By Sarah Smith from Bayside Dietetics
Have you heard the one about the adult who was cured of fatigue and tummy pain by making sure their gut was “healthy”? Kids can have these symptoms too but may struggle to communicate their concerns. Therefore, how do we help look after your child’s gut, short of ordering them to take kombucha shots before bed?
Let’s quickly touch base on what gut health actually means. Living inside your gut is an army of microbes. We’re talking bacteria and viruses but in a helpful way. A lot of recent evidence suggests that getting the right mix of microbes in your gut will look after you in many ways, from mood to immunity to reduce the risk of certain diseases. Now imagine we could offer this benefit to our children, who seem to have the greatest benefit from changes to their gut for the long term.
To get the right mix of microbes in your gut you have to feed them. To feed them, you have to eat foods that will travel from one end of the gut right to the other as microbes live at the very end of the gut. Commercial products can’t necessarily do this and don’t give enough variety for the microbes.
So here are a few food ideas that we know will reach the end of your child’s gut, and for various reasons will nourish your child’s gut particularly well.
Lentils. If I had audio, I’d attach the ominous “da da, da da” of an approaching shark. But as they are pretty bland, a lot of kids will accept them if mixed into a favourite meal. Lentils mix particularly well with mince. So next time you make tacos, or bolognaise or lasagne, consider adding a tin of drained lentils to the mix. 1 tin to 500g mince is a nice ratio.
The next time you make a roast dinner, consider adding a vegetable known as the Jerusalem artichoke. It roasts really well and can be mixed into your child’s other favourite roast vegetables.
For any dinner meal, cook with onion and garlic. Heaps of it!
A great use of leftovers is cold potato salad. Perfect for the lunch box. Younger kids will probably prefer this without any flavour while older kids may like yoghurt to mayonnaise stirred through.
Cold pasta and rice have similar benefits to cold potato. Again younger kids might like it plain, while older kids might join you in a cold pasta or rice salad at dinner.
A great after-school snack is a banana smoothie with added oats (1 tablespoon) and LSA – Linseed Sunflower Almond mix (1 teaspoon) plus honey to flavour.
Another gut boost for a smoothie would be to use fermented milk, also known as kefir. You can buy kefir and then make it into a smoothie using a half: a half mix of regular milk and kefir. Try adding honey and cinnamon or blend with their favourite fruits.
Baked foods are also great for snacks. If you get the chance to bake yourself try your favourite recipe using wholemeal rather than white flour. A proper chef would recommend a half: a half mix of white and wholemeal… but I’m a dietitian.
Speaking of snack foods, I bet at least one of your kids loves rice crackers. On their own, there is not much for the gut but spread them with hummus and you’ve added a wholesome legume – chickpeas.
Lunchboxes can be regularly filled with yoghurt. To keep it fresh, freeze overnight and put in a lunchbox in the morning.
Sauerkraut is the good old German fermented cabbage. Kids are unlikely to chow into a bowl of it, but try adding a spoon to a homemade burger or a sausage in bread. It may also be stirred through a mashed potato or a soup.
There is no need to measure and count your use of these foods. If you can include a variety of these kinds of foods regularly in your child’s diet, you will be looking after their gut health. And who knows how many “unspoken” tummy benefits there will be.
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