Because much of my life centers on my children, September feels more like the New Year for me than January. So, as August comes to an end and September rolls around, I begin thinking of how best to support my children’s well being in the year ahead. Here are my suggestions:
1) Give your children healthy lunches and snacks for school
School days are long and children need foods that will sustain them throughout the day. Kids, more than adults, crave foods that provide quick fuel so they tend to gravitate to foods with lots of sugar. This provides them with a quick rush of energy followed by a crash. Over the long-term, this can weaken their immune system, and have a detrimental effect on their health. Make sure to provide your children with lunches and snacks that will nourish them throughout the day.
2) Purchase non-toxic school supplies for your children
Research shows that many products (from art supplies to plastic containers or water bottles) contain various chemicals that are toxic to our children and the environment. Increasing research is showing that toxic chemicals in the environment are causing many of the health issues we are seeing today, such as: asthma, ADD, ADHD, autism, obesity and diabetes, and cancer. According to the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center, “Over 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released by industry into the nation’s environment each year, including 72 million pounds of recognized carcinogens. Of the top 20 chemicals discharged to the environment, nearly 75% are known or suspected to be toxic to the developing human brain.”
3) Cook dinner at home and eat together
There is a lot of research extolling the benefits of eating as a family. As Michael Pollan notes in his book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (see review below), “The shared meal is no small thing. It is the foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending.”(p.8)
More than just eating together, it is also important to cook meals at home. We are relying too much on packaged, processed and/or refined foods for our nourishment. Most of the time, these foods deplete us of energy and essential vitamins and minerals necessary to keep us healthy. Spending even a half-hour in the kitchen to prepare a meal, using whole, real foods can have many health benefits for you and your family.
4) Make sure your children get enough sleep
We tend to underestimate the importance of sleep for our health and well-being. Proper and sufficient sleep restores our brains and bodies. It helps to repair and rebuild muscle tissues, and our brain recharges. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Teens need at least 8½ hours—and on average 9¼ hours—a night of uninterrupted sleep to leave their bodies and minds rejuvenated for the next day. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. Then we wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully in school and social activities.”
5) Enjoy some downtime
Make sure you leave some time for your children to de-stress and relax after a long day. They are exposed to many stimuli throughout the day and need time to reflect on the day. Downtime and occasional boredom also allows kids to be creative. I always know when one of my daughters needs her daily dose of downtime when I see her quietly playing with her Legos. Getting enough downtime also allows the brain to wind down and promotes more restful sleep so both your body and brain can recover.
SNACK & LUNCH SUGGESTIONS
- Fruit & vegetables
- Hummus with vegetables
- Cheese & crackers
- Homemade popcorn – add a little butter or olive oil for flavor
- Sunbutter Balls (find recipe here)
- Maple bars
- Banana bread
- Yogurt with honey, dried fruit, and/or granola
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Pasta with pesto or tomato sauce
- Fried rice with vegetables or rice salad with vegetables
- Greek salad with whole-wheat pita
- Soups (chicken soup, alphabet soup…)
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
by Michael Pollan (The Penguin Press, 2013)
In his new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan takes us into his kitchen to examine the four “fundamental” principles of cooking and how these relate to the primary elements – fire, water, air and earth. Pollan examines each of these elements and how they are used to transform plants and animals into food.
First, Pollan learns how fire transforms animals by visiting and working with barbecue pit masters. He then learns how water can transform plants and animals, by learning how to braise foods. Pollan’s next venture is into bread making to see how air can transform grains and water into something delicious. Finally, Pollan looks at how the earth’s microbes can help transform elements into food and drink – from fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut or kimchi to beer. These are all traditional cooking techniques that were developed to transform the plants and animals into something that can nourish us.
I am a big believer in the notion that traditional foods and cuisines are inherently healthy, because they came about as a result of our evolutionary needs. As Pollan notes in his introduction, “Cooking, in effect, took part of the work of chewing and digestion and performed it for us outside of the body, using outside sources of energy. Also since cooking detoxifies many potential sources of food, the new technology cracked open a treasure trove of calories unavailable to other animals. Freed from the necessity of spending our days gathering large quantities of raw food and then chewing (and chewing) it, humans could now devote their time, and their metabolic resources, to other purposes, like creating a culture.” (p.6) There are reasons we need cooked foods, fermented foods, raw foods at different times of the year or of our lives. All these foods have specific health benefits that we need at a given time.
More than just cooking, though, Cooked examines how cooking is really about relationships – our relationships to each other and to the natural world around us. Pollan notes, “Cooking is all about connection, I’ve learned, between us and other species, other times, other cultures (human and microbial both), but, most important, other people. Cooking is one of the more beautiful forms that human generosity takes; that much I sort of knew. But the very best cooking, I discovered, is also a form of intimacy.” (p.415) This is what I love about cooking: the fact that it can unite me to other people, other countries and cultures, and to the natural world around me. Cooking also allows me to be influenced by and to influence the world around me.