Rapidly developing body and mind of a child under five, makes them extremely vulnerable towards imbalances and diseases. Doshas (dominated by Kapha dosha) and dhatu (7 body tissues) in children are in a state of constant flux. Hence, maintaining balance and health are tricky during this stage of life. Immature immune system is yet another reason for increased susceptibility to diseases.
Ayurveda strongly advocates that healthy childhood is the foundation for healthy life. Diet and lifestyle habits cultivated during these early years, leave permanent impressions on the child’s physical as well as mental wellbeing for their lifetime. Ever increasing threat of chemicals, radiations, environmental toxins and pollution in today’s world makes it all the more critical, that we maintain utmost vigil during these early years of our child’s life. Apart from adopting organic diet, natural and chemical free products, we also need to adopt holistic diet and lifestyle habits like those advocated by Ayurveda in children to ensure health.
Every child is born with an innate ability to maintain their internal balance and health. These abilities are often stunted and muted due to excess use of medications, faulty diet and lifestyle. The holistic diet and lifestyle principles of Ayurveda help in reinforcing child’s own defenses against diseases, their natural responses towards imbalances and create a strong foundation- upon which the child can build a strong health for lifetime.
Recurrent respiratory tract infections (upper and lower), poor appetite and digestion, weak immune system etc. are some of the most commonly faced health issues by children below five years of age. This article will walk you through some of the basic Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle principles which help in strengthening the child’s digestive and respiratory system. These principles not only help in relieving the child of pesky symptoms, they also reinforce the child’s awareness of natural urges of hunger, thirst and voiding.
1. Warm water: Always give warm water for drinking. Cold water, iced water can suppress digestion and worsen the chest congestion. Hence should be avoided as far as possible. Benefits of giving warm water and other warm liquids like warm vegetable or chicken soup , broth etc. are-
- Clears nasal congestion
- Relieves chest congestion
- Boosting digestion
- Improves appetite
- Eases constipation
- Soothes inflamed tonsils
2. Eat when Hungry: Poor appetite and non-cooperation during meal times are some of the commonest problems faced by parents. Children with sluggish digestion and those who are sick, dislike large food portions. Try to give them smaller portions of food whenever they feel hungry. Every child has their own unique hunger patterns and it is important that we encourage the child to eat only when they are hungry. Warm and freshly cooked home food is ideal.
3. Goodness of Ghee (Clarified Butter): Incorporate ghee/clarified butter in your child’s diet. One tsp. ghee drizzled over warm rice, lentil soup, vegetable broth, oatmeal etc. twice a day is good for promoting healthy digestion. Ghee helps in-
- Improving memory, concentration
- Boosts digestion
- Relieves constipation
- Strengthens immunity
It is also an excellent remedy for dry cough. However, ghee should not be given if the child has active fever, chest congestion and indigestion.
4. Veggie Power: Vegetables like carrots, beetroot, sweet potato, broccoli, celery, squash, zucchini, fennel and some Indian/Asian vegetables like bottle gourd, ridge gourd and snake gourd etc. are excellent for promoting healthy appetite and digestion. They are packed with nutrients and also help in relieving constipation. Incorporate these veggies in soups, pastas, casseroles, sandwiches, stuffed omelets, scrambled eggs and roasted vegetable dishes.
5. Spice them up: Common Indian spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric come handy when you are trying to reinforce your child’s immune system. These simple tips are great for incorporating spices in your child’s food-
- Add ½ to 1 tsp. of ginger (fresh minced or dry powder), ½ tsp. turmeric, ground cumin and coriander while making soups, broths, black beans and casseroles.
- Tea made from 1tsp. cumin (ground), 1tsp. coriander (ground) and 1 tsp. cinnamon (ground) (about 3 cups of water) can be given (½ cup) three to four times a day to soothe cold, sore throat, tummy ache and chest congestion.
- Add ½ tsp turmeric powder to 1cup of warm milk and give two times on empty stomach to soothe sore throat, chest congestion and to boost immunity.
- Mix 1tbsp. of ginger powder in 1tsp. warm water to make a thick paste. Apply below and behind ears, below the chin and around throat (near the tonsils) to soothe ear ache and throat pain.
Spices are functional foods and have many health benefits like-
- Strengthen immunity
- Boost digestion
- Ease constipation
- Relieve stomach aches
- Soothe throat irritation
- Relieve chest congestion
6. Go lemony: Giving a tiny squeeze of lemon juice (about ¼ tsp) in to soups, over chopped vegetables, pasta, warm rice, beans, chicken and casseroles. Lemon makes food appetizing and also provides with a good dose vitamin C to your child. Also, lemon is renowned for improving intestinal immunity, preventing diarrhea and sunstroke.
7. Dried Fruits: Dried grapes or raisins make a good and healthy snack for children- chop up some dried grapes and give in a quantity of about the size of your child’s palm. Raisins are great for soothing itchy throat, congestion and constipation. Also, fruits like dates (seeded), figs, apricots, prunes etc. make for a great snack. They help in soothing cough, congestion, boost digestion and relieve constipation.
8. Fresh Fruits: Fruits like Apples, pear, peach, papaya, pomegranate (made into fresh juice) are well suited for children who suffer from repeated bouts of respiratory infections, indigestion and lack of appetite. Fruits like banana, fresh grapes, watermelon and oranges should be given in lesser frequency as they can increase the nasal and chest congestion.
The best time to give fruits is on an empty stomach. Fruits should not be given immediately after big meals like breakfast, lunch or dinner. The vitamins in fruits get destroyed and are not absorbed when they get mixed with food. Also, fruits should not be given after sunset as the body naturally turns down its digestive capability at night. Giving fruits at night can also increase chest congestion. Milk and fruits (except mango) should not be mixed together. Their nutritive qualities do not complement each other and can lead to production of toxins in the body.
9. Restrict Yogurt: Avoid yogurt (plain or flavored) when your child is suffering from cold, runny nose, chest congestion, fever or indigestion. Yogurt increases chest congestion and mucus build up in respiratory system as well as in the rest of our body. However, freshly prepared buttermilk can be taken in place of curd.
How to make Buttermilk?
- 1/4th cup yogurt
- 1cup of water (at room temperature)
- ¼ tsp. rock Salt
- ½ tsp ground cumin and coriander powder
- 1tbsp finely chopped fresh Cilantro (optional)
Blend the yogurt and water in a mixer or shake it in a coffee shaker or any bottle for 5-10 min. Add tiny amount of rock salt (easily available in Indian Grocery stores), fine powder of cumin and coriander and fresh cilantro. Buttermilk is an excellent remedy for recurrent diarrheas and indigestion. It has probiotic cultures in it which sooth the intestines and strengthen immunity.
10. Foods to Avoid: Foods that need to be avoided when your child is sick (and even otherwise) are
- Deep fried foods
- Frozen foods
- Artificially colored or flavored foods
- Foods made from refined flour
- Bakery foods like pastries
- Chocolates, candies and coco products
Also, intake of ready fruit juices, sour cream, iced water etc. should be limited during active infections and indigestion.
11. Massage: Daily oil massage (Abhyanga) is a great way of supporting your child’s health. Massage with warm sesame seed oil before bath every day is ideal. Children who have failure to thrive or those who have suffered weight loss due to illness should be massaged before bedtime for maximum benefits. Use minimal quantity of oil (1 tbs of whole body massage). Warm bath or sponging should be given after a gap of 10-15 minutes. Massage is beneficial for
- Boosting circulation
- Improves Muscle tone
- Promotes good sleep
- Boosts digestion
- Eases body ache and pains
- Strengthens immunity
- Promotes healthy growth and development
These and many more diet and lifestyle principles of Ayurveda are based on the qualities of the food and their effects on our body and mind. Even though these principles focus mainly on Indian culinary basics, they can be easily adapted to food habits and customs of people from other ethnicity. Adopting these Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle changes can indeed give your child a huge head-start in leading a healthy and happy life!