Real talk: It’s tough keeping up with a new business, (attempt at) writing a book, continuing my education, being on my own healing journey, and that’s all alongside wearing all the hats I do as a Mom, wife, friend, etc. This last season, the Blog has taken a back seat. But as the school year approaches, I find myself feeling called to share a few things back on this platform specifically. When I share here, it’s done in the hopes that whoever reads this little blog can pull up posts for easy reference.
As the start of a new school year approaches, I’ve been receiving quite a few questions asking for recommendations for supporting kids’ immune systems, as well as what might be helpful in the event kids do pick up a bug. And let’s be honest- if your kid’s in school, it’s inevitable.
As I stock our pantry and “medicine cabinet” and prepare for the school year, I thought it might help to share a post about some of my favorite items that go along with this topic. To avoid publishing one, single extremely long post, I’m going to separate these topics into a series, starting with how we can create a foundation and support our students’ immune systems. Then, I’ll move onto some of my favorites I keep in hand in terms of supporting kids when they’re sick. Finally, I’m going to share what I personally keep in our home in case my family is exposed or experiences a *certain sickness* causing concern this last year and a half.
Side note: While bugs and illnesses are normal parts of the childhood (and human) experience, I sense an extra level of anxiety in the air this year as families send their kids to school. It’s understandable.
Back-to-School Basics: Immune Support Without Soley Relying on Supplements
I wanted to start this mini-series off with a few tips for supporting immune systems without solely relying on supplements. Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with using supplements. However, too often I see them used as an only means of “assurance”. Taking supplements doesn’t mean we should (or can) forget about supporting the foundations. However, the convenience culture we live in tries to tell us we can just rely on supplements to support our bodies. I truly believe and have seen first-hand, that we need to provide a solid foundation and use supplements as their namesake suggests- to supplement a foundation that’s built with things like diet and lifestyle.
SUPPORT THE TERRAIN, BUILD RESILIENCE
For adults and children alike, taking care of our terrain is important. By “terrain”, I’m talking about an overall environment that contributes to our health, but specifically our bodies. Simply put, the better we care for our bodies, the better equipped they’ll be to manage, process, and heal in the event we are exposed to or experience sickness, toxins, etc.
While each individual has their own bio-individual needs, predisposition, etc, there are ways we can all support our bodies on a foundational level; this includes supporting our kids as they return to school this year.
First, let me start by saying that the best defense is a good offense. When it comes to supporting our childrens’ health, it helps to be as proactive as possible, instead of solely being reactive if and when something goes awry. While we may not always be fully prepared for, well, anything in life, we can make an effort.
What does this look like?
Being proactive means that, to the best of our abilities, and without putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves or our family, we can support the body’s natural abilities to fight off sickness, infection, and illness. Why wait for sickness to strike when we can make steady steps towards giving the body what it needs when any sort of bug poses a threat, or when the body needs to purge any sort of toxins in response to a threat?
Varying degrees of sickness are going to happen on this side of Heaven. I’m confident there are steps we can take in the right direction to building more resiliency. There are things we can do (some of which don’t require purchasing tons of supplements) that contribute to supporting our children’s immune system and resilience as they do return to the classroom. Let’s take a look at how we can support our kid’s bodies on a foundational level.
When I talk about foundations, I’m referring to things like:
ENCOURAGE QUALITY SLEEP
Sleep is restorative, not only for physical health but also for our mental health (sleep is when our brain files things away and processes information). As a Mama, getting good sleep is easier said than done.
So what are some practical things to consider?
Create a consistent bedtime routine (bath time/shower, read books, brush teeth, bedtime stories, settling music, etc.), avoid added sugar/caffeine a few hours before bedtime at the very least, avoid screens at least an hour or two before bedtime, dim lights around the house (especially in the bedroom), and make sure electronic devices aren’t right next to the bed. This will limit EMF exposure which may disrupt sound sleep.
PRIORITIZE NUTRIENT-DENSE FOOD
A food-first approach is best when it comes to supporting the body’s need for nutrients. In short, food comes packaged in a way that provides nutrients that are more readily available and usable by the body. This is by design. While intentional supplementation can be beneficial, we have to remember that we cannot out supplement a poor diet/lifestyle. Supplements are intended to serve as just that- as a supplement to an established nutritional foundation; not as a replacement.
What are some foods to consider for immune support?
Before we continue, I wanted to add that as a parent, I understand how difficult it can be to get kids to eat a well-balanced meal. My son’s a hit-or-miss in terms of wanting to eat what I serve or refusing. I enjoy giving him options to make decisions, even in terms of food choices. But at the end of the day, I’m his Mama. And as his Mama, it’s my responsibility to provide him with food that nourishes his body. He’s simply not old enough to make those decisions himself. Let’s be honest- if it were up to him, he’d live off pizza!
In terms of supporting immune health, there are many different nutrients that work to strengthen our immunity. With respect to individual circumstances and toleration, variety is key in keeping our immune systems strong.
Generally speaking, try to aim for a variety of colorful, whole foods to pack in these nutrients. I’m going to mention a few big players.
Vitamin C is well-known for immune support. It’s found in citrus fruit (such as oranges and orange juice), peppers, strawberries, kiwi, cantaloupe, sweet potato, Brussel sprouts, potatoes, etc. Berries (strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, etc.) are also full of antioxidants, which help our bodies fight oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Basically, they help our immune system to keep fighting! If they’re not in season, you can find berries in the frozen section that are just as nutritious.
High-quality dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt contain essential nutrients, such as vitamins A and D, zinc, and protein, which support immune function.
Vitamin A, for example, supports the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory systems. Vitamin D also plays a role in the gastrointestinal tract and protects against lung infections. Eggs are a food source of naturally occurring vitamin D. They also contain a number of immune-boosting nutrients, such as B vitamins and selenium.
For quick breakfasts before (or on the way to) school, I’ll make boiled eggs or do a soft scramble if time permits. My son also enjoys these stupid-easy egg muffins. Zinc helps with immune function and can be found in red meat, poultry, oysters, as well as some properly prepared beans and nuts.
Protein aids in healing and recovery. Bioavailable protein from quality animal sources (things like mineral-rich bone broth, grass-fed meat/organs, dairy, etc.) is going to provide a variety of amino acids (building blocks of proteins).
I like to make batches of simple gummies with grass-fed gelatin and 100% fruit juice for extra protein snacks for my son. Once I share the recipe on the blog, I’ll link it here.
Spinach is full of many nutrients that work in different ways to enhance immune system function. It contains vitamin A, E, C, and K, folate, zinc, selenium, manganese, and iron. Add spinach to salads, sneak some into a smoothie, saute it with other greens, or chop it up and add to dishes where you can get away with it.
CONSUME PROBIOTICS (GUT HEALTH)
In general, a healthy, intact gut has a strong correlation to immunity. It helps to show our kids’ digestive systems some love.
To put it simply, our gut contains a lot of bacteria; some of it is “good”, and some are not-so-good. We want to consume foods that contribute to a better balance of the “good” bacteria, versus the not-so-good. Considering about 80% of our immune system is in our guts, it’s not hard to imagine that supporting gut health will also support the immune system. For kids, this can look like incorporating probiotics (good bacteria) and prebiotics (feeds that good bacteria) into their diet.
It’s also worth mentioning that bone broth can help in maintaining the integrity of the gut lining. When possible, I use grass-fed, organic bone broth in soups, to cook rice, and as part of snacks for my son throughout the week (simple bone broth recipe coming soon).
If tolerated, yogurt’s probably one of the easiest ways to get probiotics in kids. Try to find one that contains less or no added sugar. For a lower-sugar yogurt, you can mix plain yogurt with a little maple syrup (or honey) and vanilla extract. This has much lower sugar than most store-bought vanilla yogurt. You can also try Greek yogurt for added protein.
Fermented foods like kefir (kind of like a drinkable yogurt), sauerkraut, and quality pickles are easier options for kids. Also, apple cider vinegar is another source of probiotics. There are few things my son dislikes more than the smell of apple cider vinegar (ACV). If I can get away with it, I’ll put just a little in some chicken soup or broth for him and he (usually) doesn’t notice. 😉
Staying hydrated is important for a lot of reasons. It helps prevent constipation (we/our kids need to be having regular bowel movements to naturally detox and excrete waste), as well as promotes proper blood circulation, and helps transport nutrients and oxygen to cells. Staying hydrated may also help fight off illness as it allows the body to function optimally.
Our kids don’t know how to prioritize hydration and they’ve got way too much to do to remember to drink enough water. But again, easier said than done, right? Let’s talk about some ways we can encourage our kids to hydrate.
To #makehydratingcoolagain, let your kid pick out their own stainless steel water bottle to take to school or use at home. A lot of younger kids love bright, colorful things.
Keep in mind that hydration doesn’t have to mean chugging water all day. Many fruits and vegetables have high water content. All the more reason to encourage them in your kid’s food choices. Add a couple of slices of fruits – orange, watermelon, blueberry, peach, lemon, strawberry- to a pitcher and set it in the refrigerator for a few hours to add a pop of color and flavor to regular water. Over the weekend, make your own popsicles using coconut water and low/no added sugar fruit juice for a fluid-rich treat. It also helps to make sure water is easily accessible for little ones. You can also incorporate more things like bone broth and soups into weekly food choices for extra hydration and minerals.
I wanted to mention, briefly, the importance of consuming clean water. You can check your water supply for contaminants by entering your zip code into the EWG’s Water Database. It may be worth considering purchasing a filtration system or water filter (even a budget-friendly counter pitcher). Also, if you use ice makers or refrigerator water filters, don’t forget to change them as needed (easy to forget).
GET SOME SUNLIGHT & GROUNDING (GET OUTSIDE)
The sun’s UV rays help our bodies make Vitamin D, which is important for bones, blood cells, and the immune system. It also helps us take in and use certain minerals, like phosphorus and calcium.
Now, how much sun-time you/your kids want to consider may be influenced by a variety of factors. It depends on skin tone, age, health history, diet, and where you’re located. You don’t want to burn. It may be worth considering getting 5-15 minutes of early morning light. If time/lifestyle allows, enjoy a quick breakfast outside for 10 minutes before leaving for school.
I’ve made it a part of my son’s morning routine to “snuggle” outside shortly after he wakes up. When he gets out of bed, I’ll hold him outside and talk about his dreams, what he’s excited about today, or whatever random topic comes out of my six-year-old’s mouth (you never know). Even if it’s five minutes, I know it’s a small sacrifice of time to support his body in a gentle way (even at 6:45 in the morning :P).
Early sunlight also supports our natural circadian rhythm and mitochondrial function (optimally functioning mitochondria = more energy). Our eyes need light to help set our body’s internal clock. Early morning sunlight, in particular, may help us sleep better. This seems to be the case for my family! I notice a big difference in our sleep cycles when we are consistently getting early morning outdoor time.
Speaking of catching a little low/moderate sunlight, getting outside and connecting with nature can also be beneficial. If you’re thinking that your student gets recess at school, a 20-minute recess isn’t enough time for our kids to really be outside (although it is better than nothing!). However, some schools have artificial turf, so even if kids are playing outside and physically touching the ground, in this instance they’re not getting the benefits of connecting directly with the earth for some “grounding”, also known as “earthing”.
SPEAK WORDS OF LIFE
I could write an entire blog post about this (and in the future, I plan to!). To put it simply, words are sounds. All sounds have power through their unique frequency (high or low). Words have power. We can use them wisely to build our kids up. This includes speaking words of life over their bodies and minds as they return to school. Positive words (higher frequencies) positively impact the body (which is made of energy).
There’s nothing wrong with talking to our kids about taking whatever precautions we feel as parents are necessary or helpful in terms of sickness prevention, but we want to be mindful not to incite fear into these young, developing minds. It’s worth considering how much our thoughts and our words can influence behavior, reality, etc.
This year, I’ve decided to make it a personal goal to pray over my son and my family before leaving the house. Whether it’s reciting scripture or just praying from the heart, I want to send my son off to school with peace and a calm mind. As we wait in the drop-off line, we recite encouraging affirmations over our bodies, like: “My body is safe and is for me. My body is full of life and love” or “I am at home in my body and it is a temple that supports me and will do its best to do so”.
It doesn’t have to be complicated! Speaking even simple words of life can be powerful and shift the atmosphere and also help form new neural pathways in the brain. Check out this quick post from Psych Central to read more about how language changes the brain and can alter gene expression.
By no means is this an exhaustive list! But I wanted to provide a few points to take home and apply, well, at home! And I wanted to focus on areas that didn’t require you to feel the need to go out and immediately purchase a bunch of supplements.
In the following post, I’ll share some favorite products for target supplementation I do like to have on hand this time of year for extra immune support. But I wanted to start by briefly touching on the concept of laying a foundation so that any supplementation can be used as intended. Remember: You can’t out-supplement poor diet and lifestyle.
By supporting our children’s bodies with things like quality sleep, nutrient-dense foods, hydration, *appropriate* light, and fresh air, and by speaking words of life over them, we can give their bodies a greater chance at fighting off sickness in the first place.
Closing remarks: This one’s especially for my Mama friends who are trying to do EVERYTHING “right”: Do what you can, with what you have, in the ways that make sense for you. Every family has unique needs, resources, time, etc. Don’t focus on perfection and doing everything right 100% of the time! Thing progress over perfection. Make little shifts as you can and as you see fit. As Mothers, it’s possible to find joy in knowing that the decisions we make have the ability to support our families on a foundational level. What an honor!