Little ones flying the nest for the first time; big ones heading off to secondary school with barely more than a glance back at the gates; the new school year is well underway, which means coughs and colds will no doubt be rearing their ugly heads soon too. According to a recent study carried out by the Department of Education, over 58% of all children's school absences are due to illness, and although sometimes that can't be helped, there are a few immunity-boosting steps we can all take to help keep back-to-school germs at bay.
The advice is simple, but we know it isn't always easy to get your kids to eat a plate of broccoli, carrots and kale no matter how nutritious it is. That said, it's essential to try to get them to eat as wide a variety of vegetables and fruits as possible - they're packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and early exposure to a broad range of different flavoured and textured healthy foods is said to 'train' kids' taste buds, helping them make better food choices later in life. At home, roasting veg with garlic, soy sauce, or ginger gives them a lot more flavour, and blending as many veg as you possibly can into a tomato sauce for pasta works a treat too. At school, avoid sweet treats in lunch boxes and swap for nuts and fruits coated in yoghurt - they're packed with zinc, which is a really effective immunity booster.
Keep on top of tissues
Dirty tissues left lying around are one of the main culprits when it comes to spreading common cold germs, so remembering to 'blow then throw' is important. When you cough, sneeze or blow your nose, the secretions that end up in your tissue are teeming with the virus that's making you ill in the first place and they're hardy too, surviving for at least 15 minutes on the fibres. When you leave a tissue for someone else to pick up, you're increasing their susceptibility to infection, so teach little people to throw away any used tissues and to wash their hands straight away after blowing.
Be strict with sleep
Not enough sleep can really knock the immune system, so it's crucial that your bundle of joy is getting enough shuteye. If they're a bit hyped up, or nervous about something happening at school the next day, magnesium is known as 'nature's tranquiliser' and science suggests that the miracle mineral helps us not only fall asleep initially, but stay asleep too as it improves the balance of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. Great magnesium-rich foods include pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish, leafy green vegetables and avocado; a calming, magnesium-packed nighttime snack of yoghurt and banana is a good choice too.
Avoid tummy trouble
Over 70% of our immune system resides in our gut and there are trillions of life-affirming bacteria living in each of our gastrointestinal systems, which we need to keep happy in order that they keep us healthy. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts (microorganisms) that have various health benefits when consumed and that are easily introduced into our bodies to keep the bacteria happy and to keep our digestive systems ticking over nicely. You can go down the food route, but besides yoghurt - a staple kids' favourite - unless your adventurous little person is partial to tempeh (Indonesian fermented soybean) and Korean kimchi on a bed of sauerkraut, it's probably easier to swerve probiotic-heavy foods and head down the supplement route.
Soak up the sun
Getting enough vitamin D ensures adequate absorption of calcium for our bones (hugely important when kids are growing), but also helps keep the immune system functioning normally and well. The lovely warmth of sun on our skin is a central source of vitamin D during warmer months, but levels naturally drop when the days get shorter and darker, so besides a diet rich in salmon, eggs and cereals, a daily supplement can help here too.