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 it going to church children’s ministry, a play date, library story time, or a home school field trip, with the inevitable exposure to germs?
Here are a few tips I’ve learned for helping my kids stay healthy in the winter so we can still get out and about. 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, I’m going to spend my time and money somewhere, and as far as it’s possible, I’d rather spend it on healthy food and supplements than on sick visit copays and prescriptions.
Hand sanitize and wash after being out. Keep a healthy hand sanitizer (I like this one) in your purse so that your children can sanitize immediately after shopping or being with friends, and definitely before eating out.
Then the minute they walk inside the house, have your kids thoroughly wash hands with a good soap (I like Udderly Fresh Soap and also DoTerra OnGuard soap). 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). I try not to buy anything with these ingredients. This simple step cuts out a lot of unhealthy food. Because we don’t actually have a food allergy to these ingredients, I don’t freak out if my son has candy at a class or colored frosting at a birthday party. A little bit here or there is not a big deal; it’s just not a regular habit.
This was one of our exceptions to the "nothing artificial" rule!
Minimize sugar. Depending on where you read it, the exact numbers are different, but the basic fact is that 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, 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. Look up paleo recipes online when you’re baking something—I love these coconut flourbrownies, for instance.
It’s easiest of course when you can start this with babies so your kids’ taste buds acclimate to healthier options. 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!). 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 my kids, and we try to eat lots of berries and citrus especially. Smoothies are a great way to disguise fruits, and even vegetables like spinach.
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 ordered a similar all-natural liquid supplement from the Vitamin Shoppe, which was half the price but also half the potency.) We also like GNLD chewable VitaSquares and VitaGard.
We buy liquid Vitamin D from the Vitamin Shoppe, and give our kids a drop or two every day.
One of my favorite ways to supplement to fight off sickness for me as an adult is to take garlic capsules. I like GNLD garlic because it’s very potent and doesn’t make my breath smell afterwards. If I’m fighting sickness, I will take as many as 6 garlic capsules a day to quickly kick any infection. My kids can’t swallow capsules, though, and no way are they chewing garlic capsules, so I haven’t found a way yet to help them with this (other than to mince fresh garlic and put it in soups and casseroles).
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 here for making your own herbal tea that is basically a homemade supplement. 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 more likely to get sick from eating spinach than you would from 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 can be good for mixing into formula if that’s how you need to feed your baby.)
If you’re not excited about the idea of raw milk and homemade yogurt, at least try to buy organic whole milk yogurt and give your kids a serving a day. For us, yogurt is always our bedtime snack while we have a Bible reading. Probiotics boost the immune system and can also help your children from becoming constipated. Having one BM a day is a good goal.
Apple cider vinegar and honey drink. Use Bragg raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar (available through Amazon or a local health food store). Then buy raw honey from a local farm—you can save by getting a gallon jar.
From the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, I order from Hay’s Apiary through the mail. The cost (including shipping) is actually less than what you would pay for raw honey at Costco, which I’m sure is healthy but doesn’t have the advantage of being local.
Once a day, or at every meal if you’re really ambitious, 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.
UPDATE: We’ve started to use essential oils a little more since writing this. Oregano oil is strong but effective in helping fight infection—dilute one drop with coconut oil and rub on the bottoms of feet. I like to diffuse Olbas oil (from the Vitamin Shoppe) to help with respiratory sickness. Elanor gets sick more frequently now (maybe because she keeps putting her fingers in her mouth), and I diffuse Olbas Oil in her room overnight when she is sniffly. Lavender and peppermint are other favorites—both help against sickness; lavender is especially effective for calming and sleeping, and peppermint is good when you’re feeling nauseous or have a headache.
So there’s my smattering of ideas! Yes, they take a little time or money, but if I have the choice, I would so much rather be doing these things, than cleaning up vomit and blowing noses and cancelling events because my kids are sick. I'm grateful for all the days that we can stay healthy, and when we do get sick, I'm grateful that these ideas can usually help us get better quickly.