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In order to get calcium, you have to drink milk. Your family will never meet their iron needs without beef. And omega-3s only come from fatty fish, right? Some important nutrients are so closely linked to certain foods and many parents think they have to serve those foods to keep their kids healthy. But whether your family is dealing with an allergy, specific dietary preferences, you’re just looking to break out of a food rut, there are lots of ways to load up on must have nutrients.


Why we need it For kids, calcium’s crucial for building strong bones and teeth. It helps ensure normal blood clotting, too.

The usual way to get it Milk and calcium go together for many families like peanut butter and jelly. But milk is the most common allergy among young kids, caused by a lack of the enzyme that breaks down the sugar found in dairy products. The result? Not -so-fun symptoms like hives, or dangerous symptoms like anaphylaxis for allergies, plus nausea, cramping, diarrhea, and gas for lactose intolerance.

The new way to get it Cow’s milk offers 300 milligrams of calcium per serving (about a quarter of the daily recommendations for kids ages 9 to 18), but so do fortified nondairy milks like soy, rice, and almond. “When it comes to calcium, fortified options are just as good,” says Margaret Wertheim, a Chicago-based registered dietician. Plenty of foods help, too: One tablespoon of blackstrap molasses (use it to sweeten oatmeal) boasts 200 milligrams of calcium, and a stir-fry with broccoli, bok choy, calcium-set tofu, and chopped almonds serves up more than 300 milligrams.


Why we need it For infants, iron’s crucial for brain and motor skill development, and getting enough also helps kids and tweens stay alert. It’s especially important for moms-to-be, too, who need more iron to help the baby and placenta grow. Too little of it, and kids and adults could end up feeling fatigued and have low energy, Wertheim says.

The usual way to get it With 3 milligrams per serving, beef has always been the front-runner. But the high prices for organic or natural grass-fed options can be tough, and red meat production isn’t exactly great for the planet, either.

The new way to get it Per serving, plant proteins like lentils and beans actually contain more iron than beef. But take note: They contain non-heme iron, which is slightly less absorbable than the heme iron found in beef, says Laura Isaacson, a registered dietitian at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. She recommends pairing foods rich in non-heme iron with something citrusy, like a glass of orange juice or lemon salad dressing, since vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.


Why we need them Omega-3s are called essential fatty acids for a reason: We need them to be healthy, but since the body doesn’t make them, we have to get them from a dietary source. Omega-3s play an important role in heart health and inflammation reduction–and since they’re crucial for brain development, they’re especially important for kids.

The usual way to get them Fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon might be the best-known sources of omega-3s, but they shouldn’t be the only source. King mackerel and ahi tuna have high mercury levels, which can be dangerous for pregnant women and young kids, Wertheim says.

The new way to get them A 4-ounce piece of salmon serves up 1.5 grams of omega-3s, which sounds like a lot. but consider this: Two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds pack more than 3 grams of the essential fatty acid; just 1/4 cup of walnuts, more than 2 grams.

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