Prevent sick days with food

It’s back to school time! This year my son joins the ranks in elementary school. We’ve been so excited for this transition because my son loves his nature based school. But, like so many moms out there, I can’t help but dread the constant exposure to icky germs.Kids are so sweet. But, man do they spread germs like wildfire. So, what’s a mom to do?

Breathe. Breathe again. Then, do what I do best. PREVENTION!!!

This article was originally published in Boston Parents Paper online in 2014, but the tips withstand the test of time!

I want to let you in on a little secret that most traditional health practitioners (i.e., doctors, dieticians) don’t have time to tell you or weren’t taught in medical school (believe it or not). The food our kiddos are eating can help or hinder their ability to fight common infections and disease. Put simply, boost the nutrition of your family’s diet and you can say hello to more fun in the sun and fewer boring magazines in the doctor’s office. Your child’s diet directly impacts how many sleepless nights and wasted vacation days you spend nursing your munchkin back to good health.

Sugar is the culprit
Speaking of munchkins – the biggest culprit of sick days is SUGAR. Our kiddos are eating too much sugar. Studies show sugar suppresses the immune system – so much for Mary Poppins’ suggesting we use sugar to get the medicine down. It’s sugar that contributed to us needing the medicine in the first place. If sugar suppresses immunity then the more sugar we consume, the more likely we are to get sick.

Think your kids don’t eat a lot of sugar? Think again. On average, 16% of total calories consumed by children and adolescents, regardless of income, come from added sugars or ingredients used to sweeten food and beverages (Erven 2012). Depending on the gender and age of our children, they’re getting between 12 to 27 teaspoons of added sugar per day! That’s up to nine times the American Heart Association’s recommendations of no more than 3 teaspoons per day.

There’s no way we’d willingly give our children this many teaspoons of sugar. So where is all this sugar coming from? It’s packed in all those convenient foods we load up on at the grocery store. It’s loaded in cereal, granola, bars, breads, cakes, milk, milk substitutes, yogurt, juices, ice cream, soda and sweetened sports beverages. In fact, the EWG’s 2014 report “Children’s Cereals: Sugar by the Pound” found that 92% of all cold cereals have added sugar and every cereal marketed to children is loaded with it. Ugh, so what do we do now?

Using food to reduce sick days
Feeding your family more nutritious food can lead to a HUGE boost in immunity! In my experience, families who consume more food from the earth and less food from a box have fewer colds, respiratory infections and viruses. Food from the earth includes fruits and veggies, of course. But, it also includes whole grains like quinoa and brown rice as well as legumes like black beans and lentils. All of these foods are plant-based foods. Plant foods contain special ingredients called phytonutrients. You might be thinking “phyto” what? Pronounced “FIDOnutrients,” these ingredients are special chemicals that plant foods use to fight off disease and infection. You’ve likely heard of beta-carotene in orange vegetables and resveratrol in grapes. These chemicals aren’t just used by plants to stay healthy, in fact, the study of nutrigenomics has found humans use them the same way. The more fruits and veggies we eat as part of a balanced diet, the healthier we’ll be!

If your family turns their noses up at these foods, don’t worry transitioning our families from sugar-laden foods to healthier options is a journey. I encourage families to take it slow, starting with one food at a time. Scan the nutrition labels of the most sugary foods your family consumes and start swapping in more nutritious options slowly.

Prevent sick days with natural immunity boosters
Boosting the health of your family through dietary changes can take time if you don’t want to go bananas fighting with them constantly. I have to remind myself daily that I’m the parent and I know what’s best for my kiddos. With regular affirmations, you can stay strong through this process too! Providing our families with nutritious food is one of the most important and challenging responsibilities we have as parents. Seek support from a holistically minded health coach or nutritionist to make the transition as easy as possible.

In the meantime, you can still fight back to school germs with my favorite natural immunity boosters and preventative remedies for keeping a family healthy all year round.

1. Elderberry syrup – Known for its antiviral, antibacterial properties, several studies show elderberry boosts the immune system and shortens colds and flus. Give your kids a child-friendly daily dose of this yummy syrup and you’re sure to fight school germs.

2. Probiotics – Most of our immune system is located in our gut. When we’re digesting and eliminating food easily, our body has more time to fight off infection. Keep your family’s digestive system healthy with a daily dose of probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria needed to help our bodies digest food. They come in capsules or powder to easily deliver to children of all ages.

3. Effective hand washing – Of course we teach our kids to wash their hands. Duh. But, most of us have no idea that it takes 20 seconds of good scrubbing with soap and a little water to actually kill the bugs. Make it fun by teaching your kids to hum “Happy Birthday” twice before rinsing soap off.

4. More garlic – Garlic is one of the most powerful antibiotics in our cupboards. It contains a phytonutrient, allicin that fights germs naturally. When cooking with garlic, chop it and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before cooking to give the allicin time to activate. Raw garlic is the best option and pretty easy to incorporate. Make a simple homemade pesto or hummus with garlic and you’ll get plenty of bacteria-fighting power!

5. Replacing fruits + veggies for packaged foods – When in doubt, serve fruits and veggies. Of course, a balanced diet requires kids to get variety. But, choosing between a sugary snack and another serving of grapes can be a no-brainer. The grapes can win every time. Instead of serving a sugary yogurt, add mashed sweet fruit to a full fat, no sugar added yogurt for a delicious option.

By following these simple tips you can boost your family’s health and fight those school germs head on! You’ll spend less time fighting sickness and have more time for fall fun like jumping in the leaves, picking pumpkins and playing backyard football. Enjoy!

I’d love to hear your favorite preventative measures for staying healthy during back to school time? Please share with us in the comments!

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