GROWING HAPPY, HEALTHY KIDS
By Amanda Martindale, Nutritionist
With the world wide web at our fingertips, there’s never been a more confusing time to be in control of your kids’ health and nutrition. “eat this, don’t eat that”. “Have you tried this?” It’s no wonder parents struggle with knowing what’s right and wrong to feed their children. What parents and carers fail to do is use their gut instincts and get back to basics, making life for them and their children much easier to navigate.
WHERE HAVE WE GONE WRONG?
Gone are the days of eating home grown fruits and veges and wholesome real foods. With more parents returning to work soon after having a child, and our overcommitted after school activities and social lives, the increase in families relying on convenience food choices is on the rise. Packet snacks are replacing home cooked treats, slow simmering meals are being substituted with preservative filled packet mixes and premade sauces and eating on the run is the new normal. How did we as a society allow this to be our new way of life, and what is the effect on our children’s health? By going back to basics, you will be making positive steps in the right direction to growing happy health children.
BACK TO BASICS AND REDUCING THE TOXIC LOAD
There’s no questioning the foods you choose to feed your kids has a direct impact on how they flourish and grow. Just like you wouldn’t expect your car to run optimally on dirty fuel, the same should be thought about your children’s health. Ensuring your kids are getting a variety of foods from the 3 macro nutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) is a great place to start with improving our children’s overall health.
Often, kids’ diets are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, and low in veges, healthy fats and protein. This commonly leads to nutrient deficiencies, in particular zinc and magnesium, which has a negative effect on their immunity, energy levels, behaviour, growth and development. Then there’s all the additives- artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, that wreak havoc on their growing bodies, by leaving behind a toxic load that has its own problems. There are numerous studies proving that the consumption of particular chemicals has a negative effect on children’s behaviour, immunity, and learning capabilities.
By encouraging the consumption of healthy fats such as avocado, nuts and seeds, clean protein sources such as grass fed or organic meat and poultry and choosing wholegrain carbohydrate sources, you will be well on your way to providing your children with all they need to be healthy and thrive. Go back to basics, cook foods from scratch, encourage them to “eat the rainbow”, filling their plates with a wide variety of colourful foods. With constant exposure, they will eventually liken to fresh wholesome foods over processed convenience options. But it all starts with you!
WHAT ABOUT PICKY OR FUSSY EATERS?
Let’s face it, nothing would please me more than to see all children of all ages snacking on veges and drinking bone broth all day, but in reality it just doesn’t happen! There are times where you may find that your kids are pickier then others, they may have loved something one week, and be spitting it out and refusing it the next. Kids are kids, and just like adults, there are times when we are just not “into” the taste or texture of particular foods. Where it becomes a problem, is when children go for prolonged periods of time of eating an unbalanced diet. Nutrient deficiencies can quickly follow and the aversion to these foods becomes a bad habit that is tough to break. Suddenly, you make foods that you know they will eat, even if they aren’t the healthiest of choices, and the cycle continues.
To overcome these periods of time, it is important to continue to expose children to the foods that they don’t want to eat. Why? Because it tells you little darling that they aren’t winning and you’re not giving up. We encourage our kids to try everything that is put on their plate even if it is the tiniest of rabbit nibbles! “You have to try it, but you don’t have to like it” is our mantra. Another idea is to get children involved with meal planning and cooking in the kitchen. Enabling them to choose a meal per week (no, take away is not an option) and assisting with preparing and cooking it will give them some encouragement to try new foods. When to be concerned is if your kids start to show signs of deficiencies due to poor eating habits.
Zinc deficiency is often seen in picky eaters and given it is found in leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and meat and poultry, it’s no wonder fussy children are the ones who are the first to show symptoms. Iron and magnesium deficiency are also very common. If you suspect your children may be suffering from nutrient deficiencies, it is important to seek help from your health care practitioner to get to the bottom of why.
OPTIMISING GUT HEALTH
With over 80% of immunity coming from the gut, it is imperative that we look after our children’s tummies! You have already learnt the importance of optimal nutrition, but none of the information is relevant if the gut is in crisis. Studies have shown that gut dysbiosis can lead to skin conditions, allergies, food intolerances and sensitivities, behavioural problems and learning difficulties and not to mention mental health conditions.
Optimal gut health is SUPER important!!! There are numerous products available to assist with the integrity of the gut lining. Bone broth, gelatin, and collagen can easily be incorporated into child friendly foods and drinks such as soups, gummies, smoothies and juices, baked goods and dinners, and are beneficial to the mucosal layer of their small intestines. I LOVE the Ancient and WILD collagen range as they are a marine collagen, meaning their particle sizes are smaller and therefore more easily absorbed and digested. Collagen, bone broths, and gelatin assist in making the gut lining less permeable, meaning toxins and larger size proteins like gluten are unable to cross directly into the blood stream and cause inflammatory conditions such as eczema, food sensitivities and other symptoms of leaky gut.
Fermented foods and drinks, and probiotics play a different role in keeping the gut in tip top shape, by providing beneficial bacteria to the gut. As always though, when considering probiotics, it is important to speak to a qualified health professional to make sure that the supplements are safe for your child to take. Its not only what we feed our kids that effects their health. What they are exposed to environmentally, their sleep hygiene, activity levels and life experiences that also shape the way in which they develop and grow.
LIVIN’ A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
The world in which we live is far more toxic than that of our ancestors. While we don’t have total control over what our kids are exposed to environmentally, there are several steps you can take to reduce their toxic exposure. Numerous non-toxic cleaning products, cooking appliances, foods storage containers, and personal care (think fluoride free toothpaste and natural deodorants) are all readily available and place far less a toxic burden on children’s bodies than that of “conventional” products.
Air pollution, electromagnetic radiation, polluted water, environmental toxins and even the building materials in which we build our homes with, are all contributing the toxic load we place on our kids. It’s extremely important that we keep our kids hydrated. Many of our water supplies are fluoridated and contain numerous chemicals, heavy metals, and even harmful bacteria and parasites, that can lead to ill health in our kids. Investing in a good quality water filter is a simple and effective way of ensuring our kids are drinking safe, toxic free water.
And then there is screen time….. With the increase in screen time at an all-time high amongst our children, kids as young as 2 are spending hours per day glued to a screen. The health consequences of this are becoming more and more apparent with postural problems, attention and concentration issues, and behavioural concerns all on the increase. While I admit we need to accept that this is a part of an evolving society, monitoring your children’s screen time is very important for their social and educational development.
Excessive screen time on social media has been shown to increase the risks of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. This is not something our younger children need to be exposed to. (1) Choosing chemical free paints for houses, and even purchasing toys and bedroom furniture that is natural and made from less toxic materials (think natural wooden toys!) is another way you can decrease their toxic exposure.
SLEEP SLEEP AND MORE SLEEP
We know that children need plenty of sleep to thrive and grow, but how important is the quality of their sleep? If your children wake dreary and tired in the mornings or complains that they have had a terrible night’s sleep, chances are its their bodies way of screaming out for help. Developing a sound sleep and bedtime routine is paramount to their development. Beginning the evening routine at the same time each night is a great place to start to encourage better sleeping patterns. It trains the body to get ready for sleep once the routine has been followed.
This can be a done in a variety of ways, suited to each individual family. It could look a like this: Dinner, shower / bath, bedtime story or meditation, brushing teeth and in to bed. If, however, you have a sleep routine in place and your children are still suffering with insomnia, restless sleeps and waking tired, I suggest you speak to a health care professional, as it may be a nutrient deficiency or illness that is preventing them from sleeping well.
We live in a society where many feel like the more extra-ciricular activities their kids do, the better parents they are. “Oh, my boys have soccer on Tuesdays, guitar on Wednesdays, French lessons on Saturday mornings and straight to judo, and then mountain biking on Sunday mornings…..” sound familiar? The glorification of busyness needs to stop as does the amount of these activities we expose our children to.
Hear me out… I am all for you wanting your children to have as many life experiences as possible, exposing them to a range of activities so that they can choose what they truly love to pursue. It’s fun, it makes up part of your social life too (who doesn’t love a footy mum girls arvo with a few wines!) But what is this really doing to our kids? Let’s break it down. Having something on every day or most days of the week, while exposing them to experiences, means less time is spent as a family unit, communicating and bonding together.
Add multiple children to the mix, and you have a taxi service, running from one part of town to another within minutes of start times, and often leaving little time for not only conversation and communication, but preparation time for healthy nutritious meals. Screaming into the driveway at 6:30pm after working all day, picking kids up from school and dragging them from activity to activity, leaves little time for cooking wholesome family meals before the children are ready for bed. Not only is it tiresome for the kids, its taxing and overwhelming for parents too!
But how do we provide experiences for our kids without it getting to the point of being “too much?” Our rules are one team sport and one individual sport per season. For example, football and BMX in winter, and surf club and basketball in summer. They have the benefits of both individual and team participation throughout the year, yet still have family time, homework time and rest time, all of which are super important to development. One last rule is that if you start something, you need to see it out until the end of the season or program, that way the kids know if this activity is their “thing” or not. By setting these boundaries, our kids have had a chance to try many different sports and activities, all the while keeping a happy home life.
WHERE TO SEEK HELP
If you think that your child is suffering from nutrition related illnesses, sleep problems, or you need support with providing more nutritious meals for your family, or switching out toxic household products, feel free to contact me for an appointment, I would be more than happy to help. It’s our responsibility as parents to not only provide for our kids, but to educate them so that generations to come have the knowledge and powder to continue to grow healthy happy kids.
Amanda is an integrative nutritionist at Inner Fit Nutrition and is passionate about educating the community on how easy it is to implement simple steps to live a healthy life. She is a wife and mum of 2 children, and knows the struggles involved with growing happy healthy kids all too well.
You can find Amanda at Inner Fit nutrition on Facebook and on Instagram @inner_fit_nutrition or on her website www.innerfitnutrition.com
REFERENCES (1) http://www.thedoctorwillseeyounow.com/content/kids/art5726.html