Fruits and vegetables are undoubtedly good for you but buying produce that isn’t fresh or that comes from unknown sources may end up being detrimental to your health. There are fruits and vegetables on the U.S. Environmental Group’s “dirty dozen,” or list of produce that have been found to have the highest amounts of pesticide residue. Such contaminants can lead to food-borne illnesses. This is one reason why people buy organic food—they’re assured that the produce was grown without the help of potentially harmful chemicals.
Aside from choosing your fruits and vegetables wisely, handling and storage can also protect against contamination. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration thus has some general guidelines for food safety:
- Choose produce that is not bruised or damaged.
- When buying pre-cut or pre-packaged produce, make sure they’re refrigerated at the store and once you get home.
- Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Store fruits and vegetables like strawberries and lettuce in the refrigerator. (Bananas can be kept at room temperature as they ripen faster in the fridge.)
- Handle produce with clean hands.
- Wash produce thoroughly with water before eating or cooking with them. Dry with a clean kitchen towel or a paper towel.
- Cut away and bruised areas of fruits and vegetables.
Your Shopping List
Below is a list of fresh produce that can help boost your kids’ brain power and protect their eye health. We’ve included specific tips for choosing the freshest possible produce and how to prep them so your kids will enjoy them.
Spinach and other green, leafy vegetables. Dark leafy greens contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which help reduce the risk for cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (or AMD, which is vision loss in the part of the eye called the macula). They’re also a rich source of folate, vitamins, and antioxidants that help with brain development. Aside from spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, kale, even and even kangkong are great options.
SHOPPING TIP: When buying these vegetables, go for those with fresh, crisp leaves (not wilted ones). For broccoli, darker is better.
HOW TO PREP: Wash thoroughly, making sure to remove any dirt on the leaves and stems. Get kids to eat greens by baking kale or kangkong chips, using romaine lettuce as a wrap with a chicken or tuna filling, or mixing spinach into lasagna or an omelet. You can even turn the green veggies into a smoothie.
Carrots. These orange vegetables have a high beta-carotene content and are top of mind when it comes to eye health. They are said to especially help with night vision.
SHOPPING TIP: Choose carrots that are straight and firm, not those that are cracked.
HOW TO PREP: Chop of the top and tip, peel, and rinse before use. You can turn them into carrot sticks (serve them with a homemade ranch dip or hummus to make them more enticing) or roast them to bring out their natural sweetness.
Apples. Apples are a good source of quercetin, an antioxidant that protects brain cells. Research at Cornell University found that quercetin guards brain cells against free radical attacks, thus preserving brain function.
SHOPPING TIP: When buying apples, choose those that are firm to the touch. Anything that feels mushy is overripe.
HOW TO PREP: Wash thoroughly and slice when ready to eat; otherwise, squeeze with lemon to keep the flesh from going brown.
Citrus fruits. Free radicals are thought to be responsible for a lot of oxidative stress in the eyes, which may lead to impaired vision. Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits (like oranges and grapefruit), is known to have free radical-fighting antioxidants.
SHOPPING TIP: Choose oranges that seem heavy for their size—this means that they’re juicier.
HOW TO PREP: Slice them up and include them as a healthy snack for kids in their lunch boxes.
Fish. Oily fish are a rich source of omega-3, which is important to brain development, has been linked to improved memory function, and may lower the risk of AMD. Some fish to try: salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and tuna.
SHOPPING TIP: When buying whole fish, make sure the eyes are clear and bright, that the fish itself is shiny, and that it has no foul smell. Gills should look red. Fish fillets should be vibrantly colored and have no unpleasant smell. Any liquid coming from the fish should be clear and not milky.
HOW TO PREP: Bake or grill fish seasoned with salt and pepper and a splash of lemon for a simple, healthy dish.
Eggs. Eggs are a great source of protein—important for growing kids—and also have iron, folate, and vitamin A. The yolk has plenty of choline, which is important for brain development, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health.
SHOPPING TIP: When buying eggs, check the expiry date on the container. If you’re iffy about the eggs in your fridge, do the float test: Fresh eggs sink in water. Some eggs that float are still edible—crack it open to check the smell. Throw it out if it smells foul.
HOW TO PREP: Make a sandwich using mashed hardboiled eggs mixed with a little mayo in whole-grain bread.