When I eventually have kiddies, I've convinced myself my little cherubs will diligently eat all their greens. My friends, most of whom are already parents, think this is hilarious!
I was raised as a healthy child. Home cooked dinners always included at least two portions of vegetables, and if I didn't eat everything on my plate, there was no dessert. When I say 'dessert', we're not talking jelly and ice cream or white chocolate cheesecake .. pudding was essentially fruit and, as a special treat, raisins!
We used to go and visit my grandad at weekends. He of course was less concerned about our nutritional intake and more excited to see our little faces light up at the prospect of chocolate or cake! Under my mothers strict instructions, he used to fill a jar with raisins for each of us and the real treat was a glacier cherry hidden at the bottom of the pot!
Does a toddlers diet really matter?
We know that, as adults, it's our job to set a positive example to our children. But did you know that toddlers learn what, when, and how much to eat through direct experiences with food, and by observing the eating behaviours of those around them. According to scientific research, these eating habits evolve during the first few years of life.
If we take it back even further to when they are babies, what you eat whilst breastfeeding can equally have an impact on your child's eating behaviour, because it may promote acceptance of flavours in mums diet that are passed on through breast milk. As a result, breastfed babies who are exposed to wider variety of flavours due to their mother's diet, can more readily accept a selection of foods during the transition to solids.
Children's Diet and Their Skin
If you've landed on this page because you're looking to make some changes in order to help your child's eczema or psoriasis, there are lots of things we can try. The most important dietary changes we can make are eliminating potential trigger foods and encouraging children to enjoy more healthful fruits and vegetables.
How Do You Know What Triggers Skin?
This is the toughy! In an adult elimination diet, I recommend removing as many potentially problematic food groups as possible, before slowly reintroducing foods to look for a reaction. With children, especially fussy ones, it's really difficult to significantly restrict their food choices and not always recommended. A food journal can be helpful in correlating flare ups. Sometimes skin flares are not instant, so keeping a log of what your child has eaten, alongside how their skin is each day, can help you spot patterns.
The most common trigger foods when it comes to eczema tend to be peanuts, dairy, eggs, wheat, soy and fish. Begin, if possible, by eliminating these. Whilst peanuts, eggs and fish might not pose too much of a problem, lots of children are introduced to dairy from a young age. The myth still persists that kids need dairy for calcium. This is simply not true. Read more about plant-based calcium sources in my article here.
If your child is showing early signs of psoriasis, you might want to consider taking nightshades out of the equation as well. These can be particularly triggering for autoimmune conditions.
Introduce a Probiotic
We're hearing more and more about the benefits of probiotics for adults struggling with skin conditions. The same applies with children. Probiotics work to replenish the good bacteria in our gut. If your little one has been prescribed antibiotics from a young age, replenishing that healthy microbiome is particularly essential.
My Multi Strain Probiotic is suitable for children. In babies as young as one year old, we recommend adding just 5 drops to a juice. Dosage can be slightly increased for older children, with instructions on the bottle. Since the bottle has a wide neck, you might like to invest in a pipette (just a couple of quid on Amazon) which can help you dispense it more accurately. The taste is a little like sour, fizzy apple juice and I'm consistently impressed with the feedback we get from parents telling us their child enjoys the flavour! My probiotic is also recommended throughout pregnancy and for breastfeeding mums.
How to Convince Your Fussy Child
If you're the parent of a fussy eater, and continually facing an uphill battle when it comes to trying to convince them kale is not the devils work, I want to share a little list of ideas to get them more interested in eating healthy foods.
It's worrying to read that studies reveal 18% to 33% of infants consume no distinct servings of vegetables on a typical day, and where they are eating veg, the most popular choice is chips.
If your child is already exhibiting symptoms of a skin condition, you might be looking to improve or make changes to their diet to see if something is triggering a reaction. This is where getting both sneaky and creative can really win the day!
Teach Kids Where Food Comes From
My big passion since lockdown last year has been expanding my little vegetable garden. I'm trying my best to get my godson Jack involved so that he understands the concept of planting seeds and watching them grow into food! If you don't have much outdoor space, taking the kids to a local farm shop, or pumpkin patch and letting them choose their own veggies, or getting them involved in the cooking process can be a fantastic way to get them interested.
Make Fruit and Veg Fun
Banana stars, apple hearts and bunny rabbit carrot faces, use cutters to create fun and inspiring shapes at snack time. If you're feeling really creative, shaping dinosaurs out of cucumbers and spiky hedgehogs using fruit kebabs can make fun party food for kids.
Disguise Veg into Stuff They Will Eat
There's nothing like a little deception to get your child eating something they'd ordinarily flat out refuse to touch! Whether it's incorporating cauliflower into mash, making spag bol with half and half pasta / courgetti noodles, or blending a vegetable soup with carrots, there are heaps of sneaky ways to get those vitamins in without them even realising!
If They Won't Eat Them, Juice Them!
I've known even the fussiest kids down handfuls of spinach when it's disguised in a juice! To be clear, we're not talking thick, green smoothies here - even I'd struggle with blended veg! A juicer extracts the juice from spinach, kale, celery etc and dumps the pulp separately. What you're left with is an easy-to-drink consistency. Add a little lemon or lime and apples or pears for sweetness and most kids will happily sip away. You might need to begin by adding more fruit and less veg, but over time you can reduce the sweetness and make sure they're getting plenty of vegetable vitamins. Kids also love the action of using the juicer, which makes the process fun for them.
Keep Fruit Handy
When my friend Rachel's kids ask for a snack, they're encouraged to help themselves from the fruit bowl. Keeping apples, kiwis, bananas, pears and grapes handy for children to help themselves is a great idea. In the summer month, stock the fridge with plenty of chopped fresh melon and berries so that they can enjoy a refreshing and healthy snack.
Create Interactive Meal Times
Children love touching food, dipping food and generally making a mess with food! Using healthy homemade dips such as guacamole, hummus or nut butter not only gives them something fun to dip their veggies into, but adds extra vitamins and nutrients too.
Go Half and Half Reducing Dairy
Allergies to milk can be a real problem when it comes to childhood eczema. Transitioning your child away from dairy, if they're already become a milk fiend, can be a tough ask. Kids know the difference between cow's milk and coconut milk and they're not always going to be pleasantly surprised by your plant-based introductions! If you think dairy might be a problem for your little one, try going half and half with milk. Pouring 50% cows milk and 50% oat milk over their favourite cereal should go unnoticed. Then gradually increase the plant based milk and hopefully they're remain oblivious! There are heaps of delicious vegan ice creams available in the supermarket too. Booja Booja is perhaps the healthiest of options, but if you're wanting to give your child a dairy free sweet treat, Wicked and Magnum do some amazing cones and chocolate covered ice creams too!
Explain to a Child That Diet Can Help Their Skin
If you little one is concerned about their skin because it's sore or itchy, explaining to them that the amazing vitamins in colourful fruits and vegetables can help them get better is a great way to encourage them to eat a rainbow of nutrients. I speak to many parents whose dermatologist has said in front of their child that diet plays no role in their eczema. Not only is this blatantly not true, it's also incredibly unhelpful. Ask your Doctor to support your treatment plan, and if that includes diet, encourage them to speak positively in front of your child.
Eczema in Very Young Babies
You might not want to hear it, but if you're breastfeeding and your little one is struggling with a skin condition, it's your diet we need to focus on. Babies absorb their nutrients through breast milk which also contains compounds to help protect your baby against infection and disease. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding up until six months old and continuing to breastfeed, as well as introducing other foods, until two years of age. Studies show that breast milk can help degrade inflammatory compounds, increase immune function, and decrease sensitivity of infants.
If your baby is showing early signs of eczema, or if there is a family history of dermatitis, a study by The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that breastfeeding mums should actively avoid peanuts and tree nuts, and might also consider eliminating eggs, cow's milk, and fish from their diets. My book Skin Healing Expert can help with step by step changes and recipe ideas.
Make sure you're getting plenty of vitamins and nutrients whilst breastfeeding. These are most beneficial when sourced from plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. If you're struggling to find the time to prepare fresh meals each day, making a bulk of green juices and freezing them can be a really convenient way to have vitamins to hand. Juices should always be enjoyed alongside meals whilst breastfeeding. During a strict juice fast, the body rids itself of toxins and these toxins are released into your bloodstream. Breastfeeding is one time when drinking juice only is absolutely not recommended. Healthful vegetable soups, stews and chilli can also be prepared in advance in batches and chilled or frozen so that you have nutritious, fresh food to hand.
What to Apply to a Child's Skin
In addition to diet, it's important to pay great attention to the products you apply on the surface of your child's skin. You might be interested in reading more about soothing eczema, with kind, natural topicals here. This combined approach of healing from the inside out, whilst simultaneously nourishing and calming inflammatory symptoms on the surface, is a fantastic, holistic approach to your little ones skin health.
Do you have any top tips to share on encouraging your child to enjoy healthy mealtimes? Please post in the comments below.