The close-knit relationship that we have with our gut and the trillions of microbes that make up our gut microbiota is one that starts from birth. Right from day one our gut microbes depend on us to nourish them and in return they help us to have a healthy and thriving existence. In fact, our first three years are fundamental in shaping the landscape of our gut microbiome.
To help our little ones to grow up strong and healthy we need to give them a diet that is rich in the nutrients that allow the gut and the brain to thrive. That seems pretty obvious, but kids may not be up for eating much in the way of fermented foods and fibrous veg – pizza and cookies tend to have more appeal. But, as any parent will know, a combination of persuasion and imagination can work wonders. Here’s a few tips…
START WITH FAMILIAR FOODS
Focus on foods that you know your kids already enjoy so that you can put a twist on something that feels familiar, such as taking a basic spaghetti Bolognese and making it 50/50 lentils and mince instead.
Carrots are a vegetable that many kids will eat without too much fuss. You can double up on fibre by getting them to dip carrot sticks into an avocado dip or hummus and it can be a great snack for them to take to school.
Waffles are always fun (at any age!), and try to base these on wholegrain flours – mixing up with oat, buckwheat, spelt and coconut combinations to get plenty of diverse sources of fibre. Add a slick of peanut butter which is often a favourite and some berries and/or banana. Both their palate and their gut microbes will be well and truly satisfied with such a breakfast of champions!
Apples, particularly stewed, are great for feeding microbes in the gut and are usually a pretty easy sell for kids, particularly if you add in some cinnamon and a drizzle of honey and give them a more enticing name like cinnamon toffee apples. Sweet potatoes are also brilliant as they are packed full of fibre and antioxidants, and more often than not suit mini taste buds, especially when made into wedges or fries.
ADD IN FOOD-BASED SOURCES OF GOOD BACTERIA
Increasing children’s intake of food-based sources of beneficial bacteria can mean simply adding in a couple of ‘magic ingredients’. This could be swirling a drizzle of honey through a natural full-fat unsweetened ‘live’ yogurt so that it tastes a bit sweeter. If your child has an allergy or reacts to dairy then you can use 100 per cent coconut milk yogurt with cultures. Cheese is also an easy win for a lot of little ones and packs trillions of bacteria into just a small serving – even better if it is unpasteurised. Don’t heat the cheese, to ensure maximum microbial benefits, and instead you can (almost) pass off a simple sandwich of grated Cheddar, fresh sourdough bread (another nice gut microbiota feeder) and some sliced tomatoes and maybe a bit of Parmesan, as a riff on a margarita pizza. If they are willing to give sauerkraut a go, try mixing it through cooked vegetables or adding it to a hearty salad or coleslaw to serve with burgers. Mango & passionfruit flavour Symprove also passes muster with many kids and set their gut off to a flying start in the morning!
MAKE THE PLATE COLOURFUL
Making the plate visually enticing with lots of colours can spark interest and so I always encourage parents, where possible, to let kids help, so they can feel proud about eating and enjoying their own creations. Using the phrase ‘eating the rainbow’ also gives them something to visualise and you can even have a picture on the fridge with fruits and vegetables in their various colours or a chart that they can tick off which can give them more incentive and insight around having a rainbow of veggies on their plate.
GIVE THEIR GUT MICROBIOTA A NAME
You can also try giving the gut microbiota a nickname (my god-daughter and I call it Bob) and explain to your kids that it is like a pet living inside each of our tummies and he/she needs feeding with plenty of fibre in the form of vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds to keep them healthy and happy.