After a long summer holiday, it’s Back to School time. Time to get things ready: name tapes, freshly filled pencil cases and maybe even a new school. But it is just as important to think about giving your kids a healthy and nutritious start to the school year. To ensure your kids don’t get too tired or run down, getting them to bed on time and feeding them properly will help. But if your kids have existed on sausages, buns, crisps and ice-cream over the summer, then they could be running low on nutrients, for their immune systems. So, this is a time for new school year resolutions and feeding your kids more of the good stuff.
1. Breakfast – What a child eats for breakfast can make or break their day – skipping breakfast or making the wrong food choices in the morning can easily lead to a grumpy, hungry and zoned-out child by mid-morning. Research has shown that too much sugar can also lower the immune system. Even the government is advising that children should limit their added sugar intake to 19–30g per day, depending on their age. 30g of sugar can easily be munched by eating a large bowl of many of the top-brand breakfast cereal and this means that a child may have eaten their entire day’s sugar allowance even before they leave the house in the morning. Swapping out sweet breakfast cereals for something healthier like eggs, porridge or homemade granola, and adding in some ground seeds and fresh or frozen berries is an easy positive step.
2. Hydration – Drinking enough water throughout the day is critical to keeping your child hydrated. It is thought drinking plenty of water can also help with happiness and attention. So always fill up a fresh water bottle at the start of the day and ask them to fill it up again once they have finished.
3. Lunch Box – If you give your child a lunch box for school, then this is a great opportunity to boost up their nutrition. Step by step, so as not to create a shock-refusal, swap white bread for ‘best of both’ and then one side wholemeal and the other side white. Soon you will be able to swap entirely to wholemeal or rye bread. Spread it with delicious homemade houmous and then add in lots of crunchy crudities, fruit and olives to help them reach their ‘five a day’, and each time swapping out something less healthy. When the cold weather starts kicking in, then think about investing in a wide-necked food flask and give them warming soup, stew, some pasta or risotto. Add in a homemade flapjack or some fruit for natural sweetness.
4. Snack Attack – Most kids are starving at school pick-up, and it is all too easy just to whip out some biscuits or crisps. Since these are ultra-processed foods and detrimental to a child’s immune system it is much better to bring along some nourishing goodies instead. This could be a homemade muffin or flapjack or even a simple wholemeal sandwich stuffed with peanut butter and fresh raspberries. When they are hungry, this is the best time to make positive changes.
5. Home Cooking – Dinner and weekend lunches are a great chance to start rolling your sleeves up and cooking from scratch, ensuring every mouthful is full of goodness. You can win your kids round to healthier eating with home-made chicken goujons or fish fingers or even a filling Shepherd’s pie. Then start adding more salads and veg to their plates and also blend vegetables into sauces and meatballs if, like many kids, they are expert veg-dodgers. Research shows that cooking from scratch is much more nutritious than ready-made convenience foods and eating more fruit and veg is the key to happier, healthier kids, so these are two good reasons for getting busy in the kitchen.
The key to keeping your kids happy, healthy and well is to mainly home cook, feed them lots of fruits, veg and whole foods and think about providing as much variety possible. Do this and you can’t go far wrong. Look out for my new healthy family cookbook The Good Stuff for over 100 clever kid-friendly recipes including lots of healthy lunch box and after-school snack ideas.
Nutrition and the immune system from birth to old age.
Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis.
Does having a drink help you think? 6-7-Year-old children show improvements in cognitive performance from baseline to test after having a drink of water.
Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity.
Healthy eating linked to kids’ happiness.
Consumption of ultra-processed foods predicts diet quality in Canada.