Ever since our extreme experience with RSV, we’ve become a little paranoid about keeping our family healthy. We use these four simple steps to keep our family healthy during cold and flu season.
The last time the stomach virus hit our house it hit me first. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so awful in my life. (Okay, maybe during labor, but you get my point).
I was laying in my bed squeezing my eyes shut and just praying that the rest of my family didn’t get it, because goodness knows moms don’t get real sick days. Sure enough, shortly after everyone went to bed, I awoke to the sound of crying and heaving children.
I ran into the kids’ room to find that my oldest had thrown up.
But he hadn’t quite made it to the bathroom…. Oh no…that would have been too convenient. Instead his vomit cascaded over the side of the top bunk like a waterfall.
What I suspect happened is that my middle child stuck her head out the side of the bed to see what the commotion was and was actually hit by the falling vomit, which then caused her to empty the contents of her stomach as well.
Oh yes. Really.
All I can say about the 24 hours that followed was thank goodness for Netflix, Instacart, washing machines.
The reality is that dealing with the stomach bugs and winter colds is part of having kids and there’s no way to completely escape it entirely; however, there are plenty of simple habits you can incorporate into your family’s routines to help boost your immune systems and keep you healthy this winter.
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4 Simple Steps to Keep Your Family Healthy During Cold and Flu Season:
1. Limit Sugar
Sugar causes inflammation and severely decreases the body’s immune response for several hours. Although we aren’t militant about it, we do try to limit the amount of sugar our kids consume during the fall/winter/spring months as much as possible. We try to avoid refined sugar entirely, and limit the amount of other forms of sugar (even natural ones) within reason.
2. Eat healthy, whole foods as much as possible
Try to focus on basing meals and snacks on whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. We eat the following foods OFTEN in the winter.
Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin C & beta carotene and are filling and savory. We love to eat them baked, as roasted sweet potato chunks, or mashed. (source)
Carrots are also high in vitamin A, which is essential to immune system functioning. (source) We like to eat them raw, roasted, or pureed into carrot soup. I hesitantly bought a renewed Vitamix a few years ago. It was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Between making sauces, pureed soups, and smoothies our Vitamix has gotten plenty of use!
Although Kale has MANY benefits, it is especially high in vitamins C, A, and K which help keep you healthy! (source). My kids actually will occasionally eat it raw, but typically we blend it into smoothies or sauté it with avocado oil and sea salt.
Did you know that raw garlic actually has many health benefits? One of which is that it can help you get over colds faster (source)! If I feel like I’m beginning to get sick, I chop a clove of garlic into small pieces and swallow it like it’s a pill. I know it sounds crazy, but it works. Obviously, getting my kids to swallow garlic like it’s a pill isn’t going to happen, but I do make an effort to cook with extra garlic and onion when we’re all fighting off getting sick.
It’s no secret that citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. Our kids snack on oranges, or we squeeze lemon into warm water and add some honey to drink it as tea. We usually prefer to buy whole oranges instead of spending the extra money to buy it as orange juice. Occasionally if we have some that are on the verge of going bad, I toss them in the Vitamix and blend it up to make fresh orange juice.
Strawberries are actually extremely high in vitamin C (source). Since strawberries aren’t in season in the fall and winter, I buy frozen organic berries from Costco or Aldi and throw them into smoothies along with some spinach, almond milk, and almond butter.
3. Supplement wisely
If you’re not careful, supplements can eat up all the margin in your budget and can easily be a waste of money. We try to focus on getting our nutrients from eating whole, nutrient dense foods as much as possible; however, in the winter we have a few supplements that we always keep on hand.
One of our pediatricians recommended that everyone in our house take elderberry syrup every day in the winter for its intense immune boosting properties. We tend to take it every other day unless we know that we’ve been exposed to someone who was sick. Although I have purchased this elderberry syrup many times, it’s far more cost effective to make your own. I have used a variation of Wellness Mama’s recipe and it has saved us so much money!
(Please note that elderberry syrup has honey in it and is not suitable for infants under the age of 1. You can sub the honey with molasses in the recipe linked above!)
I have always had mixed feelings with children’s multivitamins because so many of them are full of junk and sugar (believe it or not). These are the ones my kids LOVE and I love them because they have no sugar and they were approved by their pediatrician. The pediatrician also mentioned that he likes this brand. I have friends who have used that one and love it, but we’ve stuck with our favorites.
We always keep some vitamin C on hand to mix into smoothies or applesauce if someone is fighting off something. I wanted one that came from whole foods and didn’t have anything else added. This one has been my favorite that I’ve settled on because it’s powder so I can mix it into the kids’ food, and it’s just acerola cherries and nothing else.
Raw, organic honey is actually full of nutrients and is a natural cough and throat soother. Ideally you would purchase it locally, from your farmer’s market or from someone you know who keeps bees, but if you don’t have access to that you can purchase it from most grocery stores or here. I squeeze lemon into hot or warm water and mix in a generous spoonful of honey and call it “tea.” The kids love it.
Your gut health has such a significant impact on everything – including your immune functioning! Our pediatrician recommends these.
We had one pediatrician that 100% without fail recommended epsom salt baths as the first line of defense for almost every illness. We do epsom salt baths as much as possible in the winter months, but we increase them to twice a day if our kids are sick. You can read more about the benefits of epsom salt baths here.
4. Germ Control
Wash, wash, wash, and wash your hands. Even young children can be taught to wash their hands thoroughly. When good ol’ soap and water isn’t readily available, carry hand sanitizer. We like this brand.
Adequate rest & hydration
When you or your kids start feeling under the weather, nothing beats drinking plenty of fluids and taking time to let your body rest.
Limit new exposure
For some reason when my oldest child was a baby I assumed that if he was already sick there was no point in protecting him from germs. I have no idea why I didn’t realize that there are literally thousands of different kinds of bacteria and viruses that can cause illness and the fact that he was already sick meant his immune system was already fighting off something, so it would be helpful to keep him from being exposed to more. #Facepalm.
If my kids are sick now, even if it’s just a little bit of a cough or stuffy nose, I try to keep them home to give their body time to fight it off without being introduced to new germs when their immune system is already busy. And of course, all the other mamas will thank you for letting your kid keep their germs to themselves.
Staying healthy doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive! It starts by focusing on putting good, nutrient dense foods into your body and avoiding foods that will cause inflammation. When necessary, supplements can help. We work hard to keep our spending on supplements in check, but I have concluded that I prefer to make the financial investment in our health up front, rather than spending it all on sick visits once everyone is already sick and miserable.
Of course, sickness is not always entirely avoidable but I’ve found that when we are actively doing all the things listed in this post, our sicknesses are much shorter in duration and much less severe!
What are your favorite simple steps to keep your family healthy during cold and flu season?
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