By Karen Ward
As a busy mum of two, I know that as we approach winter, prevention is key when it comes to health. So whether you have baby, young children, or teenagers, it’s never too late to give your kids’ immune system a boost. For me healthy food has to be quick or at least easy to prepare, as well as packing a punch in the nutrient-density stakes. But even slow-cooking can be time-friendly.
A reasonably priced slow cooker will be your new best friend. Pop in an organic chicken, carrot, stick of celery, onion and a few cloves of garlic, top up with water and leave it to do its thing! Even if you have to pop out on the school run, you’ll arrive home to the best chicken you have ever tasted and copious amounts of immune-supporting chicken stock for soups, stews and sauces for the week ahead. Chicken stock can inhibit infection caused by cold and flu viruses; great news, as a little goes a long way.
If you want something quick and handy for snacks, take a free hour in the week to spend a bit of time filling and freeze individual zip-lock bags with a mix of berries, ripe bananas and some leafy greens, ready for blending into smoothies as needed in the week ahead.
Feeding their healthy gut bacteria is an important part of winter immunity too but there are lots of simple ways to bring it into foods you’re already eating. Increase your little ones’ intake of Prebiotic rich foods by using oats in pancakes instead of flour and adding leafy vegetables like kale to smoothies. Leeks, garlic and onions all contain the antioxidant quercetin which is both antibiotic and anti-viral and thankfully, not destroyed by cooking. Making a leek and potato soup, or throwing a red onion and garlic into their pasta sauce and blending works a treat and ensures their healthy gut bacteria can survive.
Also make sure to bring in the healthy fats! The health benefits of avocado and coconut oil are immense. Blend half an avocado with three eggs for a delicious green omelette/scrambled egg in the morning or after school, or add half a ripe banana to the mix for delicious pancakes. Cook in them in coconut oil for an extra super-boost, numerous studies show coconut oil possesses potent anti-microbial properties due to its levels of medium chain fats.
Finally don’t forget the importance of making sure the kids get enough sleep. I give mine a bedtime snack rich in Tryptophan such as ½ a ripe banana, two gluten free oatcakes, a small glass of milk or coconut milk, slice of turkey or handful of toasted tamari almonds. Tryptophan is crucial for the production of Melatonin, the sleep neurotransmitter which helps repair and regenerate the immune system while we sleep. It gets secreted in the dark so be sure to turn off the TV nice and early and only use low level lighting in the run up to bedtime.
Some Magic Ingredients
- Cauliflower Power: Often ignored in favour of its famous cousin, broccoli, if you cunningly disguise it as ‘Cauliflower Rice’ or mash with potatoes they will never know! Cauliflower contains glucosinolates, B vitamins and fibre, for a healthy gut and super immune function.
- Go Blueberries: Recent studies show how freezing blueberries increases the anthocyanin concentration, a group of antioxidants that provide the immune system with mega protection by positively influencing gut bacteria. Stock up at your local farmers market now, before they run out.
- Raw Local Honey: Nature’s immune-boosting nectar possesses super microbial properties. Add a teaspoon to homemade pancakes or porridge. For an extra boost if your little ones are brewing a sore throat give them a teaspoon of Manuka Honey. Mine love it spread on pancakes or direct from from the spoon but be sure not to give honey to children under 12 months of age due to the potential for allergy.
- Camu Camu Powder: 100% natural fruit powder boasting impressive vitamin C levels 50 times that of the humble orange. Just half a teaspoon in kids’ daily smoothie/fresh juices works a treat, and it tastes great.
- Replace Sugar: It’s not just about keeping their teeth protected, sugar competes with vitamin C and isn’t the best news for your or your kids’s immune systems. Natural sugars such as lacuma superfood powder confers lovely sweet flavour to all baked foods, nut and seed bars, and is also a great source of vitamin B3 for energy.
Karen Ward is a Nutritional Therapy graduate from the College of Naturopathic Medicine. CNM trains students for careers in a range of natural therapies, including Naturopathic Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Acupuncture and Naturopathy. There are CNM colleges across Ireland, the UK, South Africa and in the US.