How To Keep Your Kids Healthy When It’s Cold And Miserable Outside

Personal trainer and nutrition coach Sarah Campus shares how to keep the whole family healthy as we head into winter

healthy winter

by Sarah Campus |
Updated on

For more parenting stories and advice, check out Grazia's parenting community on Instagram @TheJuggleUK

Winter can be a challenging time for the family in terms of exercising and keeping nutrition on track. Dark mornings and evenings can affect mood, cold weather can make outdoor exercise far from attractive and lack of sunshine can reduce production of vitamin D, which is vital for healthy muscles and bones. It’s no surprise that Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short) makes many of us feel less than great during the long winter period. However, winter does not need to result in loss of fitness or poor health for the family - there are several things that can be done to prevent a seasonal decline. Prevention is better than cure for the winter blues, so put these tips into action to stay on track this winter.

Eat plenty of fruit and veg

They are nutritional powerhouses packed full of essential vitamins, minerals and fibre. Aim for fruit and vegetables grown in season and locally whenever possible, as they will contain more nutrients than those that have travelled a distance.

Nutritious seasonal fruits and vegetables that are readily available in winter include pumpkin, butternut squash, apples, beetroot, courgettes, rocket, samphire, marrow, mushrooms, potatoes, leeks, blackberries, pears, plums and parsnips. Each of these foods is high in essential nutrients and should be very good value during the winter months.

Stay hydrated

Lower temperatures, sweating less and a general lack of thirst may mean that children and parents alike drink less water. You might find you're drinking more comforting hot beverages such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate. While they can provide a useful source of water, their caffeine content means that urine output increases, which could cancel out some of their contribution to hydration. To remedy this, try replacing some caffeinated beverages with caffeine-free alternatives such as herbal and fruit tea, soup, warm water with lemon or decaffeinated coffee and tea. And make sure the kids always have a glass of water in front of them.

Boost the immune system

Closed windows, central heating and sharing classrooms with people who are unwell means that your - and your kids' - immune systems come under serious assault during the winter months. Increased stress, common for many people during the festive season and any other time when families get together, can also suppress the immune system, leaving it open to invasion. However, several nutrients play an important part in proper immune system function:

Vitamin C - good sources include citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, sweet potatoes and red, green or yellow peppers.

Zinc - found in oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains.

Fermented foods such as live yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup and tempeh are all high in probiotics, which keep the gut healthy by increasing the amount of good bacteria. This plays an important part in the function of the immune system. Antibiotics can deplete good gut bacteria so, to ensure a full recovery after being prescribed this kind of medication, consuming probiotic foods is a must.

Lack of sunshine can result in lack of vitamin D, which can cause depression, joint pain and fatigue. Get outside every time you spot some winter sun, but you can also get vitamin D from: egg yolks, beef liver, Portobello mushrooms and oily fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel. It's a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it needs dietary fat to be effectively utilised within the body. So eat with healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter from grass-fed cows and nuts or seeds.

Consume more good carbs

Cold, damp, dark weather can increase carb cravings, but not all carbs are bad. Avoid refined carbs, which tend to have a high sugar content. While they provide a quick energy fix, a rapid and powerful insulin response can create a similarly quick energy slump. They are also easily converted to stored fat.

In contrast, healthy carbs are less processed and low in sugar so they release their energy more slowly. This helps to keep blood glucose levels and therefore energy levels stable. Stock up on winter carb options like potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole-grain breads and pastas, brown and wild rice, legumes, millet, quinoa, buckwheat and whole oats.

Avoid overeating

Bad weather means that stodgy comfort foods are very appealing, and that's before we even get to the nutritional onslaught of the festive season. While the occasional indulgence is fine, it's important not to allow comfort eating to become habitual. Try to plan delicious, healthy comfort foods that contain a lot of vegetables and fibre. Soups and stews can be very satisfying and warming.

Exercise consistently

Exercise is important for your family's mental health in the winter months because it keeps endorphins (feel good hormones) high, and cortisol (stress hormones) low.

Encourage the kids to exercise by being their role model. Your children watch and mimic your habits, good and bad, so if want them to get up and out then you have to do exactly that. Make exercise fun and use it as transportation - running down stairs, running to the bus stop, taking the stairs over the lift, even get kids involved in your household activities. Involve the whole family - babies, toddlers, dogs, everyone - the more the merrier, and focus on fun - make a game out of it..

Other ways to get kids motivated when it's cold and dark is to kick off with a morning silly dance while emptying the dishwasher. This will increase the heart rate, release the endorphins and give them even more of an appetite for breakfast. Then head over to the playground and make up games to get them running around - for example, the first person to the tree and back. Go on a family run, and make it a regular event so they will get used to it. On the run you can do games like 'I spy'.

Getting moving from the start of the day will shake off the winter blues and keep you nice and warm for the day ahead.

Sarah Campus

Sarah Campus is a mother of two and founder of LDN MUMS FITNESS

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us