Studies show that kids who stay healthier – including a healthy gut – are able to better ward off classroom cooties, they can see a boost in brain function and improved mood, and they make the best learners.
The Natural Nutritionist notes several reasons why gut health is important for children:
- The gastrointestinal (GI) system is “the foundation of true health and immunity,” with more than 70 percent of our immune system lying within the gut.
- There is approximately 3kg of bacteria in the gut, which is more bacterial cells than human cells.
- We digest and absorb nutrients in our gut. Prioritizing gut health in children allows nutrients to be used efficiently, leading to enhanced brain function and energy levels.
- Studies show a compromised GI tract, or more specifically imbalanced micro flora, can be linked to behavioral issues.
- Bacteria imbalance, insufficient production of stomach acids, inflammation and gut permeability (also referred to as ‘leaky gut’) in kids can lead to skin conditions, including eczema.
While there’s not one superfood that can provide optimal gut health, there are a variety of foods that can help support a robust system and can easily be incorporated into kids’ breakfasts or lunch boxes.
Superfoods Pack a Healthy Punch
In her blog, family and health nutrition advocate Ashley Koch lists five foods that pack a healthy punch:
- Beans are a strong source of plant-based fiber and an inexpensive source of protein.
- Colorful fruits and vegetables provide plenty of “good bugs” for kids to snack on and expose them to a variety of vitamins and minerals their bodies need to thrive. An added bonus? Most of them are high in fiber.
- Not only are nuts a nutrient-dense source of unsaturated fat and protein, they're also packed with fiber.
- Lentils are high in fiber and can feed the thriving good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Flaxseeds are a versatile food with a high omega-3 content and a great fiber source for feeding beneficial bacteria and helping support brain function. Add ground flaxseeds to your child’s morning pancakes, smoothie or baked goods.
Koch notes the beneficial bacteria in the gut ferment prebiotic foods, which feed the good bacteria, allows the good bugs to thrive and crowds out the bad bugs. Some beneficial prebiotic foods include green bananas, asparagus, sunchokes, garlic, onions and leeks. While some of these have strong aromas and not suitable for school lunches, they can play a part of healthy at-home meals.
Healthy Lunch Box Ideas
It’s important for kids to maintain their energy levels at school. While parents should pack foods that their kids will actually eat, pack lunchboxes that are healthy and well-balanced.
The Healing Gut Community notes parents sometimes overpack lunches because they don’t want kids to be hungry throughout the day; however, they shouldn’t be hungry if you pack the right foods and follow a simple 4 + 1: Main meal, nutritious snack, fruit, drink and an extra snack for long days or increased activity.
Main meal recommendations:
- Salad wraps filled with your child’s favorite salad and protein like chicken, beef or egg are delicious and nutritious. Add some avocado for a healthy fat addition.
- Salads, which can include chicken strips or shredded meat from a leftover roast, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, carrot and cucumber sticks and hardboiled egg.
- A pre-baked muffin meal is a simple way to incorporate foods like bacon, egg and veggies into one convenient muffin that helps keep young ones going for hours.
- Homemade granola or muesli bars allow parents to put in exactly what they want and ensure the ingredients are all natural.
- Fruit muffins are easy to make ahead and a great time saver. A small amount of honey and the natural sweetness of the fruit (such as blueberries) make them a tasty treat.
Speaking of fruit … remember that many fruits are high in natural sugars so keep them in moderation. Common choices are bananas, apples and berries.
Also, steer clear of fruit juice boxes and instead stick to fresh, filtered water – it works best for hydration and contains no sugar. If you think your child needs a little extra boost in his or her lunch box, try adding some coconut yogurt.
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