Keeping out the nasties

The way time is flying, winter will soon be upon us. You’d be very fortunate if your child escapes the sniffles and sneezes, so prevalent this time of year. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to help fight off the bugs.

Food is a hugely important factor. However, it’s the type of food we give our children that can make all the difference between a healthy child with a strong immune system, and one prone to picking up one infection after another.

For some guidelines, Dis-Chem Mother & Child spoke to Durban based registered dietician Kerryn Gibson, specialised in paediatric nutrition:

From the beginning: ‘breast still the best’

“Breast milk is a living tissue containing properties that immensely benefit growing babies. In addition to protein, it contains the vitamins needed for babies to build a strong immune system. Mothers should try to breast feed for at least a year,” says Gibson. “By six months old, breast milk on its own becomes inadequate to maintain a baby’s nutritional needs – fresh foods must be added to their diet,” she adds.

Too Busy?

“There’s a common misconception that preparing healthy meals takes time and fancy ingredients,” says Gibson, herself the mother of an infant and a toddler while running her private practice. “A simple healthy meal can be super easy to make. The trick is keeping a few specific items on your grocery list and in your kitchen as staples that can be put together in various combinations.”

Plan ahead! Start thinking about the next meal before it happens. Include all the food groups to keep meals balanced.

Quick and Easy:

Boiled eggs, slices of white cheese, chopped fresh fruit and baby tomatoes make a simple yet nutritious meal.

Hand in hand with nutrition:

• Maintain a calm (as possible!) stress-free home environment

• Fresh air and exercise

• Keep to a regular sleeping pattern

• Ban passive smoking. If there are smokers in the home, ensure that they smoke off your property.


Probiotics, Defence from the Gut

“Probiotics play an important role in our immune system,” says Gibson. “Our gut is one of our major defence barriers against external pathogens responsible for infections. Babies born naturally will ingest beneficial bacteria resulting in the colonisation of their gut with probiotics, which should then be topped up with breastmilk!”

Tip: Probiotic supplements should always be given after a course of antibiotics to replace the ‘good bacteria’.


Immune Boosting Foods

The proteins:

To name a few: eggs, chicken, meat, cheese, fresh and tinned fish, tofu, biltong, yoghurt.

Fruits & vegetables all have different vitamins but the fresher the better. Include both fruits and vegetables twice daily.

Tip:Try to keep fruit and vegetables seasonal and include as many colours as you can.


The Starches – providing a balance

“People are cautious of carbohydrates,” says Gibson, “yet they provide valuable fuel for muscles and the brain as well as essential vitamins important for growing children.”

Tip:Quick and healthy ‘carbs’ like sweet potato, tinned lentils, beans or chickpeas, wholewheat couscous and wholewheat pasta.

Snacks to Avoid:

Anything processed, sweet biscuits, crisps, sugary drinks, cakes, white flour. Keep treats to a minimum, no more than twice a week.

Tip:Offer snacks like biltong, fresh fruit, nuts, dried fruit, popcorn and freshly cut vegetable sticks.


The immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs that collectively defend the body against diseases and attacks by foreign bodies. It’s the immune system’s job to keep them out.

Take note:
Supplements: While it does no harm to add vitamin supplements or probiotics to your child’s diet, it may become necessary as an extra boost. There’s a seemingly endless variety of supplements containing specific vitamins or combinations available. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist for advice.


Healthy Eating Patterns

•          Stick to a set routine for meals and snacks – avoid ‘graze eating’ throughout the day.

•          Allow treats only once or twice a week.

•          Parents – set an example!

•          Offer plenty of water rather than juice.

Tip: “Foods should be as fresh and natural as possible; the further down the processing line, the more goodness will have been removed and unnatural substances added,” warns Gibson.