What Should I Feed My Kids? Eastern Medicine’s Perspective
by Nancy Allen, LAc.
About a week ago, I sat on the subway with my six year old boy and watched in agony as a little girl about his age sat across from us and vacuumed an entire roll of bubble gum tape into her mouth in one continuous chomp. The adult next to her didn’t seem to notice. Here is what her poor little organs had to deal with in that two minutes: 42 grams of sugar (!), Gum Base, Corn Syrup, Glycerol, Artificial Flavors, Corn Starch, Acesulfame K, Aspartame, BHT, Red number 40 (a known carcinogen), and last but not least - Phenylalanine (associated with seizures, anxiety, and sleep disorders). Hopefully, she consumed some water and some real food that day to help her body deal with all of that, although I assume it wasn’t the only ‘treat’ she had that day.
Kids love sugar and they always ask for it. It’s a wonderful feeling to give them a treat, but often we give them poison without a second thought. When I was a kid, I ate buckets and buckets of sugar and fake stuff - Kool Aid, Tang (mysterious orange powder drink), M&M’s, Snickers, Nerds, vending machine pastries that may have been shelved for months. I could fill this whole page with examples. The result was that I constantly had a runny nose. You could never find me without a tissue in my hand. My friends had a phrase, “bless you infinity” so they wouldn’t have to keep blessing my sneezes, and hives popped up all over my body on select lucky days.
At age 9, I went for an allergy test where the nurse injected three rows of six allergens into my arm to see what I would react to. All of the bumps swelled up into one mass of red itchiness. I was allergic to everything, they concluded. After two months of weekly shots and no improvement, I asked the nurse how long I would have to continue. No joke, she frankly replied, “forever" and I never went back.
It was not until decades later, when I studied Eastern Medicine’s understanding of nutrition, I finally realized that the milk with my cereal, and the sugary cold orange juice I was having every morning were exactly the worst breakfast I could have had and that my diet of sugary, toxic, mucous causing food was the reason I felt lousy all the time. When I changed my diet, my allergies vanished.
According to Eastern Medicine, children’s digestive systems are naturally deficient. When the digestive energy is weak, then phlegm and dampness form as a byproduct. What does the digestive system find hard to process? Cold, sweet food and drinks, and processed food. Cold food includes raw food. Yes, raw food contains more enzymes, but our digestive energy has to take everything we consume, bring it to temperature, and then convert it into nutrients. Think of it as a fire pit in your belly. Pouring juice onto the fire pit may give you an energy boost from the sugar and vitamins, but it puts out the fire and your body will have less energy to process what you consume.
Sugar and dairy readily create mucous even in adult bodies, but more so in a developing digestive system. What do we feed our kids? Ice cream, candy, pizza, juice, and highly processed food like hot dogs and boxed macaroni and cheese. The result is not only phlegm forming in their body and often taking up residence in the respiratory system, it is an overall compromised immune system, since the immune system gets its strength from the health of the gut. The lining of the digestive tract contains immune cells. Kids with a weakened gut will end up suffering from frequent colds, asthma, allergies, skin conditions like eczema, and when they get sick, their mucous sticks around for weeks.
Countless times I have heard parents complain, “Well the cold is gone, but the phlegm will not go away” as the child munches on a cupcake and juice. The food we give them is almost always sweet, sugary, milky and cold. It’s what they enjoy and crave, but it’s what damages their digestive and respiratory health the most.
So what should I feed my kid, you ask? Number one - feed them real food. You never need to go to the canned food aisle or the frozen food section. If you’re busy and you don’t have a lot to spend, you can still make it work. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. Cooking black beans from scratch costs about $5 to feed four people. For some healthy, kid friendly recipes, Wellness Mama has great ideas.
To counterbalance a kid’s weak digestive system, feed them mostly warm, tasty, easy to digest foods. Soups and stews will keep them strong. The following foods are especially good at dispelling mucous: onion, cinnamon, ginger, scallion, basil, rosemary, dill, oregano, sage, parsley, cardamom, nutmeg, fennel, anise, clove, coriander, leek, chives, aduki beans, rye, celery, lettuce, alfalfa, turnips, and raw honey.
If they have been exposed to antibiotics and have a weakened immune system, try giving them a daily children’s probiotic, or if they will eat fermented food like sauerkraut, that will be even more effective to boost gut flora. When I look at pictures of myself from childhood, I almost always see a grumpy little face. Kids are grumpy when they don’t feel well. Healthy kids make a happier family.