It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and your child is awake complaining of aches and pains. You take his temperature, give him some water, and sit with him to encourage rest.
Parents commonly experience long nights like these, and it can be tormenting when you can’t make your ill child feel better. What’s a loving parent to do?
While every child gets sick now and then, the key to limiting illness and keeping kids as healthy as possible is taking a proactive approach.
Dr. Heather Manley, a naturopathic doctor who focuses on preventative health for families and is author of the “Human Body Detectives” series of children’s books, recommends that parents first look at their kids’ diets in order to boost overall health and wellness.
“The digestive system is the gateway to optimally fueling the body plus the first line of immune defense,” Manley said. “If the digestive system is not working well, germs can get into the body and foods will not be broken down and absorbed into the body’s cells. If nutrients are not absorbed, the body does not get the energy it needs to be healthy — physically and mentally.”
o Fruits and vegetables: The fresh facts
“Encouraging kids to try an array of fruits and vegetables is really the key,” says Manley. She notes that some kids may have a preference for veggies over fruit, or vice-versa. Try including a mix in their diets. Vegetables typically have more fiber and less sugar, and should be incorporated at every meal. Fruit can serve as a great hydrating snack, especially during the summer months as they help to prevent dehydration or heat exhaustion. Manley suggests munching on blueberries, watermelon, plums and cherries.
What are some smart ways to add more vegetables to your child’s diet? “Broccoli and carrots are the usual kid favorites, but adding local and seasonal vegetables is a clever way to entice a variety of produce into your child’s diet,” says Manley. She suggests starting a garden or visiting a weekly farmers market so children can be more hands on about choosing their vegetables. She says that asparagus, green beans, snap peas, tomatoes, beets, lettuce varieties, cucumbers, zucchini, and peppers are all vitamin-packed vegetables that are great for preventing illness and boosting health.
o Supplements: The key to filling in nutritional gaps
It’s no secret that kids don’t always eat what they should. Manley suggests that everyone take three daily supplements: a good multivitamin, probiotics, and omega-3 fish oil.
“With children and teens, the omega-3s found in fish and fish oil are essential for neural (brain) development, skin health, balanced glucose levels, a healthy immune response, a healthy heart, and long-term overall health,” stresses Manley.
o Picky eater? No problem with tasty tips and tricks
Not all children are going to pick up a fresh beet and munch away immediately. To encourage healthy eating of a variety of foods, Manley offers these expert tips for parents of picky eaters:
No labeling. Even if you feel your child is a difficult eater, labeling him or her as one will not remedy the situation, nor will it make your child feel good if they overhear you say it.
Be a role model: Always put the same foods that you eat on your child’s plate too. If this is done consistently, over time your child will eventually adapt.
“Green Eggs and Ham”: This Dr. Seuss classic is a handy book to read regularly. It’s a playful approach that encourages kids to try new foods – even just one bite.
Proactive kids: The more kids are involved in grocery shopping, gardening, chopping, and serving food, the more likely they will want to try the foods.
Food history: Kids love a good story and trivia. Ask your kids what country broccoli came from, or how yogurt is made.