It’s just a few days away. Your kids are already bouncing around with excitement. School activities are over-the-top Halloween focused. This will sound old and farty: Nobody had costume parades, Halloween parties, or spooky treats in my 1960s elementary school days. Sure, our pumpkin art projects got pasted around the classroom, but nobody wore costumes to school. That was verboten. No cupcakes, no candy at school. You just had to wait until after school. School was not the place for all the classroom merry making that it is today (no cupcake wars). Waiting like this definitely made Halloween afternoon and evening all the more exciting!
And, nobody worried too much about eating Halloween candy. The main candy dilemma was managing squabbles between sibs or friends about candy trades. Food allergies were unheard of, literally. Try that on: No one had a peanut allergy. No one had an anything food allergy. And, candy was not so ubiquitous. It just wasn’t in your face every day like it is now. Candy wasn’t eaten on a regular basis.
We didn’t have GMO corn syrup (possibly more allergenic), high fructose corn syrup (a reliable mercury source), trans fats (nasty for young brains), or a bunch of other oddities now in food. The amount of weird processed stuff marketed so relentlessly to moms and kids now didn’t exist. No squeeze tube yogurts (this is essentially candy), many fewer processed soft drink or soda options (candy), no Goldfish Colors (is that food?), power bars (many are sugared oats with vitamins sprinkled in, so… candy). Halloween candy was an actual treat, not a daily, disguised-as-food lunchbox item.
So now what? Twenty-first century Halloween candy is rife with all sorts of chemicals that nobody should eat, especially kids, who are smaller and have lesser capacity to process toxins that us adults. But, it’s Halloween!
If it works for your family to entirely defer the candy frenzy, of course that’s healthier physically, but it will probably make your kids miserable to be left out. Your options depend on your kids, and your intuition as a parent. Kids on special diets who avoid colors, additives, or allergens obviously have to be especially careful: Feingold diet followers will go bonkers if they get some Haribo gummy candies. Luckily, there’s an enzyme for that!
If your kids do eat a color, additive, or food that they don’t tolerate, you can give various enzymes to help process the offending food. It may not eliminate your child’s reaction, but it may mitigate it. This won’t work for serious food allergens, so keep the Epi-pen handy! Options:
• Use a DPP-IV enzyme for a wheat/dairy transgression. Two chewable or capsules for a single serving of the “wrong” food, up to four enzymes at once is fine.
• Use a broad spectrum enzyme like Tri-Enza if you’re not sure which foods were eaten or to help digest creepy sugars and corn syrup along with some wheat or dairy. Same dosing as above.
• Use a phenol enzyme like No-Fenol to help manage those colors and dyes. Chewable versions of these are available.
• If your child can swallow capsules, encapsulated charcoal will bind whatever your child just ate, in case they really ate something they should not. Charcoal will grab and carry whatever is in the gut with it out in stool. Check with your doctor first – it will also bind and carry any medications present in the gut at the same time.
• Buy candy made with organic cane sugar, colorings from vegetable extracts, and
unprocessed fats or oils, rather than high fructose corn syrup, fake food dyes, and artificially manipulated fats, which, undesirable as all this sugary fatty stuff is, is actually easier for a human liver to manage. Yup, it’s more expensive. How much do you value stuff like… sleep? Kids may sleep better (and hence you as well) and have fewer meltdowns after eating candy that is made of naturally occurring substances rather than Rubric’s-cube-for-your-liver type chemicals.
• Don’t demonize candy. A neutral attitude works wonders.
There is a whole universe of organic Halloween candy out there, awaiting your perusal. This may lower your children’s toxic load and reactions to some degree. If you are feeding your family healthy whole foods most the time, barring any dangerous reactions to known trigger items, a day or two of candy should not tumble your child for long. If it does, some nutritional support and clean up is in order.
Here’s to a fun, safe Halloween for our kids. Make the memories good, not stressful. A little candy is fun and lets your kids have adventures with peers. Whether or not you use Switch Witch trickery at your house, these candy tricks can make it a little easier to enjoy the treats.
When parents hear “nutrition matters for baby” or “kids need a good breakfast”, what does that really mean? There are plenty of vague platitudes out there filling parenting web and print media, cereal box side panels, and TV ads. But how important is this, really?
Even before pregnancy, what we moms eat and what toxins we are exposed to affect our unborn children. Whole foods organically grown in healthy toxin free soil without genetically modified seeds or feed grains will safely nourish you and your kids – and it really does matter. For example:
– Vitamin D status before and during pregnancy may affect growth of the fetus, length of pregnancy, and immune function for baby after birth. Babies may be at more for risk intrauterine growth retardation in moms who are vitamin D deficient. Even adult outcomes for mental illnesses may be impacted by mom’s vitamin D status during pregnancy.
– Ideal iron status – not too much, or too little – is crucial for normal fetal development. Iron can cause lasting damage to fetal organs and brain tissue, if the wrong amount is on board.
– Toxic exposures for you now may influence whether your grandchildren get cancer.
– Ultrasounds may damage DNA expression in your baby’s brain. Limiting exposure to these while pregnant may be safest.
– Missing folic acid, a single simple nutrient, can have catastrophic outcomes for baby. Taking it before you conceive may prevent birth defects.
– Unvaccinated babies have fewer allergies, ADHD, and chronic disease than vaccinated children. Toxins in vaccines along with early and aggressive exposure to injected antigens may be making our children more chronically ill. This bolsters the need for strong nutrition to support strong immune response. Even vaccinations taken by mom prior to pregnancy may have a negative impact too.
– Breastfeeding is as or even more powerful than vaccination at preventing infectious diseases – so powerful in fact, that the CDC has promoted cessation of breastfeeding to keep natural antibodies from negating those in vaccines! Score another point here for nutrition solutions over pharmaceutical ones.
– Genetically modified organisms in food crops (GMO) are linked to increased allergies and organ damage. These foods are unlabeled in the US – so that means you’re probably feeding them to your family. Look for foods that tell you they contain no GMO ingredients. Livestock and farm raised salmon are typically fed GMO corn. Splurge on organic meats to avoid this when you can.
These are just a few bullets from the staggering amount of information on nutrigenomics – that is, how nutrients (and toxins) impact gene expression and outcomes for our babies. But one fact is too often overlooked for parents nowadays: Nutrition really matters, and it’s up to us to engage it. Your child’s immune system depends on a steady flow of toxin-free nutrients and foods, and a well functioning digestive tract, in order to mount a vigorous response to fight infection. Your child’s brain needs the same, to grow and function to potential. Nutrition is an ensemble piece if there ever was one. Nutrients and foods work together, relying on each other in cells and processes in the body, to create a hale and hearty human. No pharmaceuticals – vaccines included – do these jobs. Food and nutrients do this.
Despite this old wisdom – documented by decades of nutrition science and practice – pediatrics today pays little due to helping parents build kids’ nutrition. Nutrition studies are not part of your pediatrician’s training. Emphasis is heavy on pharmaceuticals, a shift that has happened in the last generation. As a child, I visited the pediatrician very rarely; I have not a single memory of me or any of my four siblings going to the doctor with an illness. We each passed through the rites of chickenpox, mumps, and measles; we never got ear infections; we very rarely got colds or flu. My friends came from families of three, five, or even six or seven children. I knew no one with asthma, allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, or other conditions or disabilities. With all the pharmaceuticals now given to children beginning from birth, we must ask if these are making kids less well, and more debilitated. Over half of US children now have a chronic disease or disability – obviously, using more pharmaceuticals has not improved health for our children.
Pay as much attention as you can to real food for your family. Cooking from scratch is a lot of work, but start – somewhere. Even a few more whole food meals or snacks a week will give your kids fewer toxins, more minerals, varied protein, and essential fats and oils – all key for brain and immune function. Even busy families can begin with these ideas:
– Trade processed fortified breakfast cereals (infamous for delivering too much corn syrup, sugar, additives, or even too much iron for some children) for whole grain oatmeal, eggs, or additive-free organic breakfast meats
– If cereal is non-negotiable, transition to organic brands that use whole grains. Add raw nuts and seeds like cashew, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds.
– Once a week, try a session with your kids of making your own cereal. Use whole oats, nuts, seeds, cinnamon, honey – any granola recipe can do.
– Trade sugary GMO concoctions like Ensure, Pediasure, or Carnation Instant Breakfast for power shakes made from organic almond, hemp, or coconut milk; add whey powder, nut butters like tahini, honey, and ripe banana. Let your kids experiment with ingredients, within your parameters of fruits, seeds, nut butters, cacao nibs.
– Stuck on Cheezits and Goldfish crackers? Rotate in crunchy nut and seed mixes, Justin’s Nut Butters, raw young asparagus, or crisp bell peppers. Add dips like guacamole or hummus. If all else fails, offer nut butters and dips rich in brain building fats with the crunchy cracker favorites.
– Is Friday pizza night? Give your own homemade a try, and let your kids in on the project. If making your own dough is daunting, purchase an empty pizza round from your grocer’s freezer section and build from there. Use organic cheeses. Experiment with toppings like olives, fresh basil leaves, raw tomato slices, scallion, or barbeque chicken; let your kids spice the pie with fresh minced oregano, raw minced garlic, or fresh hot pepper.
– Use a crock pot once a week for a home cooked meal. Meatballs and sauce, meatless minestrone, pot roast and vegetables, and lentil dahl are just a few meals that cook themselves and offer protein, minerals, fats, and oils.
What I usually hear in my nutrition practice is this: The more families get into preparing real food, the more they get into it. It grows on you. And the best part is seeing your children become healthier and happier, from the inside out.
Sunday is food shopping day (er, night) in my house. My husband took this on years ago – it’s his job. He is better at it than me – faster, more organized, more clinical (he’s an engineer). I get distracted. I’m too interested in new stuff on the store shelves, I meander, I like to read labels on items I don’t even buy just because it’s interesting – even the junk, because I’m amazed by what passes for food, what fills the aisles, what people are buying. I take too long and spend too much. He fired me.
He also sits us both down before the shop, to pin down exactly what our meals will be for the coming week. That can be the hardest part – we blank out. So we keep a list of dinners made over the years and add to it often, when we find a new idea we all like. This has really helped my family eat well. We are spendy on good organic food, and don’t eat out often – something not all families can swing – but just the act of choosing what’s for dinner a week in advance is a worthy time, money, and health saver. Here’s some ideas to get you started – in my house, these meals have to be free of gluten, soy, corn, dairy, and most nuts.
Salmon with saffron sauce and chick peas
…Salmon with saffron sauce and chick peas (Recipe from Hummus and 65 Other Delicious Recipes) with brown rice
…Minestrone Soup from scratch (Recipe from Special Needs Kids Eat Right) with GF Chebe rolls (store bought mix)
…Meatloaf (Recipe from Special Needs Kids Eat Right) with quinoa cooked in chicken broth, green salad, green beans. Sounds pedestrian but try this recipe. It’s good.
…Vegetable Frittata over GF Penne (use any veggies but we like asparagus, onion, spinach, mushroom, and pepper)
…Lentil Shepherds Pie with green salad (here’s the basic idea of this recipe; we use So Delicious or Silk coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, ghee, and green beans instead of corn)
…Pork or Chicken Adobo with brown rice and baked sweet potato
…Spaghetti and meatballs (from Special Diets for Special Kids), green salad, summer squash with oregano, Chebe rolls
…Curried chick pea skillet dinner (from Special Needs Kids Eat Right) over spiral GF pasta
…Coconut chicken curry with sweet potato over rice
…Thai red curry sauce over mahi or haddock (if available) from Blanchard’s A Trip To The Beach with GF risotto and ginger carrots (slice fresh carrots into skillet with olive oil and fresh ginger slices. Add a dusting of curry powder, dash honey, and enough chicken broth to keep from sticking. Cook to desired softness over medium heat).
Adding lemon slices while cooking chicken picatta makes it even better
…Portuguese kale soup (recipes abound, our own version is in Special Needs Kids Eat Right), Chebe rolls.
…Kale calzones with brown rice green pea salad
…Roast chicken, potato, onion, carrot – baked in one big Pyrex. We buy a half chicken with skin; the organs that come with it go to the cats.
…GF penne pasta with pesto – we make ours with pine nuts, which are safe in our house (not walnuts), and skip the parmesan in the recipe.
…Stuffed bell peppers (blanch the peppers, then stuff with whatever mixture you like: raisins, bread crumbs, leftover minced pork or ham, pine nuts, cashews, onions, mushrooms, brown rice, your favorite seasonings – then bake), chicken sausage
…More: Lemon chicken picatta, home made chili, pork loin, stuffed pork chops or chicken (we use mushrooms, minced ham, onion, bread crumbs – whatever is on hand); pot roast or beef stew, lentil soup and hot dogs
…A side of fresh vegetable, stir fried greens, and/or fresh garden salad with homemade dressing is almost always on the table, when vegetables are not featured as a main course.
No doubt I am blanking out again as I type, which is why I keep cookbooks on hand that I like to thumb through again and again – like The Victory Garden Cookbook (1982), Yankee Magazine’s Favorite New England Recipes (1972), Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook (2006), Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces (1987), Gluten Free Italian Cookbook (2008), Hummus and 65 Other Delicious Recipes (2006), a now dog eared Joy of Cooking that was given to me in 1979, and many others. Whether you can manage just one or two home cooked meals a month, or several a week, make them special occasions where your family knows they are being cherished with good healthy food.
Chicken soup feels good when anyone in my house has a cold. It’s an easy way to eat organic vegetables and spices that are gaining ground for documented health benefits. If your kids eat around the vegetables, just sipping the broth can be palliative or maybe even curative for a cold. Here’s a version you can assemble in about twenty minutes, when you don’t have time to brew your own stock from a whole chicken. I choose organic ingredients, including the spices and the canned chick peas. I add fresh saffron threads, which lend strong antioxidant properties, minerals, cytotoxic power (it may kill cancer cells), and a burst of color and flavor. There are also ample turmeric and cumin, known for their anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects. I’ve kept it grain free with chick peas, though some may like to add whole grain brown rice for more heft.
Go the extra mile to obtain high quality saffron threads instead of using powdered saffron, which is often adulterated with lesser ingredients. The intense flavor from just a few threads will surprise you, and will transform any recipe you’re using them in. If you can’t find them, you can order some from Savory Spice Shop.
Healing Chicken Soup With Saffron
3 TBSP olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP fresh ginger (~ 1 inch of fresh root), peeled and minced
3 carrots, chopped into small coins
1 and ½ cups thin sliced cabbage
5-8 strands saffron
1/2 to 1 TBSP cumin (to your taste)
1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon black pepper
8 cups organic chicken broth (some as vegetable broth is ok) such as Pacific or Imagine brands
1 can organic chick peas
2 TBSP chopped cilantro
Deep orange threads in this crocus are saffron
Use 5-8 strands of saffron, that’s ample for this recipe
Sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger in the olive oil on medium heat. Don’t brown these, just cook til getting soft/clear. Once hot, add the saffron, turmeric, and cumin. Stir well. Add the carrots, continue cooking for a few minutes, without browning/burning. Stir in the cabbage and coat well with spices. Add the broth. Cook til carrots and cabbage are tender. Add black pepper and chick peas. Stir in cilantro, heat for a minute and serve. You can even drop some vitamin D drops on the surface when you serve up a bowl – like Carlson brand drops that come in 400 IU, 1000 IU, or 2000 IU concentrations – to give this soup an extra immune boosting kick. Note! Don’t harvest saffron from your own crocuses come January or February, unless you know what you’re doing and are certain these aren’t poisonous. Check out a reliable source like Savory Spice Shop or your local farmer’s market.