Winter is well and truly here, and with it comes the dreaded cold and flu season. As the temperature continues to drop, children seem to pick up every cough and cold, with little relief throughout winter.
“Knowing how to support your child’s immune system through healthy eating is essential to keeping them happy and healthy all year round” according to Accredited Practising Dietitian and mum of two, Vanessa Schuldt from Nutrition Speak.
“To maintain a healthy and strong immune system, fresh produce is the most important cornerstone. Focus on feeding your children fresh, in-season fruit and vegetables, lean meats and poultry like lean beef, kangaroo, trim lamb and skinless chicken, fish and shellfish, wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds,” says Vanessa Schuldt, who recently consulted on Guardian Early Learning Camperdown’s winter menu and shared her top tips for supporting children’s immune system at a nutrition evening for parents.
Here are some simple ways of helping to bolster your children’s immune system this chilly season:
Stock up on ACE vitamins
Vitamins A, C and E (the ACE vitamins) have long been known for their role in helping to keep the immune system strong against viruses and bacteria. Fruits and vegetables are your best sources of ACE vitamins, so give your kids an immune boosting kick by offering your kids a range of colourful fruits and vegetables every day. Children aged 9+ years need 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables each day.
Tip: Retain more vitamins in the vegetables you cook for your little ones for dinner by steaming or quickly stir-frying them. The traditional method of boiling vegetables leaches much of the nutritional goodness out.
Include Zinc in their diet
Zinc rich foods like lean beef, kangaroo, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, seafood, reduced-fat dairy products, legumes, wholegrain breads & breakfast cereals and nuts help to maintain a strong immune system, so make sure your children have plenty of these foods during winter.
Tip: Kangaroo meat is an excellent addition to a weekly diet, thanks largely to the high quality protein, iron and zinc that it contains. Try giving kangaroo sausage a go! They are super lean, kids love them and they give a good punch in the zinc department.
Up the ante with probiotics
There is increasing evidence that probiotics improve immune function. So make yoghurt (which is teaming with beneficial probiotics) a staple in the family fridge and school lunch box. Other sources of probiotics include fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi (a spicy Korean dish), Japanese miso soup, and kefir (creamy and tangy, similar to yoghurt), although you may be hard pressed to get your kids to eat some of these foods.
Tip: If a tub of yoghurt is too tricky for your little one to handle at pre-school or school, then try a handy yoghurt pouch. There will be far less mess, and fewer clothes to wash at the end of the day!
Encourage active play
Children love to play, but with the cold temperature outside, they often need a little encouragement to get out and get active. Leading by example is key.
Tip: Embrace the cold weather and try ice-skating this winter. It’s a great way to improve children’s balance and motor skills and gives them the opportunity to try something new and get excited about exercise.
Make sure children are getting enough sleep
We all know how important sleep is to let our bodies rest and recover from a busy day. For children, sleep is even more important as it gives their growing bodies a chance to recover and refresh for the next day. The national Sleep Foundation recommends toddlers aged 1 -2 years should get 11-14 hours of sleep per night and pre-schoolers aged 3 -5 years need 11-13 hours per night.
Tip: Children sometimes have a hard time settling into bed without getting distracted. Ensure you have a consistent bedtime routine, like a warm bath before bed, or a nightly ritual, like reading with you before they nod off.
Winter doesn’t have to mean a cycle of coughs, colds and tummy bugs for your little ones. Being prepared and following these simple steps is a sure fire way to ensure your children stay healthy this winter and into the summer months.
To find out more about the Nutrition program at Guardian Early Learning Centres nationally visit: www.guardian.edu.au