Let’s start with introducing yourself and sharing a simple summary of your ethos as a naturopath and nutritionist, and your clinical/personal approach to children’s health?
My name is Dee Copland and I am a mum of two boys who are 5 and 7 years old. I have been working in my own business as a Naturopath and Nutritionist in Australia and then back home in New Zealand for the past 18 years seeing clients 1:1. Since having my own kids, I have developed a passion for supporting parents more around children’s health. Our children are growing up in a more toxic world than ever before so I try to keep meals simple at home – mainly home-cooked meals made with simple, seasonal ingredients. I use the freezer a lot to store fruits and veggies when we have an abundance and this also helps to keep costs down. I do check food labels and try to avoid all the unnecessary chemicals which we do not need. When it comes to my clinical approach, I try to meet people where they are at. Small changes can be really positive so we can work up to an optimal dietary intake and way of life.
What are some common ailments or concerns that you work with in children?
Reoccurring colds, infections and eczema would be the most common reasons parents book in to see me, but also food intolerances, sleep issues and learning difficulties. From birth, children are building and strengthening their acquired immunity with each new immune encounter. But just like adults, little ones can face more serious challenges to their health and happiness. And this can be difficult not only for the child, but for the parents, too.
In your experience, what role does gut health play in children’s health?
A lot. Antibiotics, fussy eating, diarrhoea and constipation are all signs the gut is not functioning optimally and that will have impacts on other aspects of health ie. absorption and energy. Bacterial diversity living in and on us is important for wellbeing.
Do you see the gut-brain connection come into children’s health concerns and how can we support little bellies, and therefore brains and behaviour?
All parents want their child to be safe, happy and healthy. We want to see our children thriving. I feel that building strong foundations of physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental health means that when challenges inevitably arise on their journey, your child will be better equipped to weather the storm – together with you. Simply eating at the table each night as a family has important long-term benefits associated with better mental health. When nutritional needs are being met with adequate protein and good fats, blood sugar levels are usually more stable, reducing anxiety. Examples of good fats we need include avocado, salmon, raw nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olives and olive oil. Combining mashed kumara, canned salmon and egg makes easy patties which can be pan-fried or baked in the oven for an easy weekend brunch or meal.
Regular whole food being consumed across the day supports health also. Most of our neurotransmitters for healthy mood and behaviour are located around the gut wall so this is another reason why gut heath is so important. Food colourings, flavourings and preservatives can impact behaviour so are best limited.
What role does play and time in nature have on children’s health, and does this impact gut health?
Children encounter all sorts of germs from the moment they come into the world, and as they interact and explore it – playing and meeting new friends. This is not something to be afraid of – this process is a natural part of their development. In particular, the development of their immune system. Playing with animals and playing with (and eating) sand and soil help to expose children to microbes which help to develop the immune system and bacterial diversity in their digestive systems. Natural daylight is important for our circadian rhythm, sleep and vitamin D exposure.
When it comes to working with children, how do you assist with implementing changes, especially with fussy eaters?
Firstly, I check for nutritional deficiencies – when minerals such as zinc get low, it can mean children are more aware of tastes and textures in foods. Correcting these deficiencies is important and then I give parents tips on nutrient-dense foods to focus on to support their little people. Soups, mince dishes and smoothies are all easily digestible and many goodies can be masked ie. Frozen cauliflower rice, banana, collagen powder, cacao powder, almond milk and a dollop of peanut butter makes a great smoothie which packs a nutritional punch.
I recommend taking children food shopping with you and asking them to choose 3 vegetables and 3 fruits they would like to eat that week. You could then look up some new recipes to include them in.
Some parents also need a gentle reminder that they need to be role models. If one parent is also fussy, try to avoid focusing on what they don’t eat and set a good example enjoying the good foods they will eat.
Help children to look up a healthy recipe they would like to try such as the decadent chocolate mousse made using avocado, coconut oil, cacao and maple syrup. Shop together for the ingredients and help them follow the recipe to make it to ignite some interest and passion around food.
Do you recommend bone broth for children’s health, and if so, why?
Eating homemade bone broth in childhood has fantastic joint-strengthening and collagen-fortifying effects that can last a lifetime, so I always recommend children include broth in their diets while they are growing so rapidly. Studies have shown that those who still eat a traditional cuisine with meat stocks and rich bone broths on a regular basis tend to enjoy all the hallmarks of well-built bones and connective tissue, no matter their age; Skin is smoother, with tighter pores and smaller hair follicle openings, reflecting greater tensile strength. Cellulite is minimised in adults who consumed collagen-rich broths in their childhoods also.
Even if you didn’t get traditional soups as a child, regular infusions of stock convey bone-strengthening benefits throughout your adult life. When we have injuries to joint cartilage, the cells that build cartilage, called chondrocytes, have a tendency to undergo apoptosis (programmed cell death). Over time, with repeated injuries, the collagen layer thins and weakens, which usually leads to arthritis. Fortunately, there is something that will curb the chondrocytes from undergoing apoptosis – bone broth.
What are some fun ways for children to consume bone broth, and other gut loving foods?
Let children know that healthy foods make them stronger, faster or smarter – whatever motivates them. The way we teach our kids to eat and nourish their bodies will have a profound, flow-on effect for their own children, who will hopefully be stronger and more robust than the current generation who are presenting with more chronic illnesses than ever before.
You can add broth almost anywhere you would add water in cooking: for braising vegetables, in vegetables purees, soups, mince dishes or as a hot drink. I love how it makes a simple mince dish appear much glossier and more flavoursome. Bone broth powders are readily available and incredibly convenient if travelling, time-poor or to have while learning how to make broth from scratch using bones.
The Mitchells Bone Broth Protein Powder has a smooth consistency and is such an easy addition to a smoothie for little ones. I have always added protein powder to my boys’ smoothies to make them more sustaining and reduce the glycaemic load of just a fruity smoothie. I give them quarter the adult dose, for reference.
Collagen Powder is also easily added to a smoothie – it mixes in effortlessly and gives a fluffier consistency. Collagen is the major component of connective tissue in the body and is found naturally occurring in muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs, skin, arteries, veins, lymph vessels and joint cartilage. Traditionally, diets have included more gelatinous cuts which require slow-cooking to break them down (ie. shanks, tendons, ox tail, chicken feet) so collagen was supplied more readily than the main cuts consumed nowadays offer. I find smoothies so versatile – you can use a range of fruit, add spinach, mint, cauliflower, coconut water or a milk of choice and end up with a different flavour each time.
Gelatine powder is great in homemade jelly or in gummies. My children enjoy gummies in their lunchboxes most days and often again with their afternoon tea chatter-platter. They have been a part of making them since they were little – a glass pouring jug reduces some of the spill and helps with their fine-motor skills. We vary the flavours but my go-to recipe is: Add 3-4 Tbsp gelatin to 100mL water in a pot and let it bloom for a few minutes. Add another 250mL liquid (water, lemon juice, berry smoothie or coconut cream) and 1-2 Tbsp honey or rice malt syrup, to sweeten, if needed. Warm gently over low heat until combined. Let it cool slightly and then pour into silicon moulds. I use silicon moulds from Kmart but plenty of kitchen stores sell them. Transfer on a chopping board into the fridge or freezer to set and then pop them out and store in them in a container in the freezer. They only take a few minutes to defrost but kids also like to eat them frozen.
For a treat, my boys enjoy kombucha served in special crystal glasses that once belonged to a great aunt. Kombucha is a fermented drink which has been used traditionally as a tonic to supply more beneficial bacteria into the gut to support wellbeing.
What are your top three tips for supporting children’s health, daily?
- I believe children, like adults need nourishing meals, physical exercise outdoors in the fresh air and enough sleep.
- Nourishing food provides the building blocks for their joint health, mental wellbeing and immune system. If children have been involved in the creation of food, whether it was planting herb seedlings and taking care of them, picking out the vegetables at the Farmer’s Market, chopping, mixing, cooking or serving the meal, then they will be more interested in eating it. No matter what age they are you can get children involved in the kitchen.
- Focus on the basics of health and wellbeing, essential to giving your child the best chance in life – offering you some peace of mind that your child is off to a good start as they set out in life, prepared with tools for the amazing adventure ahead.
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