Head-start on health

Head-start on health

– back to school nutrition for kids It’s back-to-school season and for many parents that means stocking up on stationery, lunch box supplies and remedies for coughs and colds. Almost 22 million school days are missed every year due to colds, according to the US Centers for Disease Control, but arming your family against those bugs by choosing foods that support immune function can help give your kids a head-start on health.

Basic Nutrition for Healthy Immune Function

Robust immune function relies on optimal amounts of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, as well as an overall diet and lifestyle that keeps inflammation in check. For the most part, this means getting regular exercise and eating a predominantly plant-based diet that is high in fibre and low in refined sugar and saturated fats, especially pro-inflammatory animal fats. To help keep your kids healthy, make sure their packed lunches contain an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. Include healthy whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes so as to ensure a good intake of fibre, protein, healthy fats and plenty of minerals and vitamins. These types of foods offer a slow release of energy, helping your kids to avoid spikes in blood sugar and subsequent slumps in energy that can adversely affect academic performance. In addition to following these basic principles of good nutrition, you can further support your kids’ immune system by including foods such as:

  • Garlic – vegetable sticks and houmous are great for lunchboxes, and garlic contains allicin, an antimicrobial compound that can fight off bugs
  • Oats and barley – these contain beta-glucan, an antimicrobial compound that can help guard against the viruses that cause coughs, colds and even influenza. Send your child to school with a thermos of vegetable soup with barley and/or oats.
  • Pumpkin seeds – these tasty little seeds are a great source of zinc, an essential mineral for the production of white blood cells (a key part of the immune system). Eat as a snack or grind into a pumpkin seed paste or pesto to make a pasta salad.
  • Leeks – another member of the allium family (like garlic and onions), leeks are a rich source of prebiotic fibre. Prebiotics help to maintain a healthy population of the beneficial bacteria that keep pathogens in check.
  • Brazil nuts – eating around 5-7 Brazil nuts daily provides the recommended intake of selenium, an important antioxidant mineral needed for healthy immune function.
  • Sweet potatoes – include a sweet potato dip or baked sweet potato wedges in your child’s lunch to help boost their intake of beta-carotene and vitamin A, nutrients that play a key role in immune function and which help maintain healthy eyesight.

Healthy Habits that Support Immune Function

Other healthy habits for the whole family include:

  • Staying hydrated - personalised water bottles help cut down on germ-sharing
  • Washing hands regularly – a basic practice that helps avoid spreading germs
  • Using hand sanitiser – if it’s not possible to wash hands, carry and use hand sanitiser, especially before eating
  • Keeping sick kids out of school – sick kids can spread germs and are more vulnerable to additional infections; keep them out of school, especially if they have a fever.

Healthy habits also include getting enough sleep. Without adequate rest, kids are more susceptible to infections and less able to concentrate at school. Children aged 10-17 need between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep a night; children aged 5-10 need 10-11 hours of sleep; and children aged 3-5 need 11-13 hours of sleep.