Happy is the day that we pack a lunch box and wave goodbye to our kids heading back to school! While it’s mostly a happy day, the recent pandemic has most parents concerned with the safety, health and wellness of their kids and are looking for ways to ensure all household members are prepared to fight all the germs they are bound to come in contact with. First and foremost, ensuring wholesome nourishing food is paramount to a strong immune system. While that is always our intention, busy parents find that reality sets in and can default to shoving bags of sugar-loaded refined carbs in backpacks and promise that tomorrow will be better. Sound familiar? Yup, me too. Let’s get you started on the right foot this school year, here are some easy ways to support the overall health and immunity of our kids through food:
- A few general standards to implement daily are encouraging fruit and vegetables at each meal, using whole grains instead of refined and limited convenience/processed foods. Include lots of colorful fruits and vegetables to provide a wide variety of phytonutrients with antioxidant fighting power.
- Hydration is key to optimizing immunity! Your body needs water to move all those precious vitamins and minerals. Skip the sugary beverages and make sure your child has a full water bottle in their backpack on the way out the door.
- Vitamin C has been our long go-to for immune boosting support. Feel a cold coming on? Load up on Vitamin C. This potent vitamin is a powerhouse antioxidant and is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers and passion fruit. Regularly include these in smoothies, on top of oatmeal bowls or enjoy sliced peppers with a hummus or guacamole dip as a snack.
- Zinc is Vitamins C’s immune boosting side-kick. Zinc is an important micronutrient that supports normal immune function and is found in many protein sources like red meat, chicken, beans and nuts. Cook up a batch of slow-cooker beans to have on hand for quick dinners or encourage your little ones to snack on almonds.
- Since 70% of our immune system in located in our gut focus on eating foods that strengthen our gut health like probiotics and prebiotics. Yogurt is a great source of natural probiotics. Look for the label to say “contains live active cultures” and add to breakfast or lunch for a hefty dose of protein and calcium for growing bones. Prebiotic foods help feed the probiotics and are found in foods such as leeks, asparagus, garlic and onions. While those don’t go over so well at breakfast time or packed in a lunch box, other breakfast-friendly prebiotic containing foods include oats, bananas (green ones) flaxseeds and honey. Honey is also rich in antibacterial and antiviral properties that protect the immune system.
- Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are essential for cognitive function, heart health, eye function and development of the central nervous system, and have anti-inflammatory effects. Sounds important right?? Some great sources include walnuts, flax seeds, salmon, tuna, and DHA fortified orange juice.
- When picking out a snack for recess time, most kids get plenty of carb-heavy snacks like crackers, pretzels, chips and cookies. Aim to add a protein or healthy fat with your carbohydrate snack. Adding a protein will help control blood sugar spike and supply long lasting energy that will hold over your child’s appetite until lunch time and allow them to focus their schoolwork. A few easy examples are a string cheese and crackers, apple slices with sunflower seed butter, pretzels with cottage cheese, roasted chickpeas, tortilla chips and guacamole.
- Early mornings can be a big rush when trying to get kids ready and out the door. Here a few simple tips to make life a bit more stress-free:
- plan ahead when you can, pack their lunches or prep breakfast the night before. Make hard-boiled eggs, prep overnight oats or chop up a fruit salad.
- Set your alarm 10 minutes earlier. Maybe it’s just enough to enjoy your coffee in silence or use that extra time to elevate their lunch. Chop some raw veggies instead of throwing in a bag of veggie “chips” or cut up a whole apple instead of the easy applesauce squeeze for the bonus extra fiber found in the skin!
- Give your kids the responsibility of packing their own lunch. Talk to them about which foods will provide long-lasting energy and vital nutrients to keep them energized.
- When you are really in a time-crunch, make a smoothie. This is my go-to recipe that is a complete balanced meal-in-glass. Not only does it taste good but offers a balance of carbs/protein/healthy fats, vitamin C, antioxidants, pre and probiotics, and healthy omega-3 fatty acids! Whew, we packed it all in there!
Kid’s On-The-Go Breakfast Smoothie
- 3/4 cup frozen mango – Full of immune-boosting Vitamin C
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt – a hearty dose of protein and gut-friendly probiotics. (*Use plain yogurt to avoid added sugars).
- 1/2 frozen banana – source of fiber, antioxidants, and prebiotics
- 1/4 cup old fashioned oats – another great source of fiber and prebiotics
- 1/2 cup plant-based milk
- 1 Tbsp flaxseed – healthy omega’3 fatty acids
- 1 Tbsp honey –Rich in antioxidants, anti-viral, anti-bacteria properties.
*Bonus – throw in a handful of spinach to knock off a serving of veggies for the day!
Keep your kids immune system thriving this school year by focusing on these key immune boosting foods. And while healthy nutritious food is paramount, don’t forget the value of daily exercise and a good night’s sleep! Exercise has limitless benefits but most notable keeps our bodies strong and ready to fight off any unwanted invaders while sleep allows our bodies the proper opportunity to rest and recover. So for healthy kids, keep it simple: nutritious food, restorative sleep and invigorating exercise!