How do we get kids to WANT to eat healthily?

drink cold water

drink cold water (Photo credit: Jay Hsu 藍川芥)

New research indicates that kids who understand more about food, the nutrients it contains and and what they do in our body are more likely to want to eat their greens.

This totally jibes with my experience – although my example is with drinks rather than food. At around 2 my kid discovered juice and (though we dilluted it and only gave her about 1/4 juice or less) it got so that she wouldn’t drink water on its own. I was really not happy about this but there were extenuating circumstances: a) I could see that she drank much more fluid when there was even just a splash of (organic, 100%) fruit juice in it – and I know the importance of hydration to the body; and b) I often used the taste of the juice to disguise her probiotics, fish oils and other supplements – mostly aimed at helping ease her eczema. So the juice was also helping in a way. But, at the same time, I am aware of the effect of even fruit sugars on blood sugar and teeth.

So, a few months back, we started talking to her much more about the importance and advantage of drinking plain water. I think the tooth-health argument really got through to her. We never made it scary or threat based. We didn’t want to scare her into drinking more water, we just wanted her to make an informed decision based on more than just taste. And, now, at 3.5 she has decided that most days she’ll drink only water and occasionally drink juice… and actually she hasn’t asked for juice since she made this new resolution, a couple of weeks back (though I know this can still change at any moment lol). Still, I love this. I am very proud of it, actually (hey, you got celebrate the ‘wins’, right?)

And I get that much of this is because at 2 or 2.5 when she started wanting only juice she didn’t have the cognitive whereabouts to grasp the finer aspects of the nutritional choices she was (unconsciously) making – she was guided by her taste buds alone. And now at 3.5 she can get this stuff, make connections… but I am so proud that she did get it and made the choice by herself without any real pressure from us. Okay we told her water was better and explained why but we kept cheerfully giving her the juice until she chose the water, for herself. We gave her freedom and time so she could decide for herself.

Would this exact approach work with all kids, in the same time-span? Possibly not – but I bet it would work with most, sooner or later. Given good information, (most) kids make good choices, in my experience.  This new research from Stamford seems to indicate my gut feeling might just be right, if you give kids credit for the ability to understand and care about their health, they will rise to it.

Here is the piece on the Stamford research on the effects of teaching pre-schoolers more about nutrition. Enjoy!


So many different ‘healthy’ diets – which one is best for my kid?

We are all interested in feeding our children the healthiest diet possible… but there are so many different ideas about what one should and shouldn’t eat out there, how do you know what is really going to be best? Is meat the healthiest because of B12 and easy to use protein or is a vegetarian diet best for baby and environment? Are fats fattening and heart clogging or essential for brain function? Where do you start?

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Hybrid Rasta Mama and I have been having a dialogue about healthful nutrition. She looks at it through the prism of the Weston Price’s ‘Traditional Diet’. I look at it from an Eastern-inspired neo-Macrobiotic point of view.

I first read her piece on the ‘Traditional Diet’ here, on the Natural Parents Network and I posed a few basic questions about this diet to which so many healthy eaters here, in the US, seem to be attracted. I really like the clear, succinct way she explains the tenets of this diet, so I turned to her to help me with some of my misgivings, not least about the starting point of this diet that claims to represent the traditional diet by distilling ‘the best of’ the customary diets from all over the globe, which are in their very nature very different from each other (compare the traditional diet of hunter gatherers in Africa which is mostly roots, berries and occasional meats, with that of Mediterranean people who eat lots of fish, salads and olive oil). And though it seemingly starts from this very wide view it quickly narrows in and makes some very specific, one-size-fits-all prescriptions, such as that everybody should eat cod liver oil (which clearly not all traditional people do, nor would that necessarily be a response to the individual challenges of the environment *you* live in or a response to the health challenges you as a unique individual are faced with at this time).  Jennifer (aka Hybrid Rasta Mama) came through with some singingly clear points which bridge many of the gaps between our two approaches. Here is her second post, in response to my questions: (You can find my questions in the comment section under her original NPN post, here).

Have I been ‘converted’? I am not sure I will start eating meat, let alone offal tomorrow, but I have found much we agree upon. My diet is informed by a need to stay alkaline, eat lots of living, green and fresh foods. I continue to be influenced greatly by my studies at the College of Natural Nutrition, in London, where I learned to tailor the diet to the person and their individual health needs, I am nourished by my Macrobiotic roots, a system I still find so beautiful, almost poetic in its approach which urges us to stay in tune with the season (which I interpret as: eat salads in summer, roots in winter, for example), with the region you live in (eat fat-rich fish if you live somewhere cold like Alaska or fresh, water- and electrolyte-filled fruit if you live near the equator) and with your body’s constitution and state of health (eat simple, vegetable soups if you are unwell or your digestion is impaired, branch-out and eat more complex foods when you are strong and energetic).

But I have also been around the health food movements long enough (all my life, really) to have seen that many different diets work for many different people. I have (literally) met people who have reversed severe arthritis (among other conditions) through a strict macrobiotic diet and others who have beaten cancer through an all-alkaline diet. I know people who swear by a Paelo Diet and others for whom a Vegan Raw Diet has changed their lives and their health pictures. For that reason and because my broad view has really left me with a relativist belief that different diets work miracles for different people, at different times, here is a list of diets you might like to explore further:

  1. The Macrobiotic Diet – Balancing your diet according to season, where you live, your lifestyle and your state of health
  2. The Weston-Price Traditional Diet – based on diets humans thrived on for centuries, millenia even
  3. The Vegan Raw Food Diet/Living Food Diet – a simple diet based on eating food brimming with live enzymes, untouched vitamins and minerals. Raw foods are  just so vital, full of energy and nutrients.
  4. The Alkalising Diet – based on the understanding that disease only spreads in an acidic body, this diet is honed to bring your body (the pH in your cells and tissues) back to an alkaline state by eating a diet of predominantly fresh green foods
  5. The Paleo Diet – is all about eating as our (way back when) ancestors did – the cavemen – on the principle that our bodies  bodies are evolutionarily adapted to that way of eating. In practice this means consuming mostly animal protein and vegetables with no grains or flours.
  6. Eat Right for Your Blood Type is an interesting theory which takes your blood type as an indication of your constitution (based on the tribe you hail from – or the type of civilisation that evolved that blood type; eg hunter-gatherers vs settled aggrarian people) and then tailoring your diet to that
  7. Ayurvedic Diet – again tailors your diet to your constitution, which in this ancient traditional Indian system they call doshas and understands not all people respond the same way to certain foods like grains, fats or sugar – some people tolerate them better than others
  8. Traditional Chinese Diet – Traditional Chinese Medicine is a rich system, perfected over centuries of practice which views the human body as a complex interaction of different energies symbolised by the five elements. Food is seen as medicine and the right diet for you will be based on the energy flow to your various organs. This is a deep system really worth investigating fully… but the link I posted here is just a dainty flavour of it. Do delve in deeper.

My belief is that, if you listen to the core of you, you will be drawn to the right diet for you – maybe not first off, maybe it will be a process of trial and error and you can certainly find some incredibly knowledgeable guides along the way (in the form of teachers, nutritionists or books) but my faith is that, ultimately, the body knows and the truth will show.

It is also true, from what I have observed, that a diet that may work for someone for sometime may not be in their best interest in the long term. For example a raw food cleanse may do your body a whole load of good for a month even a year or two (ridding it of toxins and the debris of a lifetime of meat consuption, for example) but you may – depending on your constitution, where you live, etc. – find that after  prolongued adherence to this strict vegan diet your body is clean, yes, but also stripped and depleted of certain minerals (like calcium or iron – unless you are very good at eating your greens) and vitamins (B12, for example). So sometimes very restrictive diets have an expiry date, I find.

In any case, as I said in my response to Hybrid Rasta Mama (which you can read under the comments of her two articles, linked above), I think the basic summary of what most of us interested in healthy eating agree upon is this: eat ‘real foods’ (not refined, processed, pasteurised or hydrogenised cr*p). I am convinced that if everybody on the planet stuck to this basic principle, and ditched the junk food, much of the (predominantly) Western ‘epidemic’ of chronic illnesses (from arthritis to heart disease, high blood pressure to cancer) would be abated. The rest (whether you and your children eat more meat or grains, whether you all take cod liver oil or not) are details. Easier said than done, I know (my diet is far from perfect), but at least the principle to aspire to is nice and simple: eat real food.

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Friendly disclaimer: the views in this article are my opinion and should not be taken as replacement for the advice of a medical physician. Consult with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.

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Building myself back up

Brown rice.

Image via Wikipedia

This is the protein shake I ended up going for to help re-build my reserves and get me back to tip-top condition. It is vegan (and hence dairy free) and soy free. It is pricey but all the ingredients are of the highest quality and include rice protein, spirulina, flax and lots of sprouted grains, herbs and antioxidants. Yumm!…

Almost as impressive as the list of fabulous ingredients is what is not in it: no sweeteners other than stevia, no colours, no synthetic preservatives, etc. Almost all protein shakes out there (the ones I looked at, anyway) were essentially dairy (whey) or soy based and sweetened to the hilt, often with artificial sweeteners, too. None of that for baby and me, thank you very much (she’ll be getting some through my milk).

I wanted to share the info with you ‘cos I do believe it is a good product, although full benefits are still to be seen – as it is early days. I will say it doesn’t dissolve very well and it doesn’t taste all that great. They know that (on both counts) which is why they tell us to blend it in with a banana and half an apple. I had neither at hand so have had it once with plain rice milk and once blended in with strawberries and sharon fruit. Hmm… good thing I regard it as medicine and was not hoping for a tasty, happy-shake.  But hey, may it be another step on that road to wellness :)

Back on the path to wellness

Main health effects of sleep deprivation (See ...

Image via Wikipedia

So, as you may have guessed by my radio silence, it happened: the slow, inevitable descent into illness. Blah. This cold/flu was worse than the last. In fact it was the worst flu I have had for ages with a proper fever including waves of hot and cold, chills and everything. Full on.

Well, at least I can say my body is doing a great job at clearing things out, burning off toxicity. I am rather proud of my body that it can still raise its temperature with the best of them, when/if it needs to and I am sweating and snotting out toxins by the bucket load – yep, bet you wanted to know that!

But I am sad my body has to!… I have come to the conclusion that this is all because I am so run down. Chronic lack of sleep and just not eating enough or always the freshest things for the last few weeks in particular as Anya gets ever more mobile and energetic (leaving me less time to eat, let alone cook) is just catching up with me. And yes, I have been stressed. And yes I should eat more greens and get more alkalised as my dad, the naturopath, is always telling me. But still… I am not used to this. I don’t usually catch whatever ‘is going round’. Colds and flus have been very rare in my life in the last decade or so. I do get migraines, I am not saying my health is perfect just that seasonal colds were not often a big deal. Until now: two flus (strong colds?) in two months. Kinda crazy.

So, now for an action plan for wellness. First: eat breakfast every day. I am not much of a breakfast person and that is the first thing I drop. At this point, I am thinking of getting back on a protein shake (as I did during pregnancy), perhaps this one. Pricey, but the ingredients look really good and it is both vegan and soy free – awesome. If not, I’ll just take spirulina or another seaweed based supplement as Spirulina is between 20 and 75% protein (which is higher than meat!) and contains both chlorophyll and iron, which are important in helping me and Anya step away from anemia, for good. I have a green food supplement which I will be phasing back in, too. These are some easy first steps. Generally eating more fresh cooked or raw vegetables and making sure I get enough sleep (if not all in one go, at least through the help of strategic naps) is also on the agenda.

I am also thinking of going back to either dance or yoga. I would prefer dance, but I am so unfit that it actually seems to hinder more than help my health, right now – shocking, I know. As I have said before, I got a migraine two of the last times I did a aerobic-dance class, due to sheer dehydration, I presume. So, we’ll see, either I need a gentler dance class or yoga it is.

A plan for overall wellness, which brings in mental, emotional, spiritual and physical balance, is also emerging. More on that later, perhaps. For now, just sharing my challenges, the message from the Universe to get my butt in gear and take care of myself and my slow movement back in the direction of healthy living.

Thanks for being there. Thanks for caring. Hugs. Yours,

Weak… my child has anemia

1962 - Salad Hat

Image by clotho98 via Flickr

I just found out my daughter is anemic. This sucks. Okay, it is only mild anemia (10.1 where normal is 11 and 10.5 is considered on the low end of ‘normal’). Worst is she probably got it from me, I mean I was anemic through pregnancy and try as I might to correct it I kept being slightly bellow optimum. Actually at the hospital when I was ready to deliver they said my level was 11, so perhaps I just got there, in the end but all through the pregnancy it was a bit dodgy.

So here I am, having studied Nutrition, with a Naturopath for a dad and with an anemic daughter. It is pretty serious stuff in kids, too, or it can be so you gotta watch out if you think your kid is at risk.

I am already looking out to make sure I/we get enough protein, vitamin D, water, I avoid all the stuff either of us in sensitive to (which includes dairy, gluten, eggs and soy!) and now I got to build iron back in, re-doubled. I love people who just eat naturally, in both senses: from nature and intuitively, without over-thinking it. Yet for me it is clearly not to be.

The first thing anyone says if I say Anya is anemic is ‘give her beef’. Okay… first, beef has less iron in it than red beans according to the shiny new sheet I have from our pediatrician. But I know, though one can do it without meat by eating plenty of green veg and legumes the question is am I doing it? The answer so far is no. It is hard to eat a super green, alkalising diet with plenty of raw foods, water and whole grains when I am at home chasing after a wanna-be-toddler (ie she wants to toddle but is more at the crawling stage for now). I am beat by the end of the day with little energy to prepare super foods.

All veteran mums give the same tip: cook batches both for you and the baby, live on leftovers essentially. Yet even this takes great organisation and commitment and I am still working my way up to doing it all the time. I have salads or grains and greens for lunch, usually (with seeds and beans tossed in for protein and some yummy oils for good fats). For dinner we do quite well, too… but often I am tired and go for the easy route. Today I had chips and a veggie burger with salad. That probably happens once a week or so (not necessarily this meal, but something equally lazy). Anya often eats roughly what I eat, although she always has iron-fortified cereal in the morning, then I’ll often give her some of whatever grain I am doing mixed in with some veg like squash or peas. She also has avocados, sweet potatoes and the like.

Man, this is tough. Not rocket-science-tough, more daily-trek-up-the-mountain-to-get-water-tough… but without the hardship or the poverty. Hmm…

For now Anya is on an iron supplement. I put her on that (well, technically the doctor did) while I investigate other options, as I don’t at all like the ingredients in this. Gonna find a kid-friendly naturally derived one (probably something like Floradix) and look at the green food supplements again.

I am a bit frustrated with it all and I was quite shaken by it (when I started reading and reminding myself of possible consequences and worst case scenarios) but hopefully this will serve as a gentle reminder to stay green and clean, to have fun with food while keeping it light and natural. Phew…

The ‘Detox’: Some early results

So I have been on this elimination diet for about 5 days now and have seen some surprising early results… or are they.

First, on day two, Anya’s skin cleared up. Before she had little bumps – not baby acne (that had come and gone) just little non-inflamed bumps on her face. Now she has super-smooth, baby skin: beautiful, as it should be. There are still a few bumpy-blemishes on her forehead, but her cheeks look completely clear. Could that be a coincidence? Afterall the bumps have been there for weeks!

Second, Anya has been waking up much fewer times with gas – a relief to her and to me! Could it be that something was irritating her digestive system and by eliminating the food from my diet, I am eliminating the particle that was not agreeing with her from my milk (I have heard this can be the case with casein, the protein from milk, for example).

Third, it actually seems to me that Anya is calmer during the days, too – less fussy. So perhaps she has an intolerance to something that was making its way into my milk that was actually causing emotional upheaval or mood swings. I certainly know food can have that effect on adults – perhaps that can happen to breastfeeding babies too. Or maybe it is just that she is in less physical discomfort (less lower GI gas, reflux and burps) and that helps her calm down.

Or… this could all be coincidences rather than causal relationships. The experiment continues. And the interesting thing will be re-introducing the foods I have cut out, one at a time and seeing if Anya reacts (over a period of say 3 days). That is the only part of this homemade study likely to yield useful results.