As a (not so) little girl, I struggled with a lot of things, one of which was finding snow pants to house my rather large mid-section. It didn’t go unnoticed by my 8-year-old compatriots who often asked whether I could see my toes over my stomach and why my mom was skinnier than I was. Though these cuts are only scar tissue now, I walk a fine line with my children when it comes to their food intake. I try to say no to the junk enough to keep them healthy and say yes just enough to keep them out of therapy later.
It may feel as though we’re at the mercy of Big Food and its ultra-processed, brightly packaged foods that are marketed to kids. How can they not want to eat their contents with cartoons dancing across the labels? Although we’re health conscious here in Southern Vermont, it can be a daily struggle when our kids come home from school having made Fruit Loop necklaces one day and laden with Valentine treats the next.
We all desire what’s best for our children. We want to feed them good food and give them ample opportunity. With so many additives in our food, selecting what our kids eat can be some of the toughest choices we face as parents.
The doctors are in
Pediatrician Dr. Noel Salyer, says parents sometimes feel helpless when it comes to kids’ nutrition when all they want to eat is “kid food.” She doesn’t label foods as good or bad, but talks to kids about foods that make them “strong and healthy,” calling them “growing foods.” “You can control the home environment. You can’t necessarily control every other interaction that your kid has,” she says.
Salyer’s colleague, Dr. Karina Eastman, is a graduate of the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. It dawns on me when I realize she attended UVM for med school, why I might’ve been drawn to her for my kid care all the way out in California. She focuses on getting to the root of the problem, rather than just treating the symptoms, a holistic ideal I celebrate.
“I liked the way that UVM approached things,” Eastman says as she explains her decision to attend med school in Burlington. “The atmosphere there, the people are so lovely, so friendly. It was still a very rigorous academic environment, but the faculty and the other doctors that you work with were so approachable.”
When asked about the top two things to avoid in our children’s diet, both physicians agree that added sugar and food dyes top the list. “It’s not just the sweets and the candy and the things that we know have sugar,” Eastman points out. “It’s hiding in our crackers, in our popcorn, in our dressings, in our pasta sauce, in our vitamins; it’s in everything.”
When Eastman points out that the recommended amount of added sugar for children aged 2 through 18 is less than 25 grams, I’m shocked and not because of how easy it is to consume six teaspoons of sugar. The recommendation is the SAME for teens nearing adulthood as it is for toddlers? Eastman emphasizes that it’s not just the immediate effects like bouncing off the walls. “Excess consumption of sugar early in life is linked to the onset of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity later in life … and [is linked to] decreasing our immune system.”
When boosting immunity, both doctors underscore the importance of a good diet and recommend omitting processed foods. Since nutrients are more effectively absorbed in whole foods rather than in pill form, eating well is essential. They agree that sleep is pivotal when it comes to our immune systems. Both sleep and exercise boost our immune cells called T cells. “[Exercise] improves response to vaccines and improves resistance to viral and bacterial infections,” continues Eastman. “Meditation decreases inflammatory markers, increases T cells, increases antibody levels and deep sleep.” I picture getting my 2-year-old to sit still for 30 seconds and stifle a giggle.
Eating the rainbow should only pertain to colorful fruits and veggies. Though many food colorings have been banned in Europe, dyes like Red No. 40 and Yellow No. 5 and 6 are still available in the U.S. Used prodigiously in “kid food,” these dyes have been linked to hyperactivity, including ADHD, irritability, behavioral changes and even depression. While some children have developed allergies to them, several hues have even been linked to tumors in lab rats.
Salyer practices what she preaches with her three kids. “We schedule breakfasts. My kids were wanting to have cereal every morning. I fall into these traps too … so now we have a schedule of breakfasts, so we’re getting variety. I think there’s a balance, I really do.”
“It’s really easy to get lost in all of this and get overwhelmed by trying to do the right thing and trying to feed your kid as best you can,” Eastman’s voice is soothing. “All the information out there about chemicals and organic, we all just do the best we can with the information we have. Small steps get us to where we want to be. Everything in balance.”
Life is, after all, a balancing act.
This tea is naturally blue, filled with antioxidants and decaffeinated.
Squeeze a lime in it to turn it purple and sweeten it with honey or maple syrup instead of “kid” drinks!
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons butterfly tea flowers
2 teaspoons honey
1 wedge lime
Boil water and pour over tea flowers, allowing to steep for 3-4 minutes.
Strain and sweeten. Squeeze lime to change color.
Fun for the kids and much healthier than the other purple stuff!