Keeping Kids Healthy During Winter

Photographer: Marijke Smith

By Julie Fergusson

We have officially hit that time of year where kids become little petri dishes, spreading colds and germs back and forth around friends and family like there is no tomorrow. Just when you think they are on the mend, another child will get sick and re-infect them all over again. The cycle just goes round and round all winter long. So what can be done to prevent the winter ills and chills and keep kids healthy over the school holidays?

Rebuild a stronger foundation

The foundation of your child’s immune system is found in their gut. This is where they strengthen their resistance and fight off pathogens. A child’s gut flora will change and develop different strains over time, but is easily disrupted by taking antibiotics, food poisoning, and too much sugar.

Constant tummy upsets, or repeated colds or flu can be the signals that your child has a compromised gut micro flora, with likelihood of other problems such as constipation, bloating, flatulence and allergies. Consuming beneficial bacteria in the form of fermented foods or probiotics can help decrease the risk of upper respiratory tract infections and assist the digestive system. Low strength probiotics (around 5B) usually come in capsules and can be broken into milk, yoghurt or smoothies for an extra boost (always check label before providing to children).

Fruit & Veg

Getting more fruit and vegetables into your children’s diet can be tricky at times. I have had a number of mums tell me that dinnertime is a battle of wills. Most kids take a while to develop their tastes for fruit and vegetables and I know many parents struggle to get good nutritious food into them. Don’t be too quick to dismiss a healthy new food if they have only tried it a couple of times, persistence often wins over their taste buds. If they don’t like it, try another eight more times. By the eighth time they will likely be used to it! Also think about being creative and find ways to hide veggies in the meal, whether it is mixing finely grated veggies into a mince patty, or blending vegetables into a soup so they don’t see them.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss a healthy new food if they have only tried it a couple of times, persistence often wins over their taste buds. If they don’t like it, try another eight more times.

Fruit and vegetables provide us with valuable phytonutrients and vitamins and minerals that are important for healthy growth. It is best to have a wide variety of fruit and vegetable from the whole colour spectrum. Try and make meal times fun and get the kids involved with choosing ‘which colour’ vegetable to eat that night, or using veggie spiraliser’s to make ‘pasta’.

Keep an eye out for nutrient deficiencies

Many parents put up with constant runny noses and ear infections but this could be a sign that a nutrient deficiency could be at play. One or two nutrient deficiencies can lead to an increased susceptibility to infections in children. Make sure your kids are getting a well-balanced diet with a variety of vitamins and nutrients, and if they do have food intolerances, avoid these foods.

B vitamins, vitamin A, C, D and E are key nutrients to reducing infections. These immune building nutrients are also potent antioxidants that help protect the body from free radical damage.

If your child seems unusually tired and grumpier than normal, or seems pale, low iron may be the answer. Consider getting their iron levels checked. Iron is a vital nutrient for growing children and helps with cognitive function, energy levels and their immune system. Adding foods such as green veggies, red meat, and prunes will naturally help boost iron levels. But if their iron levels are quite low they may require an iron tonic or supplement.

Zinc is absolutely essential for growth and neuropsychological performance. Low zinc levels have been connected with a low attention span. A Chinese study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that a zinc supplement providing just half of the recommended daily allowance improved concentration levels.

Zinc has a role in growth and repair of the body, as well as helping maintain a healthy immune system. Repeated colds, allergies, a lack of appetite, eczema, dry skin and spots on the finger nails can also indicate they are not getting enough zinc. Top up zinc levels in your child’s diet with pumpkin seeds, cashews, yoghurt, spinach, chicken, beef and lamb.

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