As the seasons change, so do our appetites for certain foods – and our kids aren’t any different. Winter is the cold and flu season, and it’s important to make sure we’re nourishing little tummies with gut-friendly snacks and meals that even the fussiest kids will eat.
Why gut-friendly, you may ask? The gut microbiome – the community of bacteria living inside each and every one of our guts – has links to many different health and disease states. Research is showing that your gut bacteria have links to cardiovascular disease, obesity, type II diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, mental health, and more! It is also linked to your immune system. It’s important for all of us – and especially developing tummies – that we fuel our gut bacteria with the very best foods they enjoy munching on.
When we eat these gut-friendly foods which are called prebiotics, we nourish our gut bugs and help them to produce beneficial substances that can contribute to protecting our gut lining, helping our immune system, assist digestion, and many other important bodily functions.
Christine Stewart is a nutritionist, registered nurse, Microba Microbiome Coach, and mum of two. She’s provided some handy lunchbox ideas to keep your little one’s gut bugs and taste buds happy, whether they go to school, daycare, or are at home with you and just need prepared snacks.
“Prebiotics are key for healthy tummies, and we can find prebiotics in so many, every day and affordable foods,” she said.
“Basically, a prebiotic is something that can’t be broken down by your digestive juices and ends up in your gut microbiome to nourish the helpful bacteria. You need to feed your gut bugs the right types of prebiotics for it to function at its best. Therefore, look for foods that offer varied types of prebiotics.
Resistant oligosaccharides – which are found in foods such as wheat, rye, onion, and garlic; resistant starch – found in green bananas, oats and cooked and cooled rice and potatoes; phytochemicals – generally in many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes; non-starch polysaccharides – in rye, wheat, barley, apples, and plums.
This is where ‘eating the rainbow’ comes in, as there are so many different beneficial gut fuels for your bacteria. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, beans, legumes, and nuts and seeds are key to a healthy diet. But how do we get our fussy little ones to eat such variety? Here are some easy, affordable, and gut-friendly ideas below. And don’t forget the adults in the house can eat these too!”
These are Christine’s top five tips to increase the gut-friendly foods in your child’s lunchbox – whether they’re back at school or learning at home. This may even get them to try new foods!
- Make vegetable sticks more exciting by including a tasty dip in their lunchbox. Simple guacamole (smashed avocado and lemon juice) is an easy to prepare dip that encourages children to eat their veggies at school. If there is no avocado, then opt for a homemade or store-bought hummus to mix things up (my husband likes the jalapeno-infused hummus – this works a treat for him too)
- Throw in some cooked and chilled edamame beans in their lunch box. Kids love to pop the beans from their shells! This fun yet nutritious snack is packed full of gut-nourishing compounds that both you and your little people will love. Shelled edamame beans are also a great topper for salads and Asian style dishes too.
- Pack a delicious pesto pasta salad as an alternative to sandwiches and wraps. When pasta has been cooked and cooled prior to eating, it increases the amount of resistant starch – a type of prebiotic that helps the good bacteria flourish and produce helpful substances for our health. (This same principle also works with rice, so next time you have leftover fried rice – pop some into a lunchbox and enjoy it cold the next day).
- Cook a little extra salmon next time this is on the menu for dinner and serve up the leftovers in salmon and avocado salad boats in their lunch box the next day. Baby cos lettuce has a natural ‘boat’ shape and when filled, is a great sized snack for kids who are busy. Add some cooked and cooled rice noodles, shredded coleslaw mix, or a combination of the two with a squiggle of mayonnaise (why not add a dot of wasabi to the mayo as a tasty treat for the adults in the house too).
- Try adding a stuffed pita bread to the lunch box instead of their regular sandwich. Go for the wholemeal variety and fill it with salad and their favorite toppers such as grilled veggies, falafels, or some leftover meatballs. Pita bread can be a great way to hide some extra vegetables, beans, or a spread of tahini for some added gut love.
Christine says that parents shouldn’t be hard on themselves if their kid is overly fussy and refuses to eat a big variety of prebiotics. She says –
“We know that all kids are different, so you can start them off with one new thing a week and find what foods they like best!”
“You can also get creative by hiding grated vegetables such as carrots or zucchini in meals or turning your snacks into works of art with smiley faces made from fruits and nuts or cutting sandwiches or fruit into fun shapes.”
“The best thing you can do is set in place some good gut-friendly favourite foods now while they’re young and hope that they continue to expand their rainbow foods as they grow older.
“It’s also not too late for us older kids either! There is always time to set new dietary habits in place. Try eating some of the new foods you give your child and think about expanding your own grains, fruits, and vegetable options. Your gut bugs will thank you for it!”