It’s back to school this week and for many kids they won’t have seen their school friends or teachers for over 6 months due to the coronavirus lockdown. Schools will have been set up very differently to aid social distancing measures, and for some kids these changes will feel very disruptive.
So, with this in mind, this year I am writing a slightly different back to school 2020 blog. As well as focusing in on feeding your kids the best brain food, this piece also has a strong focus on sleep, immunity and viral protection as well as mental and emotional wellbeing.
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A healthy and varied diet is one of the cornerstone’s for growing robust and happy children – the right food choices help to nourish their brain cells, immunity and gut microbiome. Since school food is out of your control, and some schools can only provide packed lunches for all or most of this term, it’s the food that you feed them at home that that really counts right now. This means a hearty breakfast, filling and nourishing snacks when you pick them up from school and a lovely homemade hot supper to keep them going until breakfast.
Breakfast ideas include scrambled eggs on sourdough toast with cooked tomatoes, porridge loaded with berries and nut butter and for those who are rushed in the morning Raspberry & Apple Overnight Oats and/or Berry Kefir Smoothie. Try my Chocolate Orange Seeded Granola for the kids who are hooked on ultra-processed choccie cereal and you want to give them more goodness.
After-school snacks can be home-made Blackberry Seeded Flapjacks, Zesty Lime and Coconut Energy Balls or Lemon & Cardamom Jammie Lovers Biscuits. For those parents in a rush, you can grab some healthy snacks that are low in refined sugar and packed with extra nutrients instead and top up with fresh fruit or chopped crunchy veg sticks.
For your evening meal try and get in as much variety as possible and this is your chance to load up on veggies, herbs and spices. Some kids are too tired to wait for the family supper time, so it’s good to have recipes to hand – one’s that you can keep warm and serve at different times. Try Zesty & Creamy Salmon Pasta , Creamy Tomato Fish Chowder or Aromatic Lemony Fish Pie to help boost up the omega 3 fatty acids which are so important for the gut, brain and immunity. And for those who are not so keen on fish try Chicken & Red Pesto Rice Salad or Yummy Paleo Chicken Nuggets
Good quality sleep is one of the most important ways to ensure your children eat well as a bad night’s sleep can lead to the child sleeping in, missing breakfast and craving sweet and fatty junk food to compensate. Even if they only miss out on an hour’s Zzzzzz’s at night it can really impact on their concentration the next day. Lack of sleep can accumulate, and chronic sleep deprivation can suppress the immune system making a child more vulnerable to pick up viruses, sniffles and coughs as well as tummy upsets.
Lots of kids really struggle to get to sleep and this is where the hormone melatonin is so important. We naturally make melatonin as part of our circadian rhythm and it helps us wind down and get to sleep soon after we go to bed. Getting some morning light by walking to school or spending time outside in the playground before heading to the classroom can help here. Then in the evening shut off all blue light screens from tablets and phones at least 90 minutes before bed (TV is ok instead) and help them wind down with a nice warm bath, some soothing music and read books or play quietly.
Montmorency cherries also help to make natural melatonin. Since these are difficult to source as a food in the UK and they are quite sour to eat, I recommend taking this in supplement form via powder for little kids and capsules for older children and teens.
Magnesium can be super helpful at helping kids get to sleep, stay asleep and not wake up that early. This can be in the form of an Epsom Salt bath (add 2 cups to a warm bath and let them soak/play for at least 20 minutes) and is also in the supplements combined with other “snoozy” botanicals and nutrients, again in powder or capsules. For those who need extra magnesium there are lots of options to choose from, all of which will help to induce sleepiness. It’s hard to take too much magnesium, and the only side effect from taking too much is a slightly loose stool, so it will be obvious to know when to cut back.
We have all learned from coronavirus that it’s not so much the virus that causes the significant health problems, but the way the underlying person’s immune system is wired and its response to the virus. Many people, especially the young, have been found to have strong antibodies without even being aware of having any coronavirus symptoms, whereas others have been extremely unwell, and many have unfortunately lost lives.
Since a child’s gut and immune system is always adapting you can do a great deal to help to develop a healthy response to viruses and other infections that they encounter. They don’t have to have a poor immune system this winter, even if they have caught everything going in the past.
Varied & Fresh Diet
Most micronutrients including vitamins, minerals, polyphenols and fatty acids have a role to play in building a healthy immune response and this is why a varied diet bursting with lots of fresh fruits, veggies, salads, herbs, spices, pulses, nuts, seeds, poultry, meat and fish really do count.
Try and introduce your child to one new food ingredient every week – pop something a bit novel and exciting in your shopping trolley and they might surprise you and like it – ideas could be pomegranate seeds, plums or nectarines, yellow or orange peppers or even purple carrots! If they don’t like a food straight away, then don’t fret as you can try again another day or serve it in another way. My youngest hates beetroot but loves beetroot in fresh juices, mixed with berries in waffles and in brownies.
Fresh Air & Mud
Fresh air and getting muddy also helps with immunity. Keep your windows open at night to let the fresh air in and take the opportunity of the light afternoons after school to spend time in the garden or at the park. Continue with the holiday outside fun at the weekends whilst the weather is still lovely.
Hopefully your children will have got lots of lovely sun this summer. But if you have spent more time inside than normal, if they have dark skin or wore sun cream a great deal over the summer then you will need to consider topping up with a vitamin D supplement. The government used to advise a vitamin D supplement was given from October to April but this year they have changed their advice and they have suggested to take it all year round to bolster our immunity for a likely “2nd wave” of Covid-19.
This is most abundant in most fruits – you can also find vitamin C in potatoes, bell peppers and fresh parsley. Vitamin C helps both with wound healing and to fight infections effectively. Squeeze lemon or lime juice onto foods to give them a bit of a vitamin C hit. You can also get Vitamin C supplements if your child is not a brilliant fruit eater.
Zinc helps kids learn, it is also important for growth and for immunity. Interestingly it is also important for a healthy sense of smell and taste and we often find that the “fussy eaters” in our clinic are low in zinc and when you boost this up they are more interested in trying a wider variety of foods, and their appetite improves. Most zinc comes from animal products to include meat, fish, shellfish and eggs as well as dairy. You can also get zinc from wholegrains, nuts and seeds if they have been soaked or activated. This way of preparing them reduces the phytates which block the release of the zinc when we consume the zinc-rich plant-based foods. Vegetarians, vegans as well as kids with egg and/or dairy allergies are most at risk of being zinc deficient.
Zinc is considered so important for our health, especially when it comes to viruses that it is often added to immune food supplements. A school aged child needs at least 5mg zinc per day and once they get to 9 years old, they need 9mg a day and teenagers need to up to 11mg daily. If a child is deficient then they may benefit from 15mg daily in a supplement in the short term to bolster up their zinc stores. A whole beef burger or a few meatballs contains around 5mg per day. Half a can of baked beans is around 3mg.
Elderberries have ripened early this year and I suspect this is Mother Nature’s way of saying that we need to stock up. You can learn how to make it here. If you don’t have access to elderberries or you are reading this after the season is over thankfully there are lots of brilliant elderberry supplements that your kids can slurp on over the autumn and winter. I particularly love the Pukka Elderberry Syrup as it also contains ginger, licorice and Manuka honey. Lizzie Loves also makes a delicious Be Well powder that can be given to kids from 12 months plus. Be Well also has a nice shot of vitamin C, D, Zinc and Selenium and is really tasty on it’s own in water or added to smoothies or yoghurts.
The NHS have recently changed their recommendations for treating coughs and colds – especially for children. And the only thing they recommend for these conditions is honey. This is because most coughs and colds are due to viruses and antibiotics and other medicines don’t work on viruses.
All honey to some degree can help, but like with so many things not all honeys are made equal and some have more antimicrobial properties than others. Manuka is the most well known and is excellent, however some kids don’t like the “medicinal” taste that much and it needs to be hidden in syrups and lozenges. Jarrah honey on the other hand has a higher antimicrobial action than Manuka and tastes like delicious toffee. Your kids can slather Jarrah honey it on toast, add it to smoothies or simply lick it off a spoon.
Emotional & Mental Health
Going back to school can provoke anxious thoughts, especially if your child is quite a worrier, if they are starting a new school or moving up to a different part of the school. Organised and calm parents can invoke calm in the child, so if there is less chaos at home then this will often mean the child is more relaxed too. If they are old enough to write, then jotting down their worries in a journal can help. Even better writing down a positive affirmation or something they are grateful at the same time can alleviate anxious thoughts. Drawing pictures can help too and this is a good idea for those who don’t find it as easy to get words on paper. There are also gorgeous books on soothing the anxious mind such as Hey Awesome! by Karen Young.
There are a few extras that the kids will need to take with them to school every day – this will differ from school to school and over different age groups. However most kids will need a mask as well as their own mini hand sanitiser and their own water bottle. A mini pack of tissues would be helpful too, especially if they have any residual hay fever or other environmental allergies. Since the idea of reducing single use plastic seems to been on the back burner during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s good to start the new school year with plastic-free kit including stainless steel or organic cotton lunch boxes and bags.
I hope that all the tips above give you the confidence that your kids are going to have the best start to the new school possible. Do be in touch with us if you have any concerns or need some individualised support for your child.