It’s back to school time, which for me, having been a teacher for many years, feels like New Years. It’s a time to start new beginnings, new routines and get back into a more structured schedule after a looser and lazier summer. I decided to write this blog to encourage parents to ask themselves some questions as their children ease back into the school year.
Is your child wild? Do they play outside enough? Are they eating food that they would eat if they were living in sync with nature? Are they engaging in imaginative play, and creative activities? Are they plagued by chronic colds throughout the school year? Kids love the idea of being wild animals, (we are mammals, after all!) and this can be a great way to entice your children to engage in healthier activities and eat more nutritious food, which then has a positive impact on their learning, behavior and overall health.
In a world that is dominated by technology, children of all ages are spending far more time engaging in computer time, video games and watching television than actively playing and using their imagination. Texting and social media are often the focus for older children who spend a large portion of their free time glued to their cell phones.
Here are some suggestions on how to “re-wild” your child (this can also be applied to yourself!) First of all, make it fun! No child wants to hear that they can no longer enjoy their beloved chicken nuggets and mac ’n cheese. In Integrative Nutrition we use the term “crowding out.” This means that instead of eliminating certain foods, you can simply add more of the good stuff in. This might mean eating fruits and vegetables at every meal, or having a smoothie a few times a week. Introduce your child to the concept of “whole food” and “clean food.” You can do this by asking them, “If you were a wild animal, which do you think you would eat, a berry, or a fruit roll-up?
A hot dog, or a piece of meat or fish?” They will understand that food that is closest to it’s natural form is the best for their body. Offer things like nuts and seeds instead of chips and crackers. Foods that have ingredients that cannot be pronounced or artificial colors added to them, are not nourishing and should be limited. Many people find, that once they crowd out the junk food for awhile, it no longer appeals to them. This is very likely to happen with children as well. I would not buy sweetened cereal for my children, but allowed them to have it on vacations. We would get a variety pack with the little boxes of Lucky Charms, Sugar Smacks, Cocoa Puffs, etc. They actually called it “vacation cereal” and as much as they anticipated this luxury item, most of the time, they really didn’t like it and it often left them with a tummy ache!
Don’t give up on picky eaters! Some children take longer to develop their palate, and just because they don’t like something, doesn’t mean that they won’t begin to like it if it’s offered again and in different forms. For example, raw broccoli has a kind of pungent taste that many kids don’t like unless it’s completely covered in ranch dressing. However, roasting it with some olive oil and seasonings changes it completely. I once made crispy kale for my first graders and they gobbled it up exclaiming that it tasted like bacon! I introduced “apple breaks” during which we all sat on the floor with the lights off and ate an apple. There were kids that would never have eaten an apple, that thought this was incredibly fun! Making food fun is key! Use special utensils and dishes, let them eat with a toothpick, have a picnic on the living room floor! (with the TV off.)
Short on time? Invite your children to help you prep food ahead on a Sunday afternoon. Roast up big trays of veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower or beets and carrots. Salads and smoothies will stay fresh for days when layered into mason jars, and they look pretty, too! Large pots of soup will provide several meals and all can be prepared easily from scratch. Buying fresh unprocessed food and spending some time preparing it to stretch over several days and for multiple meals is a budget friendly strategy. (Sounds like a good topic to write about in the future!)
Along with encouraging your children to eat wild, playing wildly is also important. Unstructured outside play is often overlooked. It is an amazing phenomena to me, that if you watch kids, they basically run to anywhere they want to be. We are constantly reminding kids that they shouldn’t run, when in fact it’s their natural instinct to run, skip, hop, jump, and roll! Sitting still is not really a natural state for children to be in, and yet we expect it of them most of the time. Encouraging children to get outside and play, dig in the dirt, build forts, ride a bike, go sliding is essential. The exercise and fresh air is beneficial in many ways and keeps them connected to nature, which is also important. Yesterday, when I was stacking wood I encountered numerous woolly bear caterpillars, a praying mantis, giant night crawlers and thousands of other creepy crawlies. It made me remember how as a child, I would look for old logs and rocks to turn over to see what might be underneath! This is great fun! Children often have a fear of insects, and I think part of the reason is that they don’t have as much exposure to them in nature. It doesn’t help that we have to worry about ticks, but overall the benefits to playing outside far outweigh the risks.
So, as you help your children choose lunches and snacks for school, be thinking, are they clean and natural? Challenge your kids to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and less processed food and sugary drinks. Include them in selecting things at the grocery store. Teach them, that the best foods are the ones that do not need an ingredient label! Take them to the Farmer’s Market, go apple picking, roast pumpkin seeds! Encourage them to eat and play like they would in the wild. I’m quite sure that any child who is asked if they’d like to be more wild, is going to say YES!
Need some recipes for soups, smoothies, salads, or roasted vegetables? Shoot me an email, and I am happy to provide you with ideas!