Every single day our children's little bodies are achieving phenomenal things. Their bones and muscles are growing, their brains are developing and their bodies are being constantly bombarded with all sorts of bugs (good and bad).
Their immune systems are protecting them – from both inside and out. On the outside, their skin is their biggest barrier to bugs, but up to 70% of their immune system is found on the inside in the incredible organism we call the gut. The gut is where communities of bacteria live, otherwise known as our "gut microbiome". We need these communities of bugs need to be in good balance for a healthy robust immune system.
In our busy lives as parents, I believe we sometimes forget about the effect of our children's gut health on their everyday lives. Research tells us that a child's gut health can influence their mood, their energy levels and of course their immunity.
The most important thing you can do from a dietary perspective is to feed your child with plenty of plant foods. Plant foods are nutrient rich, immune boosting powerhouses, naturally containing fibre - otherwise known as prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food (or fuel) for our gut bugs and promote the growth of good bacteria whilst at the same time nourishing our gut cells. You really can't underestimate the importance of this.
Every little bit helps, so try to include these foods both at snack and meal times to maximise their intake of goodness! Good gut health = healthy children = happy parents!
Question: What are your top tips for creating healthy school holiday snacks?
Karina Savage: Always ensure you have healthy snack options available at home – this way, you can ensure you have something on hand to give to the kids during the day so little hands do don't go reaching for the junk food when they are peckish. Try to avoid foods such as rice crackers, puffed potato sticks, potato crisps, rice wheels are all snacks that fit into this category. I don't have much respect for those types of foods because they are very processed/refined and rarely resemble the food that they originally came from. They release sugar quite quickly into the bloodstream (high GI) and we know that this is linked to weight gain and poorer metabolic health. These foods usually contain very little fibre and nutrients. Better choices of "packet" carbohydrate snacks include lightly salted popcorn, dried legumes (chick peas, Fav-va beans), vita wheat crackers, rye cruskits with avocado, wholegrain breakfast cereal dry (such as Weetbix bites, sultana bran buds). Another good snack to consider which will satisfy their appetite is Vaalia Kids yoghurt which is a source of protein and provides valuable nutrients such as calcium and probiotics.
Question: How important is gut health in children?
Karina Savage: It's very important to look after your child's gut health from an early age. People tend to talk a lot about adults and gut health, but not so much about children. Implementing good eating habits and a balanced diet from an early age is a great way to ensure the longevity of your child's health. Ensuring your child has a healthy gut balance is a great way of always supporting their immune system. A great way of doing this is by making sure they eat plenty of plant foods on a daily basis. We need to be regularly including foods such as fruit, vegetables, oats, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes - using them both in main meals and snacks. Not only are these foods rich in many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, they also provide invaluable fibre. Fibre, otherwise known as a prebiotic, is incredibly important for nourishing our gut cells, therefore supporting a healthy robust immune system. Another way to supplement their natural gut flora is to give them foods naturally rich in probiotics such as Vaalia kids yoghurt and fermented foods such as sauerkraut.
Question: What can parents do to get their children to eat more vegetables?
Karina Savage: Make it fun – make the food appealing to children, remember a child's whole world revolves around having fun!
Incorporate it into snacks – ie chopped veg as part of a platter or giving them home made muffins that contain grated zucchini or carrot. Other options include hummus or pesto dip with vegie sticks or crackers.
Get them involved in food preparation – this will help over time.
Don't make a fuss – the more you push, the more they will run!
Be a good role model - always eat them yourself and show you enjoy doing so (without going over the top!)
Note: Hiding pureed veg in food or smoothies is fine, but also make sure they are given and encouraged to eat pieces of vegetables
Question: What can parents do when dealing with a fussy eater?
Karina Savage: Offer them healthy foods throughout the day. Toddlers have small tummies; therefore, snacks can provide up to 50% of their nutrition. Dinner is only one sixth of their day, so if they don't eat vegies then, include them in other meals and snacks.
Serve meals earlier rather than later. Tired, distracted or anxious children eat poorly.
Keep snack times consistent rather than a rolling buffet of food on offer all day.
Eat at the table with them and remove as many distractions from eating as possible (no screens). We are our children's role models and eating together will help to improve their variety and acceptance of foods – over the years.
Persistence and repetition are KEY - when introducing new foods, it may take up to 10-15 attempts before they accept a new food. We probably needed to have coffee or wine 10-15 times before we developed a taste for it – right? Whilst it is easy to get disheartened and stop offering the food after the first 4 or 5 times, do keep trying. Just put a teaspoon of the "test food" on the plate (and don't make a fuss) …. but make sure that you are also eating it!
Question: What is the importance of gut health in babies and how can we ensure babies have good gut health?
Karina Savage: The first 3 years of life is the most critical time for the developing gut and immune system. During this time, there are many factors that either positively or negatively influence how the gut develops and helps to create a child's unique "gut signature".
Factors that positively influence the gut include a healthy pregnancy, natural vaginal delivery, breast feeding, having siblings or dogs at home, living near a farm, having less exposure to antibiotics and eating plant foods rich in fibre. Of course, not all of these factors are necessarily going to happen to one individual, but the more you have, the better the chances of developing a happy healthy gut microbiome.
Question: How important is a probiotic in children?
Karina Savage: Probiotics can be very effective in certain situations to build immunity and protect gut health. Probiotics come in all different forms. There are those that are found naturally in foods such as yoghurt and other fermented foods such as sauerkraut. In terms of probiotic supplements, there are probably only a handful of strains that I would actually recommend. Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG (LGG) has been shown to be beneficial to strengthen immunity and helping to outgrow allergies. This is also the probiotic found in Vaalia Kids yoghurt.
Vaalia wants to ensure all kids have a nutritious, balanced diet combined with dairy goodness to help growing minds and bodies. Vaalia My First is suitable for babies from 6+ months old and contains 3 unique probiotics, calcium and vitamin B12 with no added sugar, making it the ideal first food for weaning babies. Vaalia Kids yoghurts, suitable for children age 12months+, are packed with the goodness of 3 probiotics, calcium and vitamin B12 and taste delicious, making them the perfect snack for lunch boxes or on the go. Vaalia Kids is available in Strawberry, Vanilla, Tropical, Banana, Lactose Free Strawberry and Lactose Free Vanilla, in stores now. Vaalia My First is available in Strawberry, Vanilla, Natural and Blueberry.
Question: Can you share your top tips for improving gut health in children?
Karina Savage: Offer your children plenty of different coloured vegetables and cook with onion and garlic.
- Give them fruit and veg with the skin on where possible as there are nutrients inside and just under the skin (such as in an apple).
- Use legumes (whole, dried or mashed) in sauces, mashed into dishes or dried as a snack – e.g. dried chick peas or fav-va beans.
- Use wholegrain options for breads and cereals – check for the % wholegrains in the ingredients list and aim as high as possible!
- Increase nuts and seeds – use nut butters, almond meal/LSA in baking or chopped nuts in muffins, sprinkled on salads or added to hot meals such as stir-fries and curries. **no nuts at school.
- Including foods like yoghurt that contain probiotics - this can help to maintain the correct balance of good and bag bugs in the gut, which in turn improves immunity and reduces sickness. Yoghurts like the Vaalia My First and Kids are great because they contain three unique probiotics, calcium and vitamin B12.
Interview by Brooke Hunter