20 Aug Supporting Health Of Our Children – Food And Eating
Early childhood is a time when we build the foundations for our future life, including the foundations of health in all three aspects of physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual health. The role of the parents in that period is of crucial importance for the child. The parent helps the child to develop healthy or unhealthy habits, feeds him healthy or unhealthy food, engages him in healthy or unhealthy activities. The young child is not able to choose any of these by itself. I know from my personal experience that my physical health would be better today if my parents had not allowed me to eat too many dairy products (including ice cream!), and if they had not obeyed the advice of doctors to prescribe antibiotics for every little cold. I believe that the whole generation of children born in the ’70s is a victim of antibiotics misuse by the doctors at that time (and some pediatricians still do it today). The difference between parents of that time and now is that today we have much more opportunity to do our own research on health and education for our children and act according to our wisely thought-out conclusions.
The topic of health is so huge and versatile, there is no end to many theories and explanations on how to get and stay healthy. In this series of articles, I will try to present my conclusions about health based on my research on Ayurveda and other natural-based medical science, and my own experiences, focusing on helping our children develop the basis of good health for their future life.
The mode of goodness
From the Vedas, we know that the best possible position in this material world is to be situated in the mode of goodness. From that platform, we can have peace of mind, an inner sense of happiness, and access to the spiritual realm. Our physical, emotional, and spiritual health is a natural result of the mode of goodness. The main characteristics of goodness are self-control, cleanliness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and moderation. Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita 6.16-17: “There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough. He who is regulated in his habits of eating, sleeping, working, and recreation can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system”
This verse indicates that our life should move in a harmonious rhythm of different activities and qualities. Everything should be enough, not too much and not too little – eating, sleeping, working, and recreating. We all know that it’s not always easy to have that kind of harmony in our everyday life. It is not something that comes by itself, but we have to make some effort to achieve it. It means that we must learn to say NO to many unnecessary things and activities that would weigh as “too much” on the “harmony scale” of our health. The same we have to do for our children.
The power of digestion
According to Ayurveda, our health depends on our ability to digest. Whatever we take from the outside world – food, information, sensory stimulus – we have to digest it properly to make it a part of ourselves. There is a constant information exchange between us and the outside world, and our digestive power is our only tool to process this information. As conditioned souls, we are limited on how much we can take and process, and our ability to digest set up those limits.
Therefore, the most important thing is to ensure that our children can effectively digest the food, sensory stimuli, and visual images they receive during the day. We need to provide them with good quality physical and spiritual food and protect them from “too much” of any kind. This is especially important nowadays, as the main disease of the modern world is an exaggeration. We consume too much, we eat too much, we work too much, we want to possess too much, and we want to enjoy too much. Technological advances in particular intensify this pressure. The outside world stimulates us too much, but our collective power of digestion is overwhelmed and weaker than ever. As a result, too many people suffer from obesity and autoimmune diseases, which are an indicator that our body cannot digest a large amount of (mostly unhealthy) food and other stressful impressions to which we are exposed daily. We should be very careful to protect our children from this overwhelming influence of our time. It means that we should slow down and go back to the natural rhythm of eating, sleeping, working, and refreshing.
In this article, I want to focus on our first bodily needs listed above – food and eating.
The ability to listen our bodily needs
As parents, we can help our children to develop a healthy and natural relationship with food and eating from the very beginning. The first step is to breastfeed our child for a minimum of 6 months to one year, and more if you can. Breastfeeding on demand is the best and most natural way of feeding a newborn baby. That’s how we start to learn to trust the body of our child showing its needs, and we should continue doing it later on when a child starts to eat solid food (and that means we should accept when a child says it is enough). It is very helpful if we allow a child to touch the food and eat with its fingers (the Indians have an advantage here!), which is a great sensory experience for a child and the beginning of its digestive process. I know it is messy, but it is worth it – our child will have so much benefit and he will eat his meal with more enthusiasm.
I was tandem-nursing my two kids for 6 years, I let them make a mess while eating as toddlers by touching the food, I have never forced them to eat if they do not want (I would put some effort to inspire them to eat, not by distraction but rather by allowing them to touch the food that was far more effective and healthy on a long run), and they turned out to be good eaters with quite a bit of self-control. We have never cooked separately for kids because they have always been eating the same food as we eat (after the initial years of babyhood). Nowadays when they are 9 and 10, during our meals, we talk a lot about the quality of food according to Ayurveda and how certain food affects our body in different seasons, about the importance of digestive fire in our belly, and how we should listen to our belly more than our tongue. How I wish that someone would tell me all these things when I was a child instead to let me eat whatever my tongue was demanding! Because many of us lose the ability to listen to our true bodily needs quite early in childhood. In Ayurveda, it is explained what happens when our doshas get disturbed – then we lose our inner harmony and our body demands the food that will aggravate it further. So, the best thing we can do for our children is to help them keep doshas in balance and develop an inner feeling for their genuine bodily needs.
What is healthy food?
Which foods have the potential to build a healthy body and a healthy immune system? Such food should meet several basic criteria: to have enough life energy or prana in it, to be prepared with love and in good consciousness, and to be consumed in a calm state of mind. When such food is lovingly offered to God, then it becomes prasadam – God’s grace – and also nourishes our soul.
Food that has enough prana in it must be fresh and treated as little as possible, or not at all, with harmful chemicals. In other words, homemade food made with wholesome organic ingredients is ideal (and growing your own food is top-ideal!). Shared family meals, at a regular time, greatly support the physical and social development of our children. I know, to keep this kind of standard means a lot of time spent in the kitchen. However, it is the most important pillar of health that we could give to our children and family members. It is especially important to avoid ready-made bakery products (and any industrial products) because they are full of chemicals (additives). But the children need to eat bread and usually eat a lot of pastry snacks. To include the children in baking our own bread and pastry is such a heartwarming experience and fun! Our family meals, from cooking, serving, and eating together, create strong family bonds and a foundation of lifelong healthy eating habits. Having this kind of experience, it will be naturally unacceptable for the kids to become fast food, restaurant food, or ready-made food consumers.
Family meals are not just eating time. They are a social and spiritual experience as well. If we offer the food to the Lord and honor it as His grace, or at least say a prayer of gratitude to the Lord before taking a meal, the whole experience becomes spiritual. It sets up a mood of gratitude and peace of mind that lifts the process of eating to a higher level. Also, we are going to absorb the nourishing elements of the food much better if we are relaxed while eating, focusing on the taste of the food, or having a pleasant talk with family members. Eating is the beginning of a complex bodily process of digestion, and being relaxed while eating helps the body accomplish this task.
Of course, in the hustle of everyday life, we all tend to sometimes eat in a hurry or inattentively. But, we should remember that honoring the food as a God’s grace is an intimate and sacred act, and strive to come back to a regular practice of homemade warming meals taken peacefully together with the family and the loved ones. If we are spiritual practitioners, cooking for the Lord and His devotees is a great service and meditation by itself. But, it is a whole huge topic for another article.
Guidelines for helping children to develop good eating habits
In conclusion, these are the basic steps of how we can help our children to develop good eating habits:
Breastfeed the newborn baby on demand, and breastfeed a minimum of six months to one year (there is no harm to continue breastfeeding several more years, on contrary!)
Let your toddler eat with his fingers and do not worry about the mess. Do not force him to eat if he clearly shows the signs that is enough.
Regular homemade meals are the pillars of health for all family members!
Try your best to use wholesome, organic, and fresh ingredients for cooking (grow your own food if you can!).
Make your bread, pastry, and snacks using good quality flour.
Avoid industrial and bakery products as much as possible.
Engage the kids in cooking, baking, and serving the meals from early years.
Discuss with older kids which food is healthy and unhealthy and why.
Create a mood of peace and gratitude during mealtime.
I hope these guidelines would help and inspire you to do your best in the service for your children and family!
In the photo below: my husband’s cooking masterpiece!