Top 6 Ways To Improve Digestion In Your Kids

In my book, Raising Resilience, I discuss Three Core Dietary Strategies to focus on if you want to improve the health of your kids. Taking steps to improve digestion is one of them.

I picked “eat to improve digestion” as a core strategy because what goes on in the digestive system influences the entire body.  Yes, the entire body. It’s no surprise that talk of probiotics, sauerkraut and Kombucha is all the rage right now.

Indeed, I find that focusing some attention on digestion  yields huge “bang for your buck”.  For busy parents who are short on time, energy and resources, that’s important.



Why Go To All This Trouble?

Poor digestion can be at the root of your child’s irritability, disturbed sleep, aggression, tantrums, inattention, hyperactivity, and more. Don’t get me wrong… there can be more to the story. But digestion is a crucial part. Here’s why….

Digestion has two roles: break food apart into compounds that are usable by the body as nourishment, and eliminate waste.

If food breakdown is not happening well then a few things happen:

  • – Food starts to cause irritation and inflammation in the gut and stimulates the immune system. You end up with inflammation, sore tummy, constipation, and sometimes neurological effects like moodiness, anxiety and hyperactivity
  • – nutrients don’t get to cells so cells become malnourished despite good intake and body systems don’t work well because of that

If elimination is poor, a few things happen:

  • – Hormones and chemicals that should be exiting out of the body can instead be reabsorbed into the blood from stool that is sitting in the colon
  • – fermentation causes digestive upset and inflammation.

There’s also a heck of a lot else going on in the digestive tract that has little to do with the process of digestion itself.

About 5 to 10 lb. and at least 1000 different species of bugs live in your digestive tract. Their jobs include not only digesting food and regulating metabolism, but also include educating immune cells, aiding in detoxification, regulating appetite, acting as a physical barrier against pathogens, creating certain vitamins, hormones and neurotransmitters.

Those bugs are big players in your health for sure.



How To Support Digestion

Supporting digestive function requires that we support the delicate balance of bacteria and yeast in the digestive tract, and keep all the digestive organs, pathways and mucosa happy and well nourished. 

Here are 6 things you can do to improve the digestion of your kids. Pick one or two to start with.

1. Set a Calm Tone for Meals

I know this one can be tricky for busy families, but finding ways to help your child sit and focus on their food can help digestion a great deal.

When you relieve tension, slow down, and focus, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system which prompts the release of the “rest, digest, and grow” hormones. Anxiety, worry, and eating on the run, activates the sympathetic system which shunts resources away from long-term priorities like digestion.

Further, cortisol, our master stress hormone, can cause inflammation of the gut lining and seems to have the ability to open up the tight junctions of the gut and lead to increased intestinal permeability. It can also destroy beneficial gut flora.

TRY THIS:

  • concentrate your energy on making eating sessions peaceful to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to do its job and generally reducing stress.
  • avoid letting your kids eat mindlessly while multitasking (reading, watching TV, playing video games) or walking around
  • light a candle, dim the lights, create a ritual around eating time
  • try calming music
  • come up with light hearted games to keep the kids focused
  • take some time after your meal to remain in that restful mode so that digestion can finish. Try to focus your kids on a game of cards, reading a story, colouring, or working on homework.

2. Include Probiotic Supplements (and/or Fermented Food)

Probiotics are all the rage these days. And for good reason – they reinforce the helpful bacteria in the gut, helping to prevent pathogenic microbes from getting too powerful.

Recall that a healthy gut carries about 5 to 10 lb. of bacteria, whose jobs range from digesting food to regulating immune function, metabolism and gene expression.

A properly fermented food is one that is high in the type of bacteria, and sometimes healthy yeast, that keeps the gut environment in a healthy balance. Including fermented food in your child’s diet is the best way to keep the inner ecosystem of the gut healthy. The next best option is a good quality probiotic supplement.

Try This:

  • Good quality yogurt and kefir are the easiest to incorporate, as long as your child can tolerate dairy.
  • Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and water kefir are other options, if you are a little more daring. They’re not as hard as you may think to make, and are also easy to find in most good healthfood stores. Look for them in the refrigerated section.
  • Try making this probiotic strawberry-lemon-lime soda
  • If you just can’t get fermented foods into your child, supplement with a good quality probiotic. You’ll likely want one that has a combination of lactobacilli and bifidum strains, and it’s best to alternate brands every so often so as to diversify the species. There are about 1,000 different species of bugs in the gut. We need them all to be present and strong. Microbial diversity is a key to good health. You’ll not get that in a supplement, but it's a start

3. Avoid digestion trouble-makers

It’s not difficult to destabilize the ecosystem of the gut. The following are some of the things that negatively impact digestive enzymes, microbial balance, and pH levels of the digestive tract. Avoiding these whenever possible will help ensure a healthy digestive system.

  • antibiotics
  • steroids
  • chemical (paints, fumes, fragrances, cigarette smoke, cleaners, poor air quality...)
  • stress
  • infection
  • birth control pills
  • sugar
  • chlorinated water
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), like Tylenol and Naproxen
  • soft drinks
  • heavy metals

Avoid these as much as you can so they don’t interfere with your efforts. If you find your kids are exposed to any of there, spend some time focusing on all the other aspects here and in my book to get the digestive system back on track.

4. Include Foods Known to Heal, Soothe, and Nourish

There are many foods which help to heal, soothe, and nourish the gut lining, stimulate digestive juices, and reduce inflammation. Here are a few:

  • Garlic and onions stimulate the production of bile which is needed for fat digestion.
  • Lemon, raw apple cider vinegar, and fermented vegetables will help normalize stomach acid levels and general pH of the intestinal tract.
  • Peppermint, ginger, raspberry leaf, and chamomile teas are soothing and toning to the stomach lining.
  • Papaya and pineapple contain protein-digesting enzymes.
  • Okra, leeks, mushroom, slippery elm, and licorice root can be helpful for healing a damaged lining.
  • Foods high in vitamin D, A, essential fatty acids, and zinc will nourish the digestive lining
  • Berries (particularly blueberries), turmeric, ginger, wild fish (salmon or sardines are good choices), cold-pressed unheated virgin olive oil, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli or kale), garlic, and green tea have all been shown to reduce inflammation
  • Broth made from animal bones provides nourishment to the mucosal lining of the gut

You’ll find many of these foods incorporated in my recipes here and in my book.

5. Focus on Flavonoid-Rich Foods

Flavonoids are phytochemicals; they are natural chemicals found in plants, and are essential for health.

Flavonoids are found in fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those that have a rich colour. Red grapes, blueberries, blackberries, citrus (though be careful as lots of kids are sensitive to citrus), purple potatoes, onions, and purple cabbage are some foods rich in flavonoids.

Flavonoids seem to have a protective effect on the tight junctions in our digestive lining, have an ability to reduce gut inflammation, and help regulate probiotic bacteria colonies.

When foods are stored, cooked, and processed, flavonoid content is dramatically decreased. So eating some raw foods and the freshest possible, including a rainbow of colours, will help ensure good flavonoid intake.

I’ve recommended many phytonutrient supplements over the years to families who can’t get enough fresh fruits and vegetables into their kids, but the best one I have found is this one. Hands down.

6. Add More Fabulous Fibre
Adequate fibre in the diet is critical for optimal digestive function.
Fibre does many things for digestive health. Here are a few things fibre does:

  • nourishes gut bacteria,
  • is transformed into important fatty acids,
  • bulks up stool,
  • speeds up the passage rate through the digestive tract (transit time),
  • binds to and pulls toxic compounds from the body

Include whole foods like beans, pumpkin, cauliflower, nuts, coconut, seeds, and high fibre fruits like apples and apricots every single day.

Most of us don’t get nearly enough fibre in our diets. Start to pay attention to how much your child is getting by reading food labels. If you think it’s less than about 20 g. a day, consider adding a fibre supplement to mix into foods and drinks to support digestive health. Choose one that combines both soluble and insoluble types of fibre.

Increase dietary fibre slowly as it can be irritating to a damaged digestive tract. If you see evidence of gas, bloat, pain, constipation, or diarrhea you need to either move more slowly or hold off on this strategy while you work on the others. Then try again.


A healthy digestive system is critical to health. I know you’re busy and you need to be efficient. That’s why I teach parents simple things they can do that bring massive return on investment.

Focusing some attention on digestive health a little every day is one of those things. If you want to use food as a tool to improve your child's health, pick one of these things to start with and then work through the list. There are more ideas in this post and in my book which also covers the other 2 Core Dietary Strategies and recipes to make this all come alive.

These core strategies form my roadmap to help guide you in helping your kids achieve better health. You can read a bit more about this roadmap in this post.

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