November 8, 1999
Keeping kids healthy is easier than you think
by Dr. Angela C. Hein, Naturopathic Physician
With increasing demands on families, there are fewer hours to do the things we think we should be doing to keep our families healthy. I have found that a few basic steps can have a great impact on everyone in the family: attitude, diet, preparing for winter, and keeping a schedule.
Attitude: A pro-active attitude toward health is very important--this is often called "prevention." Acting early is the key--don't wait until there is a problem if you suspect one. For example, if a child has the sniffles, it is time to curb sugar, and increase fluids, vitamin C, and rest, rather than wait until a cold develops. A child's body is designed to stay well, and with a little ongoing support and early intervention, many illnesses can be avoided. Another key concept is to include the whole family in healthy changes. Chances are if one child is frequently ill, the whole family could use some support.
Diet: Diet is the safest, most basic tool a parent has. If the child is growing well for his/her age, then the diet is most likely adequate in calories. But how about the diet quality? This can be a parent's nightmare, especially with picky eaters. So let's think simply:
Prepare for winter: It is true that during winter, there are more illnesses. This is due in part to cool weather and school, but it is also due to increased consumption of sweets.
- Eat a rainbow--offer children fruits and vegetables with a variety of colors, tastes, and textures.
- I recommend that you aim for 3 meals and 2 snacks/day and avoid routine desserts, unless it's fruit. Prioritize a healthy breakfast--whole grain cereals, yogurt, eggs, and fruit are favorites. Pack lunches that contain fresh fruits/vegetables. Scrutinize school lunches and snacks for nutrition. Eat dinner at home more often than out (leftovers make easy lunch packing).
- Always keep healthy foods available: chopped vegetables and fruit in the refrigerator, whole grain crackers or corn chips, hard boiled eggs, nuts, and seeds or trail mix for older children.
- Avoid refined foods containing white sugar, white flour, flavorings, colorings, additives, and caffeine. In fact, don't keep them in the house, and healthy choices become easier.
- Offer water for thirst. Dilute fruit juices by half and limit to 3 glasses/day.
Schedule: With many parents working and increased activities outside of the home, meal times, study time, and bed times tend to be flexible. Find a schedule that works for you and stick to it. Establish routines for waking, dressing, and breakfast. Develop evening patterns for clean up, studies, and preparing for bed. Remember children need about 10 hours of sleep--and so do you.
- From Halloween through Easter--all of our winter holidays are celebrated with rich foods and sweets. I recommend you set and stick to limits regarding the amount of sugar a child may have any time of the year, then follow your own rules.
- Fresh vegetable juices can make a nice addition to the diet at any time, but especially in the winter, when we eat fewer salads and fruits. A good drink would include a base fruit juice with freshly juiced vegetables--remember to include a green veggie. For example: apple juice (fresh, or bottled or frozen to save time) with freshly juiced carrot or beet, celery, or parsley, and lemon or ginger for zing. Diluting thse juices improves acceptance.
- If you are fighting off colds and flus, adding vitamin C crystals to the family juice is an easy way to boost immunity.
- Eat root vegetables more often--trade pasta, bagels, white rice, and other refined starches for sweet potatoes, yams, and potatoes, which are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Try making vegetable soups in the winter. Make a big pot and freeze or serve for lunch or appetizers throughout the week. If you cannot start from scratch, then add your own vegetables to the canned soups such as carrots, celery, parsley, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, chard, and kale.
- Another general rule in any season is: Add Vegetables. Add them to sandwiches, on crackers, chip and sandwich spreads, and as garnishes to beans, soups, and rice.
- Garlic has many health benefits, one of which is its anti-microbial effects, so use this herb in your cooking liberally.
- Feeding The Whole Family, by Cynthia Lair.
- The Vegetarian Mother and Baby Book, by Rose Elliot.
- Eight Weeks To Optimum Health, by Andrew Weil, M.D.
- An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants, by Mary Bove, N.D.
- The Holistic Pediatrician, by Kathi J. Kemper, M.D.