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Nutrition for Kids

Adequate nutrition for children consists of meals and snacks that include a variety of fresh, whole organic foods. Whole foods are vegetables, fruits, unrefined grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed animal foods. Healthy foods provide for:

  • strong immune systems and elimination of common health complaints
  • high energy, physical stamina, and balanced weight
  • good concentration and learning
  • self-discipline and a calm attitude

The easiest way to make healthy food available for your kids is to plan ahead. Involving your kids in planning and cooking meals will increase their interest in food and establish life-long healthy eating habits.

Rationale for eating whole foods

Most of the common health problems for kids (headaches, earaches, respiratory issues, eczema and rashes, constipation/diarrhea, tooth decay, muscle-aching and tenderness, depression, anxiety, and fatigue) can be alleviated by adjusting the variety of fresh, organic, whole foods and pure water available. Chronic health problems that are on the rise for children such as diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and behavioral disorders can also be addressed with healthier food and lifestyle choices.

Eating whole organic foods will also help your kids with learning and concentration. Teachers report that kids with healthy eating habits have more energy, fewer health complaints, increased attendance, are alert and enthusiastic about learning, less moody and calmer. Such students drink plenty of pure water and eat a variety of fresh whole food choices free of additives and grease products.

How do whole foods help?

A variety of fresh and whole foods provide nutrition for the body’s cells and also fiber and fats that encourage elimination of residues and metabolic waste. Kids’ behaviors improve as whole food vitamins and minerals help their brains process energy from glucose and proteins, make essential brain chemicals, assist nerves that conduct information, help in the storage of recent memory events, and improve the absorption of iron needed by the brain.

Fiber is important in maintaining health, including weight management, regulation of blood fats (lipids), and maintenance of normal bowel movements. Kids can get adequate amounts of fiber by eating whole foods. Sometimes a teaspoon of ground seeds (like chia, flax, etc.) added to a daily smoothie is also beneficial. Fiber can help an overeating child to cut down on caloric intake and chew more, promoting a sense of fullness. Fiber is also helpful in lowering elevated blood cholesterol levels.

What’s the difference between a whole food and a processed food?

The nutrient content of a whole food is typically higher than a processed food. For example, a basic raw apple is a grouping of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes, fiber, protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Once the apple is processed into apple sauce or another processed “apple treat” at least one half of the Vitamin C is lost simply due to the removal of the skin, and the other components are reduced or altered.

Many parents and kids are mis-informed about what grocery items are whole foods. For example, the “wheat berries” found in the bulk aisle are the whole version of wheat. Whole wheat flour or a cereal made from whole wheat flour, albeit better than refined white flour, are not whole foods. A grain is whole and unrefined if the entire kernel is unaltered. A whole grain contains three parts: the endosperm (containing starch and protein), the germ (rich in unsaturated fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamin E, B-complex vitamins, and minerals), and the bran (high in fiber and minerals and B vitamins).

The best whole grains to eat are in the form of steamed brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, etc. These grains are very cheap and easy to steam, or bake. Another healthy alternative for whole grain bread is to eat sprouted bread. It is better because the grains have not been milled and dried. If you prefer to eat flour products, the most nutritious way to do so is to purchase the whole grain (wheat berries, spelt, millet, brown rice, quinoa, etc.) and mill it yourself, or use a high-powered dry blade blender, and use it for baking immediately. Once the flour sits around for days or more, it loses nutritional value.

Most of our food supply is processed, and things like artificial colorings and flavorings, preservatives and conditioners are added to the foods. Buy the foods that are as close to nature as possible. Natural foods have a life force that nourishes our own. The more steps in processing that are put into a food product, the more its life force is altered and nutrition is lost. As a result the processed food product is not as good for your body or your mind.

Most chemical and food additives are derived from coal-tar petroleum or commercial grade corn, to which some kids are allergic. It is important to recognize that a food or food additive may cause a reaction for your kids. The majority of negative food reactions are cerebral or “in the brain,” meaning they result in drowsiness, moodiness, poor concentration or fatigue. Other typical reactions include: headaches, hives, nasal congestion, edema, gastrointestinal reactions, lethargy, eczema, headaches, excess motor activity, disorientation, faintness, and insomnia. The best way to prevent or resolve a reaction is to avoid the food and find a healthier option.

What about organic vs. conventional?

Preliminary research demonstrates that organic foods are more nutritious than their conventional counterparts. This is especially true for minerals because organically-farmed soil is typically better cared for and higher in minerals. Research indicates higher levels of antioxidants and vitamins among organic berries, pears, peaches, and corn. Much more research is needed. We might also expect that people eating more organic foods have less chemical residues in their bodies and this is supported by studies. For the smaller bodies of kids, it may be especially important to protect them from excess chemical residues in food.

Why buy local?

Although it is easy toaccess many fruits and vegetables from around the world, flavor and quality are often sacrificed. In order to accommodate the transportation of food to a far off destination, it is often picked prior to maturity or ripeness. It is said that proper flavor never develops in food picked prior to maturity, so this is a major impetus for selecting local foods as much as you can: Because they taste better! Fruits (like peaches and apples, for example) picked too early can often develop a mealy texture. If you’re having a tough time developing veggie and fruit-eating habits in your kids, make sure you are using fresh foods from the garden, farmers market, or the Willy Street Co-op, where a special effort is made to make local produce available. Children who work with healthy food are more likely to eat it. Get your child more interested in fresh vegetables by enrolling him or her in a youth or family garden project. (Nathan Larson is the Education Program Director at Friends of Troy Gardens; you can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-240-0409, or log onto their website at: Also, take the family to enjoy Madison’s Food for Thought Festival in September to learn more about cooking and access to local organic foods (visit for more details).

The caregiver’s role

The parent’s (defined broadly as primary caregiver’s) role in preventing poor eating patterns for children is to provide a home environment that promotes healthy habits.

Parents profoundly influence children by promoting values and attitudes, rewarding or reinforcing specific behaviors, and by serving as role models. Parents are the policy- makers for the home through their daily decisions on physical activity, food availability and setting.

In the process of teaching your kids to eat healthy and providing the environment where this can happen, parents need to be aware of the potential effects of direct marketing of foods towards their kids. In America since the late 1970s, obesity rates have more than doubled among kids age 2-5 and 12-19 and tripled in kids aged 6-11. One of the consequences is that type 2 diabetes is no longer rare in pediatric practice. Distressed about the causes and economic costs associated with these increases, in 2004, Congress asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine the direct marketing of foods to children as one potential cause. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) study resulting from these efforts demonstrated that food marketing intentionally targets children too young to distinguish advertising from truth and the kids are then induced to eat “junk” foods that subsequently result in deterioration of their health and set the stage for chronic health problems to develop. Reviews of food giants, like McDonald’s, marketing strategies since the IOM report indicate that though they are providing healthier appearances and options, they continue to equally promote and make more affordable high-sugar, nutrient-devoid food products. Teach your kids that marketing is not reality and that we eat food to fuel our systems.

Shopping tips

Since studies indicate that healthy nutrition habits stem from healthy food being available in the home, let’s discuss how to stock your pantry:

Tip #1: When you go to the store, buy only the foods you want your children to have. This will avoid struggles over food at home.

Tip #2: Shop primarily from the organic produce section, the bulk food aisle and refrigerated sections. When you stroll to the checkout counter, your cart should be filled with food that is alive or as close to nature as possible. (Frozen fruits and vegetables can be almost as nutritious as fresh, especially if the fresh produce is coming from a long ways away.) A shopping cart full of boxes and cans is not as nutritious because the food was processed weeks to months previously, not to mention the chemical residues of the packaging that are imparted to the food.

Tip #3: Read the ingredient label. If you are choosing a packaged food, read the label to make the wisest choice.

  • Avoid a long ingredient list. The shorter the list the better as there will be less fillers and food additives. The simpler the food and the meal, the easier it will be for your child to digest and get the nutrients needed.
  • Avoid synthetic ingredients. Do not eat foods made in a laboratory. If you do not know how to pronounce or identify an ingredient, ask for help. (A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives by Ruth Winter is helpful as is Wikipedia on the internet).
  • Avoid sugar (including corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, sucrose, aspartame, Nutrasweet, Splenda). Labels stating brown rice syrup, whole cane juice, maple syrup, or agave nectar are better choices but not ideal. And, these natural sugars should be way at the bottom of the ingredient list as opposed to the top.
  • Avoid table salt (use sea salt or seaweeds like dulse flakes instead).
  • Avoid vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils. Reduce or eliminate foods that contain vegetable oils (canola, linseed, soybean, sunflower, etc.). These oils are unstable and disrupt healthy fat metabolism. Some labels will say “cold-pressed” oils and these are preferable. Olive oil and butter are the best options for fats. Fish, eggs, raw nuts and seeds (in whole or crushed forms) are also good suppliers of fats.
  • Avoid white flours and enriched refined flours.

Menu suggestions

Eating three meals per day is very important—skipping meals or delaying a meal will increase the appetite for sweets and instant gratification foods.

Quick breakfasts

Here are alternatives to bagels and cold cereal.

  • Energy drink (see recipe below)
  • Fresh fruit in season
  • Baked apple with cinnamon
  • Fresh avocado
  • Poached organic eggs
  • Baked sweet potato with butter and/or natural sweetener
  • Whole grain granola (Examples: Nature’s Bakery Almond Raisin, Cinnamon Apple Crunch or Maple Walnut Granola)
  • Sprouted Bread (Example: Ezekiel, Nature’s Bakery Essene) with avocado, butter, or raw almond butter. Rotate the breads you serve to avoid developing sensitivities or developing digestive issues)
  • Oatmeal, millet or brown rice hot cereal (Example: Bob’s Red Mill Creamy Rice Hot Cereal)

Nutrition for Kids (continued)

Easy lunches to pack for school

  • Add tomato, sprouts, lettuce or spinach to sandwiches.
  • Raw vegetables served plain or with dip (Example: Willy Street Co-op’s Hummus, Salsa, Guacamole, or Raw Nut Pate): red or green pepper rings, cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, celery, and broccoli or cauliflower florets. (Have the kids participate in cutting up the vegetables.)
  • Finely chopped vegetables added to egg, chicken or turkey salad to increase the vitamin and mineral content: carrots, celery, green peppers, and alfalfa sprouts.
  • Dice favorite vegetables and roll into a sprouted-grain wrap or brown rice tortilla with raw cheese or rice cheese, dress with mustard.
  • Whole grain crackers spread with nut butters or sugar-free jam (Examples: Dr. Kracker, Mary’s Crackers or Brown Rice & Sesame Crackers, all bionaturae-brand jams). These can be decorated with pieces of vegetables or fruits. Younger children can make “faces” using raisins or carrot rounds or half cherry tomatoes for eyes: cucumbers, celery, green or red peppers for nose and mouth; alfalfa sprouts for hair.
  • Soup: try to avoid canned ones which are lower in vitamin content and high in salt. Store-bought soups and broths (Example: Pacific Foods Organic broths) can be enhanced by the addition of vegetables, either pureedor in chunks

Convenient suppers

  • Puree vegetables and add them to soup and casseroles (kids can’t see them).
  • Even most children who hate vegetables will eat them in a stir-fry. Choose the veggies your kids like and stir-fry them. You may have more success at first if you combine them with thin slices of beef, poultry or fish. Another way to cook favorite vegetables is to steam them until tender but still crunchy, and then serve them with a tasty sauce (see recipe) or sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
  • Vegetable kabobs: Place chunks of raw vegetables and raw hard cheese on skewers (fruits can also be used).
  • Buckwheat, millet, or quinoa (great whole alternatives to pasta or couscous, see recipe)
  • Quick gazpacho (a liquid salad that kids will eat!)
  • Vegetarian Burgers by Nature’s Bakery (healthy and easy)
  • Grill peppers and zucchini along with your organic chicken, beef or fish
  • Add tomatoes, lettuce, onions and peppers to burritos and nachos
  • Add shredded carrots and broccoli to favorite dinners like macaroni and cheese

Snack ideas

  • The best snacks are fresh fruits and vegetables (like peanut butter and celery, baby carrots, raw green beans, steamed broccoli). Keep some nuts, seeds, dried fruit or Lara Bars in the car for “emergencies” when you need a quick snack!
  • Slice raw apples and add a dollop of raw almond or cashew butter.
  • Dried fruit is a nice alternative to sweets: Try mango, red bananas, currants, raisins, apricots, prunes, figs, pineapple. Be careful that these do not contain sulfur dioxide as a preservative (organic will be safe). Be careful of items like banana chips that may have added sugar.
  • Nuts: raw almonds and cashews are healthy choices. Do not feed nuts or seeds to a child under two to avoid choking (nut butters are okay).
  • Seeds: sunflower, pumpkin, flax, chia, sesame seeds. Buy raw, unsalted and unroasted and then roast at home with sea salt or Bragg’s liquid Aminos on a cookie sheet. Seed meal, made from grinding seeds, can be substituted for bread crumbs, flour, etc. as a binder.
  • LaraBars: the winner of the health bars. Simple whole food ingredients and tasty
  • Popcorn: plain or with a small amount of sprayed-on flax seed oil, ghee and/or Celtic sea salt. Pop your popcorn on the stove, or in an air popper.
  • Veggies plain or dipped in salsa, guacamole or cultured vegetables like kimchee or sauerkraut.
  • Raw goat or sheep cheese slices


  • Water: Water is an important nutrient and its cleansing cannot be replaced by other drinks. Have your child drink good water all day long as opposed to drinking juice or soft drinks. To make the water more interesting, you may add a small amount of juice or a squeeze of fresh orange or lemon, or liquid chlorophyll.
  • Sweetened beverages such as soft drinks and flavored drinks do not provide essential nutrients needed by growing children but do increase their caloric intake. Because of this concern, children should be encouraged to drink water and diluted vegetables juices.
  • Milk: I generally do not advocate cow’s milk. If you can acquire raw cow’s milk that is better. Raw goat and sheep milks are much easier on the body. Alternatives such as soymilk, rice milk, and almond milk are good choices (be sure they do not have added sugar in the form of cane juice, etc. See recipes below for making your own).
  • Chocolate milk alternatives: strawberry milk, carob chip shake (see recipes)

Overcoming difficulties

Although it’s the parent’s job to provide the healthy foods, the child’s job is to decide if and how much they eat. Appetite variation from day to day is normal. Involving the kids in planning and cooking meals will improve their interest in food.

When children are given numerous opportunities to try new foods without being forced to eat them, many of the foods initially rejected will become part of their diet. Non-coercive persistence is key. Also teaching kids to eat reasonable amounts by controlling portion sizes and encouraging kids to stop eating when they are full is important.As kids get older, they begin to make their own choices and influence family food purchases. Parents can promote healthy eating by making nutritious foods available at the home and by encouraging family meal times (no TV). Research indicates that the more families eat together, the more likely youth will consume fruits, vegetables, grains and calcium-rich foods.

Handling sugar withdrawal

It is not unusual for a person, young or old, to experience symptoms of withdrawal when sugar consumption is drastically reduced or eliminated. The primary symptom is often more frequent hunger. Handle this by feeding your child more often, making the snacks more substantial than usual. High-energy foods are crucial at this time. Complex carbohydrates are very important: rice, beans, seeds, nuts, vegetables like baby red potatoes and sweet potatoes. A fiber drink also helps to stabilize blood sugar as does carob (a chocolate substitute). A pizza made with a brown rice pizza crust, favorite vegetables, tomato sauce, and shredded rice cheese is excellent for satisfying hunger and for high energy. Lemons can be used to counteract the urge to eat sugar and can be a substitute for salt in recipes.


Date Shake (Serves 2)

1/2-1 cup chopped, pitted dates
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ripe banana, sliced
2 cups milk (rice or almond—you can purchase this already made or make this yourself by combining cooked brown rice with water and a little maple syrup in a blender, or for almond milk: soak almonds over night, drain and blend with water, sweetening with a natural sweetener, if desired)

Directions: Blend all ingredients until smooth in a blender.

Basic Smoothie Recipe (Serves 2-3)

2 frozen bananas, cut into chunks (or 2 cups peaches, mango, berries for variation)
1 cup fresh berries or other ripe seasonal fruit like peaches, seeded and cut into chunks
1 cup water
1 cup apple juice, pineapple juice

Directions: Blend in a blender.

Healthy additions: 2 Tbs. sunflower, chia or sesame seeds (high in fatty acids, minerals, and fiber), flaxseed oil (key source of essential fatty acids), piece of kale or spinach. Many of these additions in small amounts do not affect the taste of the beverage and are a good way to add healthful nutrients to your body.

Quinoa with Buckwheat (Serves 4)

This is a change from rice, pasta or couscous—a light, quick-cooking dish featuring quinoa, called “the mother grain” because it is a close relative to one of the earliest, most nutritious grains.

1/2 cup light buckwheat (groats, kasha)
1 cup quinoa
2 cups boiling water

Directions: Toast buckwheat in a heavy pan over high heat, stirring continuously for 5 minutes. Add quinoa and toast for an additional three minutes. Add boiling water, stir once, lower heat, and cover. Cook for about 8 minutes or until grain is done, yet firm. Add more water, if necessary. Serve with sautéed vegetables.

Methods of cooking fresh vegetables

  • Use a plastic or natural bristle brush to scrub vegetables; avoid peeling to retain vitamins in or under the skin
  • Use little or no water when cooking since most of the important water-soluble vitamins (C and B vitamins) in vegetables will end up in the water. Unless you are making a soup, they will be lost. Boiled vegetables are usually the least appetizing. If you have water left over from cooking vegetables, refrigerate it and use it as a base for future soups and sauces.
  • Steam vegetables in a small amount of water in a heavy panon the stove; or use a stainless steel basket or bamboo steamer. For this method, bring a small amount of water to a boil in a saucepan with a lid (water should not be high enough to touch the vegetables) place vegetables in the steamer, lower the heat and cover. Do not add salt. Cook until tender, but not soft. Green vegetables such as broccoli are done when they are a bright shade of green.
  • Stir-fry (cut in small pieces) or sauté in a small amount of olive oil, clarified butter, or grapeseed oil until tender yet crisp.
  • Bake alone or in casseroles.
  • Serve vegetables immediately after cooking to prevent vitamin loss.

Healthy sauce suggestions for vegetables

Honey Mustard Dressing

1 Tbls prepared mustard
1 Tbls honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbls olive oil

Directions: Combine and drizzle over vegetables or put in lunch wrap.

Quick Gazpacho (Serves 4-6)

This is actually a liquid salad that is most acceptable to children—especially on hot, late-summer days

1 green pepper, cut in chunks
4 tomatoes, cut in chunks
1/2 cucumber, peeled and cut in half
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half
6 garlic cloves, cut in half
1/2 to 1 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Blend vegetables, olive oil, and vinegar in blender or food processor until smooth. Add some cold water if soup tastes too strong. Chill well or serve, garnished with pieces of scallion, cucumber and green pepper.


  • Strawberry Milk: 1 cup almond milk, 1/2 cup strawberries, 1 tsp sweetener. Blend until smooth
  • Carob chip shake: 2 cups almond milk, 3 frozen bananas, 1 Tbls carob chips sweetened or unsweetened. Blend in blender until smooth. Substitution: Sunspire Chocolate Chips can be substituted for the carob chips. They are sweetened with barley malt instead of refined sugar.
  • Home-made soda: Combine in a blender 2/3 cup of unsweetened fruit juice (grape, apple, pineapple, orange), 1/3 cup of plain seltzer, and some ice cubes. Blend well and serve. If your child complains that the drink is not sweet enough, add a small amount of honey or maple syrup.

For further reading

Kid Smart by Cheryl Townsley. Lifestyle for Health Publishing, 1996.

Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance. Institute of Medicine. 2005.

Eating for A’s: A Delicious 12-Week Nutrition Plan to Improve Your Child’s Academic and Athletic Performance by Alexander Schauss, Barbara Friedlander Meyer, and Arnold Meyer. Pocket Books, New York, 1991.

Fell’s Official Know it All Guide to Health and Wellness by T. Morter. Frederick Fell Publishers, Inc. 2000.

“Eating Made Simple: How Do You Cope With a Mountain of Conflicting Diet Advice?” by Marion Nestle. Scientific American September 2007:60-69.

“Food Marketing and Childhood Obesity —A Matter of Policy” by Marion Nestle. New England Journal of Medicine 2006; 354:2527-2529.

“Commentary: Food Industry Promises to Address Childhood Obesity: Preliminary Evaluation” by A. Lewin, L. Lindstrom and M. Nestle. Journal of Public Health Policy 2006;27:327-348.


Vegetarian Cooking for People with Allergies by Raphael Rettner

The Vegetarian Lunchbasket by Linda Haynes

Kid Smart by Cheryl Townsley

Eating for A’s. A Delicious 12-Week Nutrition Plan to Improve Your Child’s Academic and Athletic Performance by Alexander Schauss et al.

Special thanks to member-owners AnnO’Brien, Becky Fraire, and Kellie Unke and staff member Tim (in the wellness section) for input.

Dr. Katy Wallace is Willy St Coop’s Nutrition Consultant. She specializes in helping people resolve their health problems by eating better. This fall, she is offering healthy food tours, 45-min nutrition sessions and free health lectures in the store. Please see the Events listing for more detail. Dr. Katy also offers private consults and Body Tune-up Workshops covering food-based cleansing and naturopathy: