7 tips on how to boost immunity and keep your kids healthy this winter
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Most adults catch a cold every now and then, but health experts reveal that kids can suffer through up to 10 colds a year.
Why? Because they have not yet built broad immunity to the hundreds of cold viruses that circulate in our environment.
No matter how much you love your children, a house full of coughing and sniffling little ones is no one’s idea of fun. Which makes helping to strengthen the body’s natural defence system key.
With finances incredibly stretched in many households, Laager Tea4Kidz partner and specialist dietitian, Mbali Mapholi, shares some affordable and sustainable nutritional solutions to keep children healthy this winter.
Laager Tea4Kidz brand manager, Wandile Ngubane, says the Delta variant driving the third wave is the most transmissible coronavirus variant to date.
And while vaccinations against the virus are still unavailable to children, they need to ensure their immunity is supported to protect them as much as possible. To assist parents and caregivers in this regard, they have asked Mapholi to share some practical and affordable tips.
Having a keen understanding of how best to boost children’s immunity Mapholi says the pandemic has caused many people to be unemployed, making food shopping an additional financial challenge.
“There is also an added pressure that comes with meeting nutritional needs for children to help support their immune systems during the winter season, and even more so with Covid-19 infections on the rise. It boils down to a varied diet of foods that offer nutrients to support your child’s immunity, gut health, and mental health. This can be achieved in a few simple steps,” she says.
Choose a healthy beverage
Children are the biggest culprits when it comes to the high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. These drinks are poor in the essential nutrients needed in winter, which is when we lose a great deal of water due to respiratory fluid loss through breathing. Our bodies also work harder under the weight of extra clothing, and sweat evaporates quickly in cold, dry air. Keep this in mind for children as children may not report thirst, but they may be easily dehydrated in winter. Fluids can be provided in the form of:
- Fruit juice: These are full of nutrients but need to be consumed in moderation as they are concentrated with natural sugar which can be a problem.
- Water: This is a good beverage for hydration, but it is important to remember it does not contain nutrients
- Rooibos tea: This is a caffeine-free, sugar-free healthy drink that helps support good health. The Laager Tea4Kidz range of Rooibos teas is developed specifically with children in mind, offering Rooibos tea flavours enriched with Vitamin C - a brilliant way to add more nutrients to a child’s diet. Rooibos also has a calming effect, making it the perfect drink during periods of anxiety.
- Milk: Either cow’s milk or nutrient-fortified, unsweetened plant-based milk is also packed with nutrients.
Keep up fruit and vegetable intake
Vegetables and fruits, particularly seasonal, are packed with a variety of nutrients that offer what your child’s body needs. Purchasing, storing, and cooking fresh vegetables can be challenging in a lockdown, but wherever possible, it is important to ensure children are getting plenty of fruit and vegetables in their diet. Some options to consider are:
- Frozen fruits and vegetables are a nutritious and affordable option that can be stored for longer.
- Use vegetables to cook large batches of soups, stews, or other dishes that last longer. These can be frozen and then quickly reheated.
- Canned vegetables, such as tomatoes, tend to contain lower quantities of vitamins, but they are a great fall-back option when fresh produce or frozen vegetables are hard to come by.
Embrace whole grains
Legumes and whole grains are packed with essential nutrients for good health including dietary fibre which is great for good gut health.
- Canned beans and chickpeas provide an abundance of nutrients and can be stored for months or even years.
- Canned oily fish such as sardines, pilchards, and salmon are rich in protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Use them in sandwiches, salads, or pasta dishes, or cooked as part of a warm meal for children. Omega-3 fats are also known to trigger the production of serotonin which helps ease anxiety.
- Plant sources of omega 3, such as flaxseeds, can be added to smoothies, bread, or even thrown into casseroles and other side dishes.
- Dried goods like beans, pulses, and grains - lentils, split peas, rice, and sorghum - are also nutritious, long-lasting options that are tasty, affordable, and filling. Sorghum cooked with milk or water is an excellent breakfast option with fresh fruit on the side. You can also blend up chickpeas with oil to make hummus for a dip or spread on bread.
Build up a stock of healthy snacks
Children often get hungry between meals but try to avoid sweets or salty snacks. Rather choose nuts, cheese, yoghurt (preferably unsweetened), chopped or dried fruits, boiled eggs, or other locally available healthy options. Remember a snack is a small nutritious meal that one can have between main meals while a treat is a non-nutritious fun food that should only be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Involve children in preparation
Cooking and eating together is a great way to create healthy routines, strengthen family bonds and have fun. Involve your children in food preparation by letting the younger ones help with washing or sorting food items while older children help with mixing and setting the table.
Limit highly-processed foods
While using fresh produce may not always be possible, try to limit the amount of highly processed foods. Ready-to-eat meals, packaged snacks, and desserts are often high in saturated fat, sugars, and salt. These foods consumed in high quantities may negatively impact a child’s gut health which in turn may affect their mental health. If you do purchase processed foods, check the label and try to choose healthier options.
Encourage healthy living
Beyond the nutritional aspect, there are other ways to boost a child’s immunity. These include:
- Sleep: This supports immunity, good gut health, and mental health. Children are often allowed to stay up too late in the holidays and wake up early which is not ideal. The recommended sleep time depends on age, but everyone needs at least six to eight hours of quality sleep.
- Regulated sun exposure: Children should play in the sun for at least 15 to 20 minutes during the day with most of their skin exposed to the sun for the production of vitamin D. This is important for immunity, with vitamin D deficiency associated with seasonal depression and enhanced anxiety.
- Keeping active: Allow children to be safely active while observing pandemic regulations. It is easy for them to spend a lot of time on-screen during the holidays so encourage them to play in and outside the house.