child eating dinner with parents at the dinner table

4 Easy Ways to Boost Your Child's Gut Health

As parents and caregivers, the importance of nurturing children's overall health from the earliest stages of development is crucial. Childhood is a time of rapid growth and development, and a healthy gut plays a crucial role in supporting your child's overall wellbeing. The bacteria in your child’s gut plays an important role in keeping them healthy, both mentally and physically. In this blog, Registered Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert explores the shaping of children's gut microbiome and how to support their growth and development.

How a child's microbiome is shaped from birth

As a baby transitions from living and growing inside their mother, to birth, another biological miracle occurs: the development of the microbiome and the beginning of a lifelong relationship with microbes—a relationship that is in constant flux.

During pregnancy, the developing foetus encounters microbial communities from the mother, primarily through the placenta and amniotic fluid. However, the most significant influence on the initial shaping of the microbiome occurs during and immediately after birth.

The mode of delivery plays a role in the development of the microbiome, with vaginally born infants being exposed to maternal vaginal microbes, while infants born via Caesarean section have reduced exposure to these microbes and instead acquire microbes primarily from the surrounding environment, such as the mother's skin and hospital surfaces.

In the first few years of life, the microbiome undergoes dynamic changes influenced by various factors, including diet, environmental exposures, exposure to other people and breastfeeding. Breast milk, in particular, contains a diverse array of beneficial bacteria and prebiotic compounds that help nourish and support the growth of beneficial microbes in the infant's gut, further shaping the microbiome's composition and function.

It is believed that before the age of four or five, a child’s microbiome remains flexible. This is a great time to build a strong and healthy gut in children. Beyond this age the microbiome is harder to change as it becomes well established. Everyone’s microbiome is unique and, interestingly, diet can be responsible for up to 75% of this variation!

What nutrition looks like for children

Nutrition for kids is based on the same ideas as nutrition for adults. Everyone needs the same nutrients - vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fat. Children need different amounts of specific nutrients at different ages. Incorporating a variety of foods keeps their meals interesting and flavourful. It’s also the key to a healthy and balanced diet because each food has a unique mix of nutrients—both macronutrients and micronutrients – that work synergistically to nourish the body.


  • When choosing a carbohydrate source, aim to include those rich in fibre.
  • Opt for whole grains (such as whole-grain bread and pasta) or foods made with minimally processed whole grains (such as quinoa, oats, bulgur wheat and brown rice).
  • Vegetables rich in carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and squash are a great source of fibre and boast a sustained energy source.
  • Beans and legumes also provide a rich source of fibre and provide a sustained energy source.
  • The type of carbohydrate in their diet is more important than the amount of carbohydrate in their diet, because some sources of carbohydrate—like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans—are much healthier than sugar and foods made from white flour.


  • Choose beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based healthy protein options, as well as fish, eggs, and lean meat such as poultry.
  • Limit red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and avoid processed meats (bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, sausages).
  • The World Health Organisation has classified processed meats as group 1 carcinogens, meaning that there is strong evidence to show that consumption of processed meats increased your risk of developing cancer.


  • Children's diets should prioritise unsaturated fats found in sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and oily fish for heart health, cognitive function and overall well-being.
  • Conversely, reducing intake of saturated fats from sources such as red meat, butter, and processed foods is crucial.
  • Excessive saturated fat intake is linked to adverse health effects like increased risk of heart disease and obesity, highlighting the importance of balanced fat consumption for children's health.

Cooking Oils

  • When cooking, use oils from plants that are rich in unsaturated fats like extra virgin olive, rapeseed, sunflower, and avocado oil in cooking and on salads.
  • Limit butter or any hydrogenated spreads to occasional use.

Fruits and Vegetables

  • The more fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen) in your child's diet – and the greater the variety – the better!
  • Each of your child’s meals should contain at least 1 fruit or vegetable.
  • Both vegetables and fruit contain essential nutrients that are important for their health, growth and development.
  • In particular, vitamin A and C, which are crucial for children’s health, are predominantly obtained through fruit and vegetable consumption. Both of these essential vitamins play a crucial role in immune function.

Vitamin D supplementation

  • The NHS recommends that all children supplement with 10mcg of vitamin D daily from birth, ensuring healthy bone development and overall well-being. The exception applies to formula-fed infants consuming over 500ml of infant formula daily, as infant formula already contains fortified vitamin D, meeting their nutritional needs.
  • Obtaining sufficient vitamin D solely from our diet is challenging due to its limited presence in certain foods and in relatively small quantities. Additionally, factors such as limited sunlight exposure, particularly in the UK, further contribute to the difficulty in meeting our vitamin D requirements through natural means. Therefore, supplementation becomes essential to ensure optimal vitamin D levels for overall health and well-being.

Any tips to help parents

As a parent, you want the best for your child. You want them to live long, happy, and productive lives. This means keeping your children in good health is at the top of your priority list. Introducing a range of healthy foods to develop your child's taste buds can help them to grow a fondness for these types of foods. Studies have shown that early experiences with nutritious foods and flavour variety may maximise the likelihood that children will choose a healthier diet as they grow, because they like the tastes and the variety of the foods it contains.

Children often have discerning palates, but the last thing we should do is cease introducing them to new foods or variety in their diets. According to the child feeding theory “Division of Responsibility”, the best way to tackle fussy eating is to acknowledge your child’s natural self-feeding and food regulation capacities, and to create a supportive environment where children can flourish as competent eaters.

A parent's main role is to determine; what foods are served, where the meal is served and when the meal occurs. A child’s role is to determine what they eat from the meal and how much they eat.
Some feeding tips that could help with picky eating and encourage your child to try new foods include:

  • Eating as a family,
  • Not pressuring, restricting or bribing,
  • Getting them involved in the cooking process,
  • Eating meals and snacks on a schedule,
  • Offering balanced, sit down snacks rather than food on-the-go,
  • Not interfering with your child’s natural growth or body size.

If you've exhausted all your efforts and still see no improvement in your child's eating habits, or if you require additional support, it's crucial to seek guidance from a qualified dietitian or Registered Nutritionist. They can provide expert insight and help uncover any underlying issues that may be contributing to the challenge.

4 easy ways to boost your child’s gut health

1. Feed the good bugs

The human intestines are home to more than 100 trillion organisms, mainly bacteria. These “bugs” protect against infection, help digest food, bolster immunity, and may even protect against the development of chronic diseases. Fibre in grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and other plant foods helps keep gut bacteria healthy. Getting plenty of fibre from food can also help reduce the odds for constipation, a common childhood problem. Children don't need as much fibre in their diet as older teenagers and adults, but they still need more than they get currently on average in the UK:

  • 2 to 5 year-olds: need about 15g of fibre a day
  • 5 to 11 year-olds: need about 20g
  • 11 to 16 year-olds: need about 25g

By ensuring your child consumes a diverse array of plant foods, you will bolster their gut health as different plant foods feed different gut microbes. Therefore, the more diverse the plant foods in their diet are, the more their gut microbes will flourish!

Why not try these colourful and delicious Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos.

black bean tacos from Rhiannon Lambert

2. Increase beneficial bacteria intake

Fermented foods that contain live, active bacteria cultures—such as ‘live’ yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi—can add more good bugs to your child’s gastrointestinal tract. It’s important to be aware that fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles can be high in salt. For these reasons it's a good idea to introduce these kinds of foods in small tastes for weaning babies, to get them used to the flavours, and then in small quantities for children on a more consistent basis (rather than a large amount occasionally).

3. Limit UPFs

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) have been consistently linked to poorer health. Although the area of research around UPFs is still in its infancy, existing evidence suggests that UPFs can have negative effects on gut health. A diet packed with ultra-processed foods such as packaged sweets, cookies, and processed meat may prevent beneficial gut bugs from thriving. Several studies have demonstrated a potential link between ultra-processed foods (UPFs) and chronic inflammation in the gut, so limiting their intake, particularly in childhood, is important to ensure proper development and function of their gut microbiome. It’s important to note that not all UPFs are created equal, and ones high in added sugars and unhealthy fats should be the ones to minimise first - things like soft drinks, fast food, heavily processed snacks like crisps and packaged sweets, and sugary cereals. Be wary of UPFs marketed as “healthy” alternatives, such as protein bars, processed greens powders or items labelled as ‘sugar-free’, ‘calorie-free’, or ‘diet’. Despite seeming healthy, many of these products still fall under ultra-processed foods (not all of them, so do read the labels).

4. Get outside

Getting outside can significantly benefit gut health in various ways. Firstly, exposure to natural environments exposes children to a diverse array of microbes present in soil, plants, and the air, which could positively influence the diversity of their gut microbiome. Additionally, outdoor play often involves physical activity, which stimulates digestion and helps regulate bowel movements, contributing to a healthier gut. Overall, incorporating outdoor play into a child's routine can have profound and lasting benefits for their gut health and overall well-being.


1. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Impact of Diet and Prebiotic and Probiotic
Interventions. (2020).
2. National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Infant Microbiome: Implications for Infant Health. (2015).
3. Frontiers. Evolution of the Gut Microbiome in Early Childhood. (2020).
4. National Institutes of Health (NIH). How Ultraprocessed Foods Affect Gut Microbiome and Health. (2017).
5. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Kids Healthy Eating Plate. (n.d.).