When going back to school after an extended break, it is essential that your child is in the best of health. This will help them to avoid catching an illness and stop them bringing it home to you!
Do you know what’s best to keep them alert when in class so they get the most out of their lessons?
If a child does not eat a varied diet containing plenty of fruit, vegetables and good protein sources, the chances are that they will be lacking in certain nutrients essential to growing up healthy. These include vitamins A, B, C and D, minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc, as well as good fats such as omega-3. It is often difficult to get children to eat enough good stuff, especially if you struggle to eat a good diet yourself. Introduce new foods gradually and make it interesting for them. Cut vegetables into fun shapes to try with tasty dips. Alternatively make delicious fresh vegetable based soups for all the family.
Give them essential fats
The essential fats Omega-3 (EPA, DPA, DHA) and Omega-6 (GLA) 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 and poor memory as well as behavioural and developmental problems. Studies giving omega 3 supplements have helped improve reading and writing in children with difficulties. They also help children with behavioural problems.
Good food sources of Omega-3 are the dark green leafy vegetables, good quality meats, oily fish and chia seeds. As you would expect, fish, especially oily fish are the best sources and people who eat it regularly have high levels of EPA, DPA and DHA in their blood. EPA is cardio and mood protective and DHA is more important for brain development, which is important when you are still growing. However, the best results in studies have been achieved by supplementing both. Eggs are also a good source of omega-3, especially free range or organic ones. They are also rich in phospholipids which are good for the brain. Omega-6 (GLA) can be found in seeds, particularly sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
To make sure they get the optimum levels, you will need to use supplements that are specially formulated for children. These should include good levels of EPA and DHA. I recommend at least 200mg and 150mg respectively. Also borage oil is a good source of Omega-6 (GLA); at least 50mg is required. These are available in naturally flavoured chewable capsules, which are nice tasting.
Give them a vitamin and mineral boost every day
Vitamin A is important for healthy skin (inside and out), a strong immune system and most importantly, it’s essential for good eye health. Retinol is the animal form of vitamin A, found in meat, fish and eggs, whilst beta-carotene (the vegetable form), can be found in sweet potato, carrots, spinach, butternut squash and lettuce. A good multivitamin will provide the right amount on top of a good diet.
The B vitamins, especially B1, B6, B12 and folic acid are all important to the body including for mental health. If your child has a vitamin B deficiency then they may have issues with their nervous system (lacking in B12) or B6 is behind attention deficiencies and hyperactivity. Good sources of B vitamins include meats, fish, dairy, green leafy vegetables, beans and nuts. If a child does not eat meat, supplementing is a good option to achieve optimum levels.
Vitamin C is most important for the immune system and fighting infections, as well as being essential for making collagen for healthy bones, skin and strong joints. It also has excellent antioxidant properties and is used by the body to help release energy from food. Good sources of vitamin C are found in multi-coloured fruits and vegetables, particularly sweet peppers, leafy greens, cruciferous veg (e.g. cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale), citrus fruit, kiwi and strawberries. Most of these are also good sources of essential minerals, particularly the leafy greens and cruciform vegetables. They are also good sources of fibre.
Vitamin D is required for normal growth and healthy bones; it is a co-factor along with some other nutrients required with calcium, to enable strong bone development. Oily fish is one of the best sources, along with eggs, but even then it needs topping up. The best way to achieve the required level is to spend some time in the sun. Ensure your children spend time playing outside when they can, making sure they don’t get sunburnt though; it only takes about 20 minutes of exposure to face and arms. The winter is challenging for most, especially in higher latitudes and it is most likely that supplementing is required. This is the same for adults as well. A good multivitamin specially formulated for children needs to contain at least 4mcg of vitamin D and more for older children.
Patrick Holford (www.patrickholford .com)
Great ideas for Children’s healthy eating:
– Oat based cereals such as porridge (sweetened with grated apple) or muesli
– Fresh fruit smoothies (fruit blended with yoghurt and seeds or milk and Get Up & Go)
– Poached or boiled egg with wholemeal soldiers
– Wholemeal bread sandwich with a tasty filling (e.g. tuna, egg, cheese, houmous, salad)
– Jacket potatoes with healthy fillings
– Soups – fresh or homemade are best
– Scrambled or poached eggs or salads at home
It is important to make sure there is some element of protein in every meal.
– Fresh (not processed) meat, fish or vegetable protein (soya, beans or lentils) with fresh vegetables
– Wholemeal spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce
– Chilli with brown rice
– Fresh vegetable risotto.
If your child eats a very limited range of vegetables, find something new that they like and introduce it in small quantities.
For healthy snacks
– Fresh fruit – for faddy eaters it often helps to cut fruit into bite size pieces and place on the table in front of them – they will gradually eat it without noticing!
– Oat cakes or wholegrain bread with peanut butter
– Almonds and pumpkin seeds
– Carrot sticks with houmous
– Nairn’s oat biscuits or homemade flapjacks sweetened with dried fruit or xylitol.