Cold weather rolls in, and we moms start thinking the same thing: how will we help our kids stay healthy this winter? And, is it worth going to the church nursery, the play date, or library story time, when exposure to germs inevitably follows?
I want to share a few tips I’ve gathered along the way for helping my kids stay healthy (and still out and about and seeing people) all winter long. A disclaimer first that some of these ideas take time and/or money—not much, since I’m busy and on a tight budget, but some. The way I see it, though, you’re going to spend your time and money somewhere, and I’d rather spend it on multivitamins and healthy food than on sick visit copays and prescriptions. Of course no matter how careful you are, you won’t elude all sickness, and you’ll probably have a few copays and prescriptions no matter what. But I think you can definitely cut back on them by taking a few preventative steps.
Hand sanitize and wash after being out. Keep a healthy hand sanitizer in your purse and/or car so that your children can sanitize immediately after church, play dates, or shopping trips. Thoroughly wash hands with a good soap the minute you walk into your home from being out. Help your children avoid contact with shopping cart handles, restaurant high chairs, and other things that are swarming with germs—clean with a sanitizing wipe or put a cover over it.
Avoid artificial colors and sweeteners (including high fructose corn syrup). Don’t buy anything with these ingredients. This simple step cuts out a lot of unhealthy food. Because we don’t actually a food allergy to these ingredients, I don’t freak out if my son has candy at Awana or colored frosting at a birthday party. A little bit here or either is not a big deal; it’s just not a regular habit.
Minimize sugar. Depending on where you read it, the exact numbers are different, but the basic fact is established: we eat many more pounds of sugar per year than our ancestors did. The difference is something like 2-7 pounds of sugar per year in previous generations vs. 150 pounds of sugar and high fructose corn syrup per year now. That’s a huge increase, and we’re paying the price for it. We are getting used to having everything hyper-sweetened. If a child starts the day with fruit juice and boxed cereal, has a pb&j sandwich for lunch, and has something like spaghetti for dinner, chances are that every single dish is sweetened—just check the labels to see what I mean—not to mention any snacks and desserts thrown in.
Make simple, small changes. Make your own food instead of buying it packaged. Serve homemade oatmeal instead of boxed cereal, or plain yogurt mixed with fruit instead of a yogurt cup. Use honey, maple syrup, liquid stevia, or fruit as sweeteners. (Stevia has a slightly herbal taste, so I don't like it in something like coffee. However, in my baking, I can easily cut the sugar down and add a few dropper fulls of liquid stevia to make up the sweetness.) It’s easiest of course to start a healthier diet with babies so their taste buds can acclimate. If your kids think plain yogurt mixed with honey and orange pieces is a normal dessert, so much the better!
Avoid stress, and get enough sleep. These are good rules to help us moms stay healthy (though of course they can be nearly impossible to follow at times!). But they also apply to our kids—are they getting enough nighttime sleep? If they need a nap or quiet time, do they get it? Are they anxious and hurried from one event to another, or do they have time to relax, read, and play?
Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Find yummy ways to serve vegetables—broccoli or green beans tossed with olive oil and oven roasted, peas steamed with butter, or whipped carrots. If your kids don’t love them, they can still learn to eat them—every mealtime at our house usually includes some sort of instruction like “eat five bites of vegetables and then you can have your biscuit.” Fruits are a natural favorite for our kids, and we try to eat lots of berries and citrus especially.
Supplement. Supplements can do more harm than good if they have synthetic ingredients that your body just reacts against and tries to flush out of the system. Buy a completely natural whole-food supplement. A good way to verify the quality of a supplement is to see whether or not the Vitamin E is synthetic. We use GNLD LiquiVite, a liquid supplement full of vitamins/minerals/other immune boosters. We’ve also ordered a similar all-natural liquid supplement from the Vitamin Shoppe, which was about half the price but also half the potency. We buy liquid Vitamin D from the Vitamin Shoppe, and put a drop or two in a glass of juice or milk for our kids each day to keep their Vitamin D levels up throughout the winter.
Other weird stuff. Because frankly, some of it is weird. But it works.
Herbal tea. The Nourishing Herbalist, probably my favorite health blog right now, gives instructions for making your own healthy herbal tea. Again, this is the kind of thing that takes a little time and money, but once you get started, you spend only a few minutes a day. We ordered our herbs from iherb. Our kids love to drink it and so do I.
Raw milk. This is a controversial one, though surveys have shown that you are just as likely to get sick from eating spinach than you would from drinking raw milk. Here in Virginia we can only legally purchase milk through a cow share system. Find a small farm you trust where conditions are clean and cows are regularly tested. Raw milk is full of vitamins that would be otherwise be killed in pasteurization. It’s also a great source of probiotics. Speaking of those …
Probiotics. Drink raw milk, make your own yogurt from raw milk (again, it will take a little time to get the hang of it, but once you learn, it’s very easy and saves a lot of money), and/or give your kids a probiotic supplement like FloraBaby. (FloraBaby is great for mixing into formula if that’s how you need to feed your baby.) Probiotics should help your children from becoming constipated. Having one BM a day is a good goal. If they’re having trouble, Senna is a natural help.
Apple cider vinegar and honey drink. Use Bragg raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Then buy raw honey from a local farm—you can usually save by buying in bulk, getting a gallon jar. Once a day, or at every meal, mix 1 tbsp vinegar and 1 tbsp honey with a glass of water. I can’t believe my kids actually like this, but they do, and both the vinegar and the honey have multiple health benefits.
Elderberry/echinacea tincture. This is another one from the Nourishing Herbalist. She explains here how to make it, but I find it much easier to buy hers, which is reasonably priced.
Essential oils. This is still a new frontier to me so I can’t say much. Essential oils rubbed on the bottoms of feet and/or diffused into a room can really help not only in preventing sickness but in helping your kids get better when they’ve got something. Diffusing essential oils in their bedrooms at night can be especially helpful when they have a respiratory sickness. After doing a little research and price comparison, we’re ordering our essential oils from Native American Nutritionals. Our favorite combinations so far are BreatheEZ and Serenity. Some of their descriptions are a little weird, but their essential oils are high quality and comparatively affordable.
So there’s my smattering of ideas. Here’s to a winter of helping our kids stay in their church and school classes and play dates and out of the doctor’s office!