Around 15,000 children in the UK are living with some form of arthritis. They have to deal with fatigue, stiff and painful joints and the medication can cause nausea and loss of appetite. It can be difficult for parents to know how best to help. Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition, so eating an anti inflammatory diet can help relieve some of the symptoms and reduce flare ups.
An anti-inflammatory way of eating can help us all stay healthy so it is not about giving one child a special diet, it is about eating well as a family and this should improve the symptoms or reduce flare ups of arthritis as well as improving the health of the whole family.
Parents provide good eating role models, so get the whole family interested in eating more anti inflammatory food. Try and eat altogether as often as possible and provide a variety of foods. Getting children involved in shopping or cooking can be a good way to start getting them interested in good food.
Take a look at the food that makes up regular meals and snacks. The most inflammatory foods are sugar, white flour and processed foods. These don’t need to be eliminated from the diet but should become a small part rather than the child’s main food.
It can be a challenge to encourage children to eat more wholegrains and fruit and vegetables and busy parents may feel that they don’t have the time to make radial changes.
Make some gradual steps.
Include more wholegrains – bread, oats, rice, pasta, flour. As they are full of fibre you use less and feel full for longer
If you buy white bread – try different wholegrain options – there will be one out there your child will like. Make sandwiches with one slice white and the other wholegrain to start off, or move to oatcakes, wholegrain crackers or pitta pockets.
If you bake – start by replacing half of the white flour with a wholegrain, either wholewheat or experiment with other grains like buckwheat, quinoa, coconut. You can even make oat flour by putting some oats in the blender. Take a look at the Improve Nutrition Facebook page – lots of ideas for healthy swaps and snack recipes.
Variety is key to ensure good nutrition. Pasta or spaghetti every day is not very nutritious You can get varieties made with all sorts of vegetables or wholegrains which are more exciting or get a spiraliser and try courgetty spaghetti.
Again half and half with your normal spaghetti can be a good way to incorporate more vegetables into the diet.If you make couscous, why not try replacing half with cauliflower and carrot couscous – just put some cauliflower and carrot in the blender until riced and steam for 5 minutes then add to cooked couscous.
Mashed potato – try cauliflower and sweet potato mash – or do half and half.
Put a bowl of mixed vegetables on the table and encourage children to try. Add grated veg when cooking mince or making burgers.
Drinks – watch fruit juice, diluting juice or fizzy drinks as they either contain hidden sugar or artificial sweeteners. Buy some fruit teas and make up a jug of water with a couple of tea bags in overnight if plain water won't do and drink milk or nut milks. A whole piece of fruit is better than fruit juice. Berries and pineapple are especially anti-inflammatory
Protein is especially important for growing bodies – lean meat, low fat dairy, nuts, nut butters, fish, eggs, tofu, lentils and beans. Add lentils to vegetable soup or beans to a casserole and try hummus or bean dips with carrot sticks.
Healthy fats are essential for joints and bones. Use olive oil for cooking, if they like oily fish like mackeral, herring , sardines and salmon - serve a couple of times a week. Children usually like fish cakes which are easy to make at home. Avocados can make a good dip or spread. Nuts and seeds can be ground and sprinkled on everything from cereal , soups and savoury dishes.
Get outside and soak up that Vitamin D – essential for healthy bones and joints and especially important for children with arthritis. You can get this tested quite easily.
Some children with arthritis have sensitivities to dairy or gluten. Get some advice if you are thinking of removing these from your child’s diet to ensure they are getting enough nutrients for healthy growth and development.
If medication reduces appetite or makes your child nauseous, offer small regular meals and avoid food with strong flavours. Peppermint and ginger can help reduce the sick feeling.
When young people with arthritis leave home
Once children with arthritis grow up and leave home, there are lots of bits of equipment that can help with food preparation - from special knives to electric jar openers and all sorts of choppers and slicers to make life easier.
Supermarkets sell all sorts of ready prepared fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, pouches of cooked wholegrain rice and other wholegrains, jars of ready crushed garlic and herbs, great if you are too fatigued or sore to cook.
When friends or relatives come over get them to help prepare meals
Cook in bulk and freeze portions so you don’t have to cook every day and on a day when cooking seems too daunting you will have a healthy option quickly available.