If you're a parent, a turn in season comes with many changes for you and your little ones. Now that all the kids are back at school and the weather is cooler, how can we keep everyone in tip top shape and feeling well while boosting the immune system?
How to prevent children from getting sick in winter
1. Eat the rainbow
To keep you and your children as healthy as possible during the cooler months, try and make sure they're eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones. Try to get as many vegetables as possible into their diet – I know that this can feel hard sometimes, but make it fun! You can try going to the supermarket together and guess all the different vegetables and what they’re called, then let them choose something different to take home to try. Get the little ones involved at the very beginning. Also, buy some fruit too but aim for the majority to be vegetables so as not to promote a sweet tooth. You can also try making smoothies, soups and stews. I like to make a vegetable tomato sauce which is predominantly tomatoes but add in courgettes, broccoli and peppers – whatever happens to be in the fridge.
2. Experiment with fermented foods
Fermented foods are great for the gut. And it’s quite well known now that the gut is fundamental to a strong immune system. I’m going to be honest, I haven’t won this one with my little ones but if you can get them to try sauerkraut (I know!), just slip it on the side of the plate and see what happens. Kefir is a good one, as it’s fermented and you can use it like yoghurt, so add some at breakfast or to a smoothie.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is so important, especially through the winter months where sun levels are low. There’s no doubt that the best way to get vitamin D is through sunlight, but the best food sources are oily fish such as salmon and mackerel as well as eggs. I’d recommend supplementing through the winter as it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. Have a look here for the guidelines on vitamin D for our children. Always make sure to do your research or consult a physician before taking on supplements.
4. Try to avoid too much sugar
Sugar can weaken children's immune system so if they want something sweet, opt for a piece of fruit or some homemade biscuits made with banana. Getting them involved with the mixtures can be a fun family activity.
5. Get some herbs and spices in them
Herbs and spices can give their immune systems a little kick. Try adding cinnamon to their porridge or add garlic to stews or a pasta sauce.
6. Rest and play
Make sure they get a good balance between rest and play especially during cold months. Children are really good at resting when they’re ill (we could learn from them!). Ensuring that they have enough sleep keeps their little immune systems strong. It’s also good to get them outside and get them moving, which can be a bit more tricky during the winter months but still a great thing to do.
7. Wash, wash, wash!
Get the kids into the habit of washing their hands regularly as this can stop germs from spreading. I don’t actually recommend things like anti-bacterial hand washes or sanitisers as your little one do need some bugs to strengthen their immune system, so use some good old fashioned soap and water.
My final tip is to not put any pressure on yourself or your kids – they’ll find their own way. One minute my daughter will eat broccoli and the next she point blank refuses – sound familiar? Simply try a few extra things to get their diet off to a good start.
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Lipski E (2004) Digestive Wellness (3rd edition) USA: McGraw-Hill.
Murray M & Pizzorno J (1998) Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine (2nd edition) New York: Three Rivers Press.
Parvez S, Malik K et al (2006) Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health, Journal of Applied Microbiology.
Public Health England (2016) PHE publishes new advice on vitamin D.