Nutrition is a vital aspect of good health; especially when it comes to growing bodies and bellies. Here we chat to paediatric & children’s nutritionist (and resident Mumsie nutrition expert), about the importance of healthy dietary habits for kids.
When and why did you decide to become a paediatric & childhood nutritionist?
This first “1000 days” of life – from day one of conception to a child’s second birthday – is a critical window of time that sets the stage for a person's lifelong health. As a step-mum and new mum, I knew I wanted to focus my attention on paediatric and childhood nutrition when I went in to practice in 2018, to help inspire and educate new parents on ways to support this period of enormous potential and vulnerability with the right nutrition so they can build healthier and more prosperous futures for their children.
What is your personal food philosophy when it comes to feeding your family?
- Keep it simple. You don’t need to do much with good food to make it taste delicious.
- Eat with the seasons. Not only does this make fruit and vegetables fresher and cheaper, it encourages variety in our diets and a broad range of nutrients.
- Acknowledge the division of responsibility. As the parent, I am in charge of the food I offer my children, but it’s up to them if they choose to eat it, and how much.
A few years ago you lived in a van and travelled around Australia for 18 months with your kids. What did this experience teach you about life on the road (with a tiny kitchen!) with littles?
This experience was life-changingly good and one that threw a whole new set of eating challenges at me. Otis had only just turned 2, so making sure he continued to get all the nourishment he needed, was a priority for me. Life on the road taught me to refine my pantry staples and create recipes with simple ingredients – often limited fresh food – in a very compact van kitchen. It also forced me to plan our meals and snacks, be less wasteful and cook in bulk so we were never caught out and at the mercy of the limited offerings in remote places.
Do you have any suggestions for mum’s who are trying to foster their children’s interest in food and meal preparation in the kitchen?
Involve kids in every aspect of the meal preparation, from choosing recipes to shopping for ingredients, growing their own herbs to washing veggies, chopping food and simply taking dishes to the table – they’ll be more invested in, and likely to eat, the food they have helped create!
What are your top tips for momma’s with fussy eaters?
- Involve them. As mentioned above.
- Eat together whenever possible. Make meal times enjoyable and relaxed and turn off the TV and all devices.
- Set a good example by eating a wide variety of healthy foods. You can’t expect your children to have healthy eating habits if you don’t.
- Repeat exposure. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. One of the key predictors of if your child will eat a certain food is familiarity - children will eat what they like and what they know. Serve new foods alongside a food they know and like too.
- Encourage and reward healthy eating habits. In the same way you reward good behaviour...just don’t make the reward dessert. Rewarding children by saying they can have chocolate or ice cream if they eat their vegetables implies that they have to eat something bad to then eat something good, and likely to make like a food, even less.
So many children have food allergies and intolerances nowadays. Is there anything mums of young bubs can do to improve gut health from a young age?
A mother’s oral microbiome, breast skin flora, gut microbiome, mammary tissue microbes and vaginal microbiome all play a contributing role to the development of her baby’s gut microbiome. It’s pretty amazing stuff, and an area that we continue to see emerging research in.
The gut microbiome plays an essential role in immunity, with around 70-80% of the immune system housed here. So, for expectant mothers, along with the inclusion of prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods, I recommend taking a strain-specific probiotic during preconception, pregnancy & breast feeding.
Introduce probiotic-rich fermented or ‘cultured’ foods to babies when solid food is introduced. These foods do have an acquired taste, so just remember that a little bit goes a long way and you want to give your baby time to adjust their palate to the taste. Offer a safe sized piece of sauerkraut to suck on or add a little sauerkraut juice to purees. Add kefir to porridge or fruit purees - kefir contains approx. 3x more probiotics than yoghurt.
Building a strong immune system is a top priority for most parents. What natural remedies to you commonly recommend to help boost immunity in children? (bone broth etc.)
- Bone broth: a rich source of vitamins and minerals in easy to absorb forms, as well as gelatin that heals the gut and supports immune function. It also provides important fluids and electrolytes to maintain hydration.
- Organic chicken liver: is 10-100x higher in nutrients than muscle meats and rich in almost every vitamin and mineral that science has identified so far – it’s essentially “natures multivitamin”. Grate some frozen organic chicken liver in to mince meat dishes like Bolognese or a small amount can be grated and mixed in to a warm baby puree.
- Brightly coloured fruits & veggies: these are rich in antioxidants, a group of nutrients that include: vitamins A, C & E and zinc that power the immune cells.
- Garlic: is “natures antibiotic” and a cheap way to provide kids with some extra immune support. It’s a powerhouse of antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal compounds that adds great flavour to dishes.
- Herbs and spices: especially: garlic, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, thyme, oregano, and parsley are antimicrobial, antioxidant and contain other immune-boosting nutrients. The great thing is, just a small amount can really pack-a-punch when it comes to immunity, so add a pinch here and there to both savoury and sweet foods.
What’s your advice for mum’s who are stuck in the ‘snack trap’ (topping up hungry tummies in between meals)?
- Make sure they’re getting enough protein. Protein is what fills tiny tummies and keeps kids feeling fuller for longer. Including protein with meals and a small serve with snacks will tide them over until mealtimes and keep the constant nagging and snacking at bay. Good sources of protein include: meat, egg, cheese, fish, yoghurt, nuts & seeds, beans, lentils and chickpeas.
- Turn off any TV or devices while they eat. When kids are distracted by screens while they eat, their body isn’t focused at the task at hand – digesting food. Kids are also more likely to eat more food, feel less satisfied and have no record of what they just ate when distracted by TV or devices.
One of your services is ‘Microbiome Testing’. What is this and what insights can it give parents about their child’s microbiome health?
Microbiome testing is one of the functional medicine tools I use to report on a child’s gut microbiome’s diversity, the microbial species present and their functional output, which are linked to various states of health and disease. It’s essentially a poo test that tells us who’s living in their gut and what they’re doing there.
Diet and lifestyle, as well as nutritional medicine can modulate microbiome composition and function, and the insights gained from these tests help me to personalise a treatment plan to support better outcomes. I find it especially beneficial for children with digestive issues such as constipation, tummy aches and loose bowels etc.; atopic conditions such as allergies, eczema and asthma; behavioural and neurological conditions such as ADHD and Autism; mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression; and a history of antibiotic use, which can greatly disrupt the microbiome.
You are an essential oil fan. What are your favourite oils to use for kids?
I find using essential oils, especially for emotional and immune support with kids extremely effective and with just a handful of them you can make up your own natural medicine cabinet. My favourites are:
- Frankincense: calms the mind, settles grizzly behaviour, improves focus & mental clarity, supports the respiratory system support and soothes skin allergies
- Lavender: promotes restful sleep, relieves teething pain, soothes sore muscles and helps heal minor cuts and grazes
- Tea Tree: antibacterial treatment for minor cuts, scraps, burns & bites, and as a natural bug repellent
- Peppermint: a digestive aid, helps relieve colic and constipation, cools fevers and a nasal decongestant
- Citrus (orange, lemon, grapefruit): mood-enhancing and helps calm overstimulated children
To book a consultation with Lucy or link to her website go to www.lucystewartnutrition.com