Kid-Friendly, Eat-the-Rainbow Foods to Boost Vitamin C (and Immunity)
Looking for healthy recipes for kids? Start with five colorful choices.
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As the cold season approaches and Covid-19 hangs on, we’re all looking for ways to support our immune systems, especially for our kids. One key defense starts with eating healthy meals. While getting enough sleep and exercise and practicing good hygiene are also essential, Jennifer Tyler Lee, mother of two and co-author of the cookbook Half the Sugar, All the Love, says kids should follow three simple principles when eating to support immunity: eat a balanced diet, reduce their intake of added sugar, and boost their intake of vitamin C.
Tyler Lee says that these steps are the building blocks for healthy living. While eating a balanced diet helps ensure proper nutrition, it’s also important to limit added sugar, especially because more than seventy percent of processed and packaged food are loaded with unnecessary calories. “When you cook for yourself and focus on nutrient-rich veggies and fruits, you will have the added benefit of reducing sugar,” says Tyler Lee, a nutrition expert. Specifically, since our bodies don’t produce or store vitamin C, it’s vital to include sources of it in our diets to support immunity and help reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Kid-friendly rainbow of colors
Boosting vitamin C and encouraging kids to eat well can start by following a rainbow of five colors (more on that below), says Tyler Lee, creator of Crunch a Color, an award-winning card game to motivate kids to eat healthy meals and have fun. “Think about colors and instruments in a symphony. When there are many instruments in a symphony, it can be lovely. Veggies and fruits are like that, too,” she says. “Varying colors is an easy way to increase variety in your diet. The more variety you can build with nutrient-dense ingredients, the better it is for you.”
Tyler Lee first became serious about nutrition as a parent of a picky eater. Pasta and peas, she laughs, was the main dish her then-toddler daughter, now a teen, would eat. The secret to inspiring finicky eaters is to have kids cook their own food because they’re more likely to eat well, she says. “Cooking together is like a craft activity. It’s not really about the end product. It’s about the process of exploring and spending time together.”
Taking your children to the farmers’ market and finding a new ingredient or talking to farmers about which veggies they are growing are all part of cooking, says Tyler Lee, who teaches virtual cooking classes showcasing kid-friendly, healthy recipe ideas. “It’s developing an appreciation and a love for the food that you eat.”
The value of vitamin C
Because our bodies don’t produce or store vitamin C, it’s essential that vitamin C comes from a daily intake of healthy foods. “Vitamin C supports immune function and iron absorption,” explains Tyler Lee. “When it comes to food and immunity, probiotics and vitamin C are the only two things that have evidence-based science behind them,” she says.
Surprisingly, citrus fruits are not the only stars of vitamin C. “I encourage parents and kids to think about eating their colors. Try to get three colors on your plate at every meal.”
In keeping with Tyler Lee’s smart tips on nutrition and the idea to let the rainbow act as a guide, we’ve compiled a collection of fun, healthy, kid-friendly recipes that are rich in vitamin C.
1. Healthy, vibrant red foods
Beginning with red, Tyler Lee says red bell peppers top the list as a source of vitamin C. “But sometimes those are tough to get kids to eat,” she says. If so, look to kid-friendly strawberries and tomatoes to pack a nutrient-dense punch.
This easy recipe will have kids helping in the kitchen in no time. Plus, it’s a great way to use summer strawberries lingering in the freezer. Throw in dates instead of honey in this quick, healthy recipe for kids, and you’ll have the benefit of more fruit fiber. The fiber helps slow absorption of sugar in your body, making it easier to process.
Slow-cooker turkey chili lets kids help with meal prep for a soul-warming, no-hassle recipe. Boosted with corn, tomatoes, and red bell pepper, a bowl of this flavorful weeknight chili is packed with vitamin C, protein, and fiber. Plus, it’s gluten-free and low-carb. Top it with shredded cheese, diced avocado, and sour cream, and you’ll have a definite crowd-pleaser the whole family will love.
2. Citrusy orange and yellow fruits
For orange and yellow, Tyler Lee suggests anything citrus, such as mandarins, oranges, tangerines, and kumquats.
The versatility of chicken makes it a classic kitchen staple. This kid-friendly, low calorie, tangy chicken recipe makes a quick family meal for a weeknight healthy dinner. The recipe calls for rice or couscous as a side dish; for the healthiest choice, consider a whole-grain version such as brown rice or whole-wheat couscous, or try quinoa.
Smoothies are a convenient way to introduce fruits and veggies into kids’ diets, especially for picky eaters. It’s good to have a few family-friendly smoothie ideas on rotation to add excitement. This quick and easy tropical delight is packed with pineapple, oranges, mango, and banana. Loaded with vitamin C, this healthy smoothie recipe for kids is also rich in potassium, a mineral needed to regulate fluid balance and maintain blood pressure. Requiring only 15 minutes total time, it’s a delicious way to begin the day.
3. Mighty green foods
Following the rainbow, Tyler Lee points to kiwi fruit, which can be an anytime-addition to meals. For veggies, she suggests spinach and Brussels sprouts as nourishing options.
This healthy snack or appetizer recipe is a great way to give kids a dose of their greens and keep the whole family happy. Sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, these addictive, crispy chips are also gluten-free. Brussels sprouts are surprisingly high in vitamin C, plus, they are antioxidant powerhouses.
Chock-full of greens including zucchini, spinach, and broccoli, plus sweet potatoes and tomatoes, this weeknight pasta dish has it all. Kids can prep the veggies for this high-fiber main dish and blend the sauce. For variety, switch it up and serve with chicken tenders or meatballs, and use whole-grain pasta. Leftovers make for an easy healthy lunch the next day.
4. Powerful purple fruits and veggies
Purple cauliflower and cabbage are fun ways to add vitamin C to your family meals, says Tyler Lee. Blueberries and blackberries contain vitamin C, too.
If kids are willing to experiment with dinner ideas, you’ll want to try these tasty, low-carb cauliflower tacos, and consider making them with purple cauliflower! For the Mexican-inspired main dish, in addition to crispy oven-baked cauliflower, corn tortillas are stuffed with red cabbage and refried beans, with a squeeze of lime. The mayonnaise- and tomato-based drizzling sauce is perfect for diners who don’t like heat, but if you have chili lovers, you can go with a spicy chipotle sauce.
Start kids off with a healthy breakfast of waffles and blackberries. Taking just 35 minutes to make, this low-sugar recipe will be a huge hit with the whole family. Plus, you can use thawed frozen blackberries when fresh are out of season. The dark purple gems are loaded with vitamin K as well as vitamin C, and are high in antioxidants and fiber.
5. Wholesome white vegetables
Tyler Lee says that in her rainbow of healthy foods, white is its own category. Here, she picks cauliflower as a solid vitamin C veggie contender.
Picky eaters may refuse to eat cauliflower, but chances are they won’t be able to resist this kid-friendly, creamy soup, especially on a cold winter night. Add a kick of hot sauce for adults and keep it simple for little ones. Cauliflower has become a trendy, nutrient-rich veggie known as a healthy source of vitamins B, C, fiber, folate, and antioxidants.
You can’t go wrong when it comes to kid-friendly mac and cheese, and this version turns the popular classic into a veggie-packed meal. Prepare this dinner recipe in advance, if you like, or freeze it for later use. If you’re in a rush to have family dinner on the table, cut down on meal prep time by using frozen cauliflower.
How to cook with your kids
As Jennifer Tyler Lee notes, the chances of your kids enjoying healthy foods rise dramatically when they’re involved in the cooking. Here are some delicious recipes for getting started, from easy lunch ideas to kid-friendly dinners, and even ice cream.