I’m not a doctor, nor do I specialize in nutrition for kids, I don’t know what’s best for your individual kid, but I do have 2 kids, who are 7 and almost 5, and I will be sharing what has worked in my experience to raise kids who are healthy, resilient and balanced. I am obviously going to focus largely on food, but food is not the only piece to the health and immunity puzzle.
Just to give you my own personal experience, my kids are not “perfect healthy food” eaters. They like candy, they love foods like pizza and cake, and I rarely say they can’t have something. I’ve learned this the hard way, that if you are constantly forcing your kids to eat a certain way or eat certain foods, they will resist, that is just in their nature. So try to have a laid back approach, don’t focus as much on the everyday, and pay more attention to the big picture. Are you encouraging them to try new things and trying them with you? OR are you forcing them to eat everything on their plate with a threat attached to it if they don’t finish. I’m not perfect, by any means and have even used threats in the past with my kids to get them to do something I want them to do. “If you don’t eat your vegetables then you can’t have dessert”. I try to stop myself from giving those threats and instead say “Once you finish your veggies and meat which helps your body, then we can have XX.”
Make sure they are getting enough Protein
Prioritize this, how to get it in, include my tips on getting more protein from last post. Also remember that kids are much smaller than us – so for a 40 lb child, multiply their weight by .75, and that would be about 30 grams of protein per day, since kids eat meals and snacks (as they should since they are growing and usually burning so many calories), that is anywhere from 6g – 10g of protein per meal/snack. If they are only eating 3 meals a day, that is about 10g per meal which is very easy to achieve. That looks like: 2 eggs, 2 meat sticks, 1/2 cup greek yogurt, 3/4 cup of milk…
Balance blood sugar
There are a few ways to do this, and I’m sure, if you are a parent, you are aware of that after school crash?! Yes, it has to do with them being tired and then unravelling when they see their parents, but I find a lot of the time, my kids just need a snack. So I typically bring a small snack to pick them up so they can munch in the car and more often than not, that helps them stabilize their moods and we have fewer meltdowns.
Avoid “naked carbs” aka a fruit on its own. Kids need carbs, and healthy carbohydrates (not the processed stuff) should never be restricted with kiddos, but make sure they are getting protein with their fruit, so they can dip it in nut butter, have it with slices of cheese, or with a few nuts on the side.
Boost their immune system
There are the inevitable things kids do like share food with others, kiss each other, sneeze on each other. And obviously the younger they are, the harder it is to stop them from sharing their germs. So, while you can’t stop your kids from coming into contact with bacteria and viral infections, you can help them create a robust immune system so that they are able to fight off those colds and flus. One of the best ways to do this is through a variety of foods, and trying to get immune-boosting foods in as much as you can. 80% of the immune system is located in the gut, which means the healthy bacteria in the gut plays a very large role in their health. So feeding that healthy bacteria with prebiotic fiber, and also giving it probiotic-rich foods to help keep a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria. Also, if your child has been on multiple rounds of antibiotics in their lifetime, it would help to have them on a probiotic supplement as well, which I’ll go over in the supplement section.
Immune Boosting Foods
- Onions and garlic – antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral properties, also anti-inflammatory
- Berries – sources of flavonoids that are anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting, contain fibre to support the digestive tract and in turn the microbiome
- Citrus – contains Vitamin C for immune defense, protection against pathogens and infections
- Mushrooms – modulate the immune system, dialing it up or down as needed
- Ginger – highly anti-inflammatory and has anti-oxidant effects that protect against diseases
- Bone Broth – rich in minerals and amino acids that nourish the gut and encourage healing, anti-inflammatory
- Turmeric – highly anti-inflammatory and can help to modulate the immune system by activating the beneficial immune components while down-regulating the inflammatory ones
- Coconut Oil – anti-microbial and anti-bacterial
- Greens – an overall vitamin and mineral-rich category that is also rich in B-vitamins for energy and nervous system function
- Wild salmon – high in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats, and a good source of protein (protein helps to support and modulate a healthy immune response)
Probiotic Rich Foods
- Bone broth
- Komboucha (especially if they like carbonated drinks)
- Sauerkraut (any kid that likes pickles will love these)
- Apply cider vinegar (use this for a salad dressing)
Limit their Sugar
There are a few reasons to not let your kids go too crazy with eating sugar, the main one being the way that it affects blood sugar and their overall mood and energy levels, so they will get that big spike and then big crash. But sugar also has a direct effect on the immune system. It can suppress the immune system for up for 5 hours! SO it’s is especially important to take it easy on the sugar if your kids are sick or getting sick.
Depending on how you parent and your values, you may be very strict when it comes to sugar consumption, you may know that your child misbehaves and goes wild when they eat sugar, or you may have no limits at all. I am somewhere in the middle and it seems to be working for us. I let my kids have sugar because they are exposed to it at friends houses, when we go out, or at school. I personally don’t want to restrict them to the point of them bingeing on it when they do get their hands on it. I do try to get them to eat their nutrient-rich foods first, and explain that they need those foods to make their body healthy and happy, but having a treat every now and then is totally ok. I even let them eat too much of it sometimes and encourage them to listen to their tummy, and notice when it tells them it’s had enough. This works differently for different kids. I have one who is very sensitive to noticing her bodies cues and another one that will keep going and going until she is sick. I also think you need to use your best judgement with the age and stage of your kid. The almost 5 year old is just now learning to notice how it makes her feel.
It also helps to not have a tonne of sugary foods in the house, instead, have fresh fruits that they can eat when they are craving something sweet, and chopped veggies.
Get them involved in the Kitchen
As easy it can be to shoo them out of the kitchen when you are cooking, getting them involved (sometimes) can work to your benefit. Kids are more likely to want to eat the food, the smoothie, their lunch, or the baked good if they helped make it. I’d only recommend doing this when you have the patience and capacity. IF you are rushing to get food on the table and everyone in hangry, then that is probably not the most conducive time to a harmonious and curious cooking session together. But, if it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and they want something sweet, pull up a stool for them and make a smooth with them, or bake some muffins. These and these are some of my kids favourite muffins and these are our go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe.
“Extrinsic features which appear to increase the likelihood of picky eating are authoritarian parenting, rewards for eating, and pressuring the child to eat. Most commonly reported extrinsic features that decrease the likelihood of picky eating are family meals, responsive parents, and involving the child in the preparation of food.”Quote from this study
Now I can’t talk about healthy without talking about sleep. Sleep is extra essential for kids because that is when they do the bulk of their healing. If you ever suspect your child getting a cold, get them to bed early for a couple nights in a row and sometimes that is enough to ward it off. Depending on the age of the kids, more or less sleep is needed, but typically around 11-12 hours is a good aim. A few things I suggest to get kids ready for sleep:
- Turning off screens and bright lights at least 1 hour before bedtime. Use this time for quieter activities like reading books, playing with lego colouring.
- Give them a bath with epsom salts, which contains magnesium and helps the body and muscles relax
- Do some deep breathing with them or give them a relaxing podcast. We especially like Like you: mindfulness for kids. It helps my kids calm down their nervous system down at the end of a busy day.
- Keeping a consistent bedtime. This can be especially tricky if you are doing playdates or extracurricular after school, but it helps your kid’s bodies know when bedtime is. Try to stick to this loosely, or at least within the hour, to help them and their bodies have a healthy circadian rhythm.
Easy Tricks I stick to – Summary :
- Variety of veggies (choose 2 veg with every meal) – aim for a rainbow of colours. Pepper taste test example.
- Protein with or before their carbs
- Immune boosting foods
- Probiotic rich foods
- Don’t stress
- Let them have fun with food. Kids love playing with their food, and of course there is a time and a place, but sometimes if you don’t stress about it, they might actually eat more while they are playing with it. Cooked carrots and straw example.
- Model yourself eating and enjoying certain foods, asking them if they want to try it.
- Getting Fresh air everyday – aim for an hour or more. This will help their immune system, it will heal with sleep and just overall wellbeing.
- Sleep – Sticking to a consistent bedtime, no screens before bed,
- Don’t over schedule them – depending on their age, you are their gatekeeper, so as much as they might fuss about missing a playdate, prioritize their health and wellbeing. Give the example of over – scheduling my kids and them literally telling me they are overwhelmed and exhausted in the morning.
Vitamins and Supplements I use
- Fish Oil (EFA)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C