest  

 

  • Make fruit kebabs glazed with lime juice (slightly thickened with honey, and you can even roll them in coconut)
  • Don’t forget coconut chutney and guacamole count too.
  • I used to love carrot sticks glazed with honey and rolled in grated coconut as a child, and that’s a good occasional treat.
  • Add freshly squeezed orange juice to stir-fries and roasted veg or meats, or even fish (in Bengal, it turns up in winter fish curries much as tamarind would!) 
  • For older kids, consider slices of fruit in homemade yoghurt popsicles! 
  • Btw, the rare parent will encounter a baby like mine, who spits out anything sweet; this is when traditional berries, half-ripened mango, citrus fruits and other such tangy fruit may be worth trying, instead of writing off the babe as “fussy”.

 

Whole Grains (and Pseudo-grains)

The West said oats, and we asked what’s wrong with indigenous millets, oats are for horses…! Yes? Well, first of all, millets came from Africa, considerably west of here, actually. But yes, they are a lot kinder to the environment and depending on the variety, better for the environment and even for you compared to wheat or rice, especially that stripped white rice. And oats are still pretty good for you, like they are for a pony. As for pseudo grains like amaranth and quinoa, think of them as straddling this category and the next both.

 

 

https://in.pinterest.com/pin/100838479137146079/


Overnight oats are endlessly adaptable. Image by Sunshine Wellness Institute from Pinterest

 

Why you want them: The ancient grains are budget-friendly, easy to grow, easy to store, provide B-vitamins, minerals, calcium and even some fat, so they are nutritious, and for low-dairy households, ragi (finger millet) really does have a good bit of calcium. I’d say you are better off choosing them for reasons of taste, texture and ecology than nutrition alone though—because they can be fairly comparable to more popular ‘new/mainstream grains’ like wheat and rice in at least some respects. They do have lots of fibre, of course, and unrefined grains in general boost your protein intake.

How best to eat them: See where we said ‘whole’ grains? That’s because the whole grain is literally better for you than even the whole-grain flour (atta). Sprouting does help with the bioavailability of nutrients too, if you can manage it; else even soaking will help, especially for sorghum, which has some cyanide in the native state.

Child-endorsed serving suggestions:

  • Replace a quarter to a third of the grain in dosa and idli batter with millets like ragi, well-fermented or sprouted.
  • You can build a little—or big!—Buddha bowl, like this, or like this. Babies are natural grazers, and even slightly older children (toddler up) are naturally picky, so letting them assemble their own, or keeping quantities really small helps. It’s a great way to introduce a little something new on the back of something already beloved, too.

Buddha bowls are great for picky eaters to serve themselves—you can ensure stuff stays separate and they can be adapted for fingerfood or spoon practice. Image by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

 

  • As a treat for older kids, bake—or buy, from a reliable source—some cookies! Or surprise them with pancakes (literally needs no recipe except enough milk or plant milk to mix, a little pinch of baking soda, some cinnamon or cardamom, sit half an hour and go!). 
  • As for oats, we love it layered into a ‘parfait’, with layers of (1) yoghurt, with or without cream, alternating with (2) toasted rolled oats, mixed with nuts and seeds (see below), dehydrated fruits (even coconut!) and (3) fresh fruits. It’s one of the most fun things for a youngster to assemble. 
  • We love adding oats to smoothies too—same as the parfait, only don’t toast the oats, and whiz the lot together. Helps get it nice and ice-creamy/slush-y if at least half the fruit is frozen.
  • And of course, overnight oats, where you mix oats in with an equal quantity of yoghurt or milk or plant milk till well moistened, add a grated apple or two, a handful of seeds and nuts if you like, and refrigerate; add more topping next morning if you wish (we generally don’t sweeten as the apples are sweet already; but we do sometimes leave frozen berries to defrost in there too). Personally I like adding some nut butter in there for a creamy mouthfeel too, but the child’s preference is a sloppier texture! 

Nut and Seeds, aka ‘Dry Fruits’

We really want to exclude the raisins from this conversation. We can accept the desiccated coconut, though, and maybe the few prunes it takes to get constipation out of the way.

 

Adding nut butters to a smoothie amps up fibre, protein and more micronutrients. Image by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels 

 

Why you want them: Vitamin E, and especially if you are vegetarian, more so vegan, help with omega-3 fats. The best kind for you are in fish and seaweed—but your body can convert small amounts of the sort in nuts like walnuts, called ALA, into the same substance that is in seafoods, called DHA.

How best to eat them: Whole for the fibre and protein, but also, to an extent, as cold-pressed oils in salad dressings and such.

If you’re eating them in cereals, bars and chutneys, soaking or toasting really helps with the tiny amounts of anti-nutrients many of them come with (seeds don’t want to be eaten, not as far as the plant is concerned!) while aiding absorption of nutrients you do want. Ideally, soak or toast for maximum nutrition and safety, especially for babies and toddlers.

 

Child-endorsed serving suggestions:

https://in.pinterest.com/pin/1196337390954652/

Nut butters are easy fruit dips and the same combo can also be a sandwich. Image by Eat This, Not That! from Pinterest

  • Nut butters, the plain sort without sugar or salt, makes a great sandwich with bananas or apples, but is also yummy with roasted tomatoes to make a ‘chutney’ for parathas, idlis and the like.
  • Stir some nut pastes into curries too—for example, I add peanut butter to plain dry bottle gourd recipes as well as spinach or other stir-fried greens.
  • Nut milks
  • Mix milk or pastes into smoothies and yoghurt cups—and even add it to popsicles!

WARNING: No whole nuts or even pieces until all the baby’s molars are in and they are using them consistently and confidently!


Probiotics

These are basically foods that are fermented by bacteria that are also useful in our gut biome, especially lactofermented foods that have been influenced by Lactobacillus, and others by Bifidobacteria like kefir. They’ve been acquiring a cult following since the 1990s—but beware, they are not actually good for everyone! One weird side effect can be antibiotic resistance!

 

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-growing-role-of-probiotics

Probiotic Foods. Image by marekuliasz from Thinkstock

 Why you want them: Then again, for many of us—even babies—probiotics can help the gut heal after a dose of antibiotics and even work beneficially alongside them. Plus, they predigest some foods, taking away antinutrients like phytates or potential troublemakers like lactose (for those intolerant).   

How best to eat them: Ideally, to populate your (or your child’s) gut, what you want is raw probiotics—yoghurt, kefir, pickles like sauerkraut and kimchi, drinks like kombucha or kanji… But even foods that once had probiotics in them and are now ‘dead’ (because cooked) will be beneficial for nutritional purposes. 

Child-endorsed serving suggestions: 

Most children already love yoghurt plain; but just in case yours is an exception:

  • Consider raitas that go beyond the kachumber of tomato and onion and cucumber.
  • Try a smoothie.
  • Make a kadhi, with or without pakodas (you will lose some of the probiotic benefit from cooking).
http://gharguti.co.in/kadi-pakora-punjabi/

Kadhi is an easy meal for the child who doesn't enjoy plain yoghurt.  Image From Gharguti

  • Try draining the bite off it to make Greek yoghurt for a snack to eat with fruit—or spread on bread, fill in sandwiches.
  • If they like yoghurt, introduce them to buttermilk and kefir! Maybe even coconut yoghurt.
  • If all else fails, make them a cheddar-on-sourdough sandwich, maybe with a slice of pickle! 

Or just make your peace over dairy-free meals, sans yoghurt or buttermilk or kefir, and focus on:


Extra! Prebiotics

Could a truly sattvic diet be actively difficult for your digestion? Sounds bizarre, I know, but apparently, onions and garlic actually have key nutrients that probiotic bacteria live to eat! They are called prebiotics,  

 

https://www.sciencephoto.com/media/905938/view/prebiotic-foods-supporting-the-microbiome

The kind of fibre in many of these foods is great to feed probiotic bacteria pals in your tummy! Image by Sheila Terry from Science Photo Theory 

 

Why you want them: You feed your gut bacteria, and they give you good digestion. Simple! 

How best to eat them: The fibre is the key component here, so you don’t want to strain or juice these ingredients. It doesn’t have to the rajasik allium family though; you can even use oats and other whole grains to good effect! If you don’t want to cook, try bananas, ground-up flaxseeds, or peas.

Child-endorsed serving suggestions: 

  • Garlic roasted in whole bulbs along with other veg and then left on the plate to squeeze on to veg or bread or roti like toothpaste!
  • French onion soup, sans wine. (Gruyere has probiotics!)
  • Leek and potato soup, an Irish darling.
  • Peas, shelled and eaten straight from the pod (I prefer them organically grown for the purpose).
  • Flaxseed meal, in raita or morning porridge.

In this little yoghurt parfait, you have prebiotics and probiotics in the same meal, as one pretty package! Image by Lovefood Art from Pexels

 

Finally… let your child have chocolate?!

This is another one where you won’t need recipes, we’re sure. But I just want to say, while you should absolutely resist introducing sweets from babyhood, once the toddler/preschooler has encountered it, you are better off providing it regularly!

 

https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/the-health-hub/food-drink/recipes/chocolate/avocados-berries-chocolate/

Don't bother with the supposed health benefits of chocolate; just don't turn them into 'special food' to hanker after. Image by hollandandbarrett.com

Why you want it: Because if they don’t get it, they decide it is forbidden fruit and ergo, it gets sweeter every time they can sneak a taste. 

How best to eat it: Just aim for the darkest they can tolerate, and stick to ‘chocolate’, not ‘chocolate candy, which has way too much sugar, as well as dicey vegetable oils replacing the cocoa butter it should have.


Recommended reading:

Superfoods or Superhype

The Myth of ‘Superfoods’

Why ‘Superfoods’ are a Myth (and Who you can Blame for Inventing the Idea) 

Mythbusting superfoods : How marketing obscures science when it comes to what to eat

The Truth about Superfoods

Too Much of a Good Thing

And much as I generally disagree with Rujuta Diwekar, in this I have to stand with her...

The Last Conversation you will Ever Need to Have about Eating Right

What children should actually eat, according to Unicef

People Who Eat 10 Portions of Fruits & Vegetables a Day (couple of people of Indian origin, and the strategies they use make so much sense—and are easy!)

Bonus help with picky eating (but you won’t completely avoid it—it is a developmentally normal and healthy phase!), and please, read this book.

 

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Manidipa Mandal is a seven-year-old parent still learning about parenting. She also likes to read and write about ecology, biology (especially gender), food and travel.




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