How to keep your children well and avoid those winter bugs..
Nutrition plays a vital role in supporting children’s physical, emotional and cognitive development, and dietary advice can be fundamental in helping your children to achieve their potential.
Now they are back at school and autumn is kicking in, it is even more important that your child is in the best of health. This will help them avoid catching an illness and stop them bringing it home to you or missing school days.
My top five dietary tips below should help to keep them alert in class and achieve their potential:
1. Ensure a varied diet containing plenty of vegetables and fruit. In my experience, it is normally relatively easy to get children (and adults) to eat fruit, so make sure you provide different vegetables alongside their main meal.
If your child isn’t keen on vegetables, but will eat them, then a good idea is to give them as a snack (such as carrot, celery, cucumber sticks) to take to school or when you pick them up from nursery (especially if you still take them home in a buggy and they can sit and eat them) or as soon as they get home. They will be far more likely to eat them if they are hungry and then you don’t have to worry as much about how many vegetables they will eat during dinner time, especially, if they prefer to go for the starch carbohydrates first, such as pasta.
Try cutting vegetables into fun shapes or cooking vegetables in different ways, for example, stir fry broccoli with some oyster sauce. You may find that adding a source, like with cauliflower cheese, is just the ticket.
2. Include good protein sources, such as fish, eggs, meat, beans and legumes. Protein is essential for brain function as well as your immune system.
In addition, your children can only obtain the essential fats Omega-3 (EPA and DHA) from oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines etc) and Omega-6 (GLA) from nuts and seeds. Both these types of fats help children stay physically healthy, reducing the risk of allergies and maintaining healthy skin and immunity. They are also good for mental health and a deficiency can result in fatigue, poor memory, behavioural and developmental problems. Studies giving Omega-3 supplements have helped improve reading and writing in children with difficulties. They also help some children with behavioural problems.
3. Switch to wholegrain carbohydrates. These include wholegrain bread, pasta, rice. Avoid sugary breakfasts (which includes anything with chocolate on it).
4. Reduce sugar intake by limiting the consumption of foods and drinks containing high amounts of sugars (e.g. lollipops and sugar-sweetened beverages, which often contain 4-5 teaspoons of sugar).
5. Make sure they are drinking enough water, as research has shown that dehydration reduces academic performance.
In addition, if you like cooking yourself, start cooking with your children. My nine-year-old daughter has a number of cookery books we have collected across the years and she chooses dishes that she herself would like to cook (sometimes healthy, such as salmon fish cakes and sometimes not, like chocolate muffins!).
Of course, there is more you can do to encourage them to eat healthily, but the above would be a good start. If you are interested in finding out how to improve your child’s diet further (or have a particular health concern), asking a trained nutritional therapist to carry out a dietary evaluation is a sensible step, as they will be able to work out from your diet history how to improve what you are eating or if you/your child may be low in certain minerals or vitamins, vital for optimal growth and development.