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Nourishing Little Learners ~ Supporting cognitive function, Blood Sugar Balance, & Immune Health

We all raise our children differently, yet each parent shares the same goal; to keep our children safe and healthy while navigating through the many juggling acts that come with parenthood ~ and the “Mom/Dad, I’m hungry!!”   

Up to the age of 5, children are undergoing rapid growth in muscles, body tissues and brain development.  Once the time comes to send our kids out the door and off to school, breakfasts and lunches can be a rushed, chaotic, even dreaded event.  In this read, I hope to provide useful, nutritional education along with strategies to send your little learners off to school with maximized focus and nourishment to last all day!   Let’s start with one of the top worries for parents –  Immune health

There are various factors contributing to the strength of our immune system, but food and nourishment is a main one.  Food can either have a positive or negative impact, as our immune systems depend on vital nutrients that support its optimal performance.  A huge factor linked to the health of our immune system is Gut Health (yes, the healthy gut bacteria hanging around your digestive tract!). These trillions of gut bacteria, not only help us absorb and digest our food, they produce chemicals that kill viruses, bad bacteria, and fungi. Did you know, 80% of the immune system’s activity lies in the small intestine? This makes it imperative to support our healthy gut microbes.  Simply put, a strong immune system will not exist without a healthy microbiome. [Source: Hopkins Medicine]

Common destroyers of a healthy gut are: 

  • Oral Antibiotics (which do a great job at killing an overgrowth of bad bacteria but also take the good ones with them)
  • Refined Sugar/Processed Foods/Low Fiber diets (creating an overpopulated colony of bad gut bacteria).   
  • GMO Foods:  These foods may contain a herbicide called glyphosate used in GM crops. Glyphosate has been found to upset intestinal microflora balance continuing the growth of harmful bacterial strains. This can reduce the immune system, as well as influence mood and behavior.  Common GMO foods to be aware of:   Corn, Soy, Canola Oil

Environmental/Lifestyle factors may negatively affect a child’s immune system:  

  • Too much time indoors (which limits the creation of Vitamin D we get from sun, an immune serving nutrient)
  • Over-use of antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers (opt for washing hands where possible) Hand sanitizers kill the bad bacteria and much of the good bacteria.  Overusing alcohol based hand sanitizers may also cause the development of antibacterial resistant bacteria.
  • Poor Sleep:  When the body is deprived of sleep, it may decrease production of protective cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies.

Reminder:  A young child frequently getting sick is not necessarily an indicator of poor immune health.  A child’s immune system is still growing and developing until about 8 years of age, meaning this adaptive immune system takes time to strengthen.  With each exposure to a pathogen, such as a bacteria or virus, this prompts the immune system to react, produce antibodies that fight it off, and then remember it for next time.   Good quality sleep and nourishing the immune system with the right nutrients, will greatly help their bodies push through minor/common illnesses with less challenges.

Top Immune Boosting Examples: 

Vegetable Broths:  Made from organic vegetables (keep skin on).  Full of trace minerals, fiber, and diverse vitamins (throw in some immune boosting garlic and onions!).  Highly absorbable when cooked with healthy fat. 

Bone Broths:  Full of amino acids like cysteine and glutamine that help reduce inflammation and boost immunity. 

Ways to enjoy: Use as the base of a soup or sauté vegetables in broth in place of water, use broth within mashed potatoes.

Garlic:  Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral.  This multi-benefit, powerful vegetable is always affordable!  I incorporate garlic with almost all of my dishes.

Ginger: Powerful anti-inflammatory agent.  Easy to sneak freshly shredded ginger into vegetable juice or a kid friendly smoothie.

Omega 3 fatty acids:   Our immune system, brain, and gut health depends on this essential fat!  We call it essential because our bodies cannot make this fatty acid.  Wild caught salmon, sardines, shrimp, various nuts and seeds all contain omega 3’s.  Hemp seeds provide an optimal Omega 3 to 6 ratio.

Seeds/Nuts/Lean Meat:  These support the immune system with their amounts of Zinc and Protein, both required for different roles in the immune function.  Nuts and seeds provide good amounts of Vitamin E, necessary for immune health through its anti-oxidant properties along with fiber that feeds good gut bacteria.

Probiotics:  A diverse, high population of good bacteria is key to immune health.  When the gut bacteria is off balance, chances are your immune system is not functioning optimally either.

  • Sauerkraut
  • Fermented Pickles
  • Coconut Kefir / Whole, low sugar yogurt
  • Organic Green Olives
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Multi-strand probiotic supplement (Lactobacillus paracasei, Bifidobacterium. Lactobacillus rhamnosus) These specific strands have shown to enhance immune function in various studies)


  • Anti-oxidant, fiber, & vitamin C rich, helping to protect little one’s brain from free-radical damage from daily toxin exposure of today’s world.  (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries)
  • Top onto oatmeal or yogurt ~ or include within an almond butter smoothie with base of full fat dairy/non-dairy milk option (unsweetened)


  • Excellent antioxidants and Immune boosters such as Vitamin C, A, E. 

Ways to Enjoy:

  • Steamed with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or roasted sesame seed oil
  • In a creamy soup (with coconut milk base)
  • Chopped into healthy pasta option (red lentil pasta, whole grain, quinoa, brown rice)


  • Packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents with immune boosters such as Vitamin C, and choline and folate

 Ways to Enjoy: 

  • Steamed with a drizzle of olive oil or roasted sesame seed oil
  • In a Creamy Cauliflower Soup (my favourite recipe is inspired by Simple Vegan: I suggest replacing the extra virgin olive oil with avocado oil due to a higher smoke point.
  • Roasted cauliflower with hummus dip


STRATEGY TO USE WITH EACH MEAL (including lunches):
  • Always Include in a Healthy Fat and/or adequate Protein

Why are healthy fats so important especially in the younger/developmental years?

Besides supplying fuel for the body, fats are:

  • Necessary for the absorption of fat soluble Vitamins (A, D, E, and K)
  • Serve as the building blocks of hormones
  • Insulate all nervous system tissues in the body
  • Supports structure of the brain
  • Provide blood sugar balance
  • Keep you full for longer

Healthy fats are a crucial part of a child’s diet. They are the main molecules determining your brain’s integrity & cognitive abilities. Most brain growth is completed by 5-6 years of age making the early nutritional years important ones.  For younger kids especially, fat and cholesterol play important roles in brain development.  Generally speaking, kids should eat a diverse diet with about one third of calories coming from fat.

  • Fat and protein are crucial building blocks for each cell in our body.   The brain is comprised of 60% fats (saturated and omega 3 make up majority of brain fatty acids). 
  • Including a Fat or protein at each meal will support blood sugar balance allowing your child to feel satisfied and fuller longer for improved focus and balanced moods

Protein is found in every cell in the body.  The body breaks down protein into amino acids, the building blocks for the growth and repair of muscle cells, organs, skin, nails, enzyme creation, hormones and antibodies ~ serving as an important component to a healthy immune system!  Just like fat, it’s essential to a child’s optimal growth and development.

Moderate ~ High Protein Ideas: 

  • Beans
  • Nuts (if allowed),
  • Seeds
  • Good quality dairy
  • High quality clean meats
  • Lentils
  • Nutritional Yeast (natural cheesy flavour and complete source)
  • Quinoa
  • Chickpeas

Protein at breakfast will keep children full for longer, boost focus and mood.  Most typical breakfasts are simple carbs (such as fruit and toast) which give kids a quick burst of energy, then quick drop in blood sugar.  An all carb breakfast such as toast and fruit, is a recipe for irritability, concentration issues & feeling hungry quickly after, due to the body’s ability to digest this food type quickly.

Side note:  Research has shown a direct correlation between breakfast and academic success along with lower anxiety & hyperactivity, improved focus, and less behavioral issues. [Source

Rule of thumb with fruits:  Fruits provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals and are high in fiber.  When eating fruit, combining it with a healthy fat or protein will provide better balance & lasting energy.  Why not on its own?  There will be a more gradual release of blood sugar when combined with a healthy Protein or fat, along with the fiber content, resulting in more sustained energy (longer digestion times).


Free Range Whole Eggs (whichever way you please!) 

  • Be sure to add in some red peppers, onions, lightly sautéed spinach, etc. for added boost of antioxidants/fiber
  • Half an egg’s protein is found in the yolk, along with choline, folate, B12, Vitamin  A, D, fatty acids

My favourite way to enjoy:

  • Muffin egg bites with onions, spinach, peppers (you can make these in bulk and store up to 4 days in the fridge!)

Oats (done overnight in slowcooker is my favourite!)

  • High in soluble fiber (providing sense of fullness)
  • Source of Vitamin B’s. Vitamin E, Potassium and Zinc for immune support and brain function
  • Drizzle in nut butter, blueberries, sliced bananas, hemp seeds

Pumpkin Protein Pancakes

Soaked Chia Pudding (leave overnight in fridge for chia seeds to plump up and absorb liquid)

  • Made with mixing cannced full fat coconut milk with whole plain Greek yogurt (or dairy free equivalent)
  • Mix in chia seeds, maple syrup
  • Top with blueberries or sliced banana

Chia Seeds:

  • Excellent source of omega 3’s (greatly supporting brain and gut health and blood sugar balance)
  • High in fiber
  • Good source of protein
  • Good source of iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc

Chia Protein Breakfast Balls

  • 1 cup of steel cut oats
  • 1 cup of almond butter or sunflower butter (if packing for school)
  • ¼ cup chia seeds
  • 1.5 tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • ¼ tsp unrefined sea salt
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chips ~ 70% or more (antioxidants, prebiotic, magnesium)

Add all ingredients (minus chocolate chips) into a food processor or blender until blended.  Place into bowl and add in chocolate chips.  Blend together well.

Begin creating small balls and place onto parchment paper within airtight or class containers.  Chill in fridge for a few hours. 

Healthy Toast with Below Topping Options (Sourdough, Sprouted whole grain, Whole grain flax, Sprouted Rye)

  • Top with avocado smash (made with sea salt, lime juice, garlic, hemp seeds, drizzle of honey)
  • Top with almond butter and sliced bananas
  • Cucumber sliced onto hummus

  • Focus on REAL food aka not processed or packaged (these are often full of sugar, additives, chemicals, low in nutrient value and may impair gut health).
  • Include a fat and/or protein with each meal: Supports focus, immunity and satisfy hunger for longer durations.
  • Don’t let MARKETING LABELS such as “Healthy or Low Fat” fool you:   Marketing companies say whatever they want on their labels.  The ingredients within will allow YOU to decide the quality.  More often than not, steer clear of vegetable oils, added sugars, sweeteners, or dyes.
  • Serve range of COLORS:  Each fruit or vegetable color serves a range of benefits and are draw in a child’s interest.
  • Include a mix of food groups:  vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and clean protein
  • Pack water or pure coconut water: avoid packing fruit juices which are full of sugar with no fiber, causing sugar spikes and no value to the gut or immune system.  Coconut water is high in vitamins and minerals and contains excellent electrolytes
  • If serving toast or pasta choose healthier options:  Sourdough, Sprouted whole grain, Whole grain flax, Sprouted rye ~ Label **avoid white flour or much sugar added.  Pastas: red lentil, quinoa, brown rice, sprouted grain, chickpea, zucchini noodles
  • Limit processed or refined carbs:  These offer little to no nutrient value as found in most pastas.  Instead look for healthier pasta and complex carb options such as vegetables, whole fruit, legumes, whole grains, oats, barley, quinoa pasta, brown rice pasta, red lentil pasta, etc..
  • DON’T AIM FOR PERFECTION: We will never be perfect and neither will our diets.  In little steps, this may encourage you to be more aware of your selections.  Aim for practicing these habits 80% of the time and don’t stress the rest ~ life is meant to be enjoyable and not full of restriction.  Our bodies are resilient when the majority of our choices are healthy.

Drop me a comment if you found this helpful. learned something new, or have a topic suggestion?!

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