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Back to school! 6 ways to keep your kids healthy this year

by Laura Palmer

Just like that, the summer holidays are over and it’s time for a new school term for the kids. Bubbles and self-isolation are out, for now, with education chiefs promising a ‘more normal’ year ahead. But with Covid-19 cases continuing to rise steadily, you’d be wise not to count on an illness-free autumn.

If that wasn’t enough to think about, 18 months of social distancing and mask-wearing mean it won’t just be Covid-19 making children sick either. Why? Because they haven’t had the usual exposure to colds and flu they need to build up immunity to fight off winter bugs.

So how do you supercharge your child’s immune system, to help them avoid illness, or shake it off quickly? There’s no magic cure-all, but there are easy to implement lifestyle changes that will minimise those sick days. Here are some health tips for primary school students and beyond, that should send the back to school lurgies packing:

1. Eat the rainbow:

If you’re one of those lucky parents whose kids just love fruit and vegetables, the wellbeing benefits are huge! Fruit and veg are rich in phytonutrients, especially foods that are red, orange, and yellow. They have powerful immune-boosting properties that help the body to create more white blood cells to fight off infection. Even better, they are present in high quantities in kid-friendly fruits like oranges, melon, mango, tomato, and strawberries, which shouldn’t be too tricky to convince children to eat.

Green vegetables are your go-to for high volumes of antioxidants: which protect cells from damage and disease. Broccoli and dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale are packed with vitamins. Plus nutrients like potassium, folate, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Unlikely to be top of many kids favourite food list, you could try incorporating kale and spinach into smoothies with sweeter fruits, to disguise the taste. There are some great recipes here if you need some inspo.

2. Microbiome magic:

Getting your child to eat lots of different fruit and veg will also boost their microbiome. The microbiome is the trillions of tiny bacteria that live in the gut. Research has shown that having a healthy one is essential for a strong immune system.

Exposing the microbiome to different fruit and veg each day nourishes these millions of organisms, and helps create a better balance of healthy versus unhealthy bacteria. Want to find out more about the microbiome and how it works? Read all about it in our recent blog.

3. Ditch the processed foods:

If you’re keen to try boosting the good bacteria in your child’s microbiome, then processed foods have to go. Ultra-processed foods like ready meals, breaded nuggets, crisps, fizzy drinks, white bread, and sugary breakfast cereals are full of chemicals and low in fibre.

As well as being a major contributor to childhood obesity (in 2018 one in 10 children aged four to five were classified as obese in the UK!), eating ultra-processed foods also reduces the diversity of the good bacteria that live in your gut. This can lead to digestive problems, fatigue, and a poorly functioning immune system.

You can help by binning the junk and choosing natural foods, and meals cooked from scratch. You could also try introducing probiotics and prebiotics into your child’s diet. Many yoghurts have probiotic properties, but do watch the sugar content. Instead try unsweetened coconut kefir, with soft fruits added for flavour. Kefir is a great microbiome booster, packed with good bacteria. If you want to discover more about which foods are good and bad for you and your child’s health, try reading Dr. Tim Spector’s book The Diet Myth. It’s quite the eye-opener.

4. Get the right vitamins and minerals:

Vitamin C is well known for its infection fighting properties, but one of the simplest good health tips for a child is to up their vitamin D and zinc levels.

Zinc is essential for the optimum function of the immune system, because it plays a crucial role in the production of new immune system cells. You’ll find plenty in foods like oysters, red meat, and chicken. It’s also present in some nuts, but in much lower quantities than animal-based foods. So if your child is veggie, vegan, or simply isn’t keen on meat, or oysters (not the most child-friendly fare!), consider giving them a supplement to boost their zinc levels.

Vital vitamin D:

Essential for keeping your immune system healthy, there’s also evidence vitamin D may protect against respiratory illnesses in general – particularly Covid-19, according to some studies. While kids can get the vitamin D they need by soaking up sunshine in the summer, it’s much harder to get enough during the cooler months.

At this time of year, it’s definitely worth giving your child a vitamin D supplement. The good news is the Kids Multivitamin & Omega-3 Patch contains both zinc and vitamin D at the optimum daily dose (plus tons of other immune system and health-promoting vitamins and minerals). What’s more, the patch format is a great alternative for kids who don’t like swallowing pills. Patches also help you avoid sugary gummy vitamins, which can be detrimental to developing teeth. Your dentist will thank you later.

5. Make oily fish their BFF:

Looking for more health tips for kids? Don’t forget to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into their diet where possible. Found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and fresh tuna, omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties. It also activates and inhibits different types of immune cells in the body, leading to a super strong immune system.

And that’s not all, studies have shown that omega-3 can help to improve children’s brain function and concentration, support the formation of healthy bones, and even promote a good night’s sleep. Top of every parent’s wish list!

To get enough omega-3, you should try and include fish in your child’s diet twice a week, one portion oily, and the other white. Fish can definitely be a bit of a ‘love it, or loathe it’ food for many kids. Trying out tasty treats like homemade salmon fish fingers, potato fishcakes, or fish fajitas could help you sneak some fish onto the menu. If you’ve got a fish refusenik on your hands, don’t stress. The Kids Multivitamin & Omega-3 Patch contains the optimum daily dose of these fantastic fatty acids for your child. No fishy aftertaste guaranteed- Phew!

6. Catch those Zzz’s:

A good night of restful sleep is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle for kids. Research has shown that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to become infected by a virus. Once you’re ill, lack of sleep can also slow down your recovery.

When you sleep your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection, and sleep deprivation can decrease the production of these protective cytokines.

If your child isn’t sleeping enough their body also won’t produce as many infection-fighting antibodies and cells either. Our Kids Sleep patches can help get your little cherub back into a good sleep routine.

As a general rule, toddlers need up to 13 hours shut-eye each night. 3 to 12-year-olds, should have up to 12 hours, and teens should aim for 8 – 10 hours. Sweet dreams!