Feel those warm October winds? Welcome to Late Summer, the time of year in Chinese Medicine associated with the earth element, harvest, the digestive system. Kids are back to school and gearing up for Halloween and other fall festivities. This season is a great time to focus on your child’s diet.
It may be a surprise to learn that the gut is a key player in immunity. Special cells of the digestive system respond to the substances we ingest very much like our skin protects us from germs and external pathogens.
When digestion is weak and/or diet is poor, the entire immune system can be compromised. This may not only result in constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, and poor assimilation of nutrients, but also may contribute to various other conditions such as eczema, allergies, ear infections, and behavioral or mood issues.
With cold and flu season around the corner, a healthy gut is your best “shot” of preventative medicine.
Some common concerns and simple solutions for healthy happy tummies for the whole family:
Q. Healthy food is boring. How can I spark my child’s interest in nutritious food?
A. Celebrate the harvest season by taking weekly trips to the farmer’s market with your child, creating meal plans including local, seasonal fruits and veggies that excite all of your senses. Then prepare and enjoy these foods together. The menu can be as simple or complex as you like as long as it stays fun and manageable. Choose a variety of colors to insure a range of nutrients in every meal.
Q. Back to school is busy, busy, busy! How do we make time for healthy meals?
A. Luckily the shortening days calls for comfort foods that nourish the digestive system. Make the most of your weekends by preparing large pots of soup or casseroles that can be enjoyed throughout the week. Toss a simple green salad to lighten each meal and add much needed enzymes.
Q. School lunch. YUCK! What can I do to make sure my kids eat well?
A. Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee that your child ingests the healthy lunch you packed rather than trading it for a fluffer-nutter sandwich. What you can provide is a hearty, healthy breakfast to start the day. Be sure to include protein and fat in every morning meal– essential brain foods for kids and grown-ups too. Scrambled eggs with chopped spinach or broccoli and whole-grain toast with avocado or whole-milk yogurt with fruit and naturally sweetened granola will provide great fuel for a day of learning, playing, and growing.
Q. Trick or Treat!?! How do I handle the Halloween sweets?
A. Of course a huge jack-o-lantern brimming with candy is a nightmare for your child’s tummy, teeth, and nerves, but a kid is more likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with food (and their parents) if they feel deprived of childhood traditions. Here are a few things to keep Junior from turning green:
- Make your home a junk-free zone year-round. Let’s face it, you can’t control what your kid puts in his mouth at school or friends’ houses, but you can decide what’s stocked on your own shelves.
- Keep plenty of nutritious snacks, like nuts or cut fruit, ready to serve. Skip anything with sugar listed in the top 3 ingredients, white flour, chemicals, or strange colors not found in nature.
- Create focus around wholesome treats and seasonal fun. Bake whole grain pumpkin cookies. Hand dip caramel apples. Carve pumpkins and bake the seeds.
- Brainstorm and create Halloween costumes. The message your kids will learn from your actions? There’s more to life than processed sugar!
- Swap the sweets for other treats. Create a tradition where trick-or-treat candy is traded in for a coveted toy, game or voucher for a trip to the zoo. Get your child in the spirit far in advance with plenty of home-spun mythology around your special ritual.
- Let them eat SWEETS! Know that if your own relationship with food embodies healthy moderation, your child will probably follow in your footsteps. Don’t make a big deal about occasional junk food, and trust that your child won’t either.
Q. I’m still confused by all the food fads. How do I make the best decisions to feed my family?
A. Healthy food doesn’t need to be complicated. Choose seasonal, local, organic foods where possible. Avoid junk. Know that your body will guide you to the foods you need, and your children will learn this too. Finally, recognize that food can be medicine, so if a health issue arises for you or your child, speak to your natural health care provider for suggestions and possible dietary recommendations to promote healing.