Children and Digestion
Dr. John Peterson
The most common advice I give to mothers for their children is to avoid or reduce heavy foods: cheese, yogurt, ice cream, peanut butter and bananas. Heavy foods overload the digestive system and cause ama (impurities), which can create problems with digestion, constipation, congestion and allergies.
Childhood is Kapha time of life, and the Kapha times of day are 6:00 - 10:00 in the morning and the evening. During Kapha time the digestion is sluggish and appetite may not be there. The one-size-fits-all advice that all children must have breakfast may not be so good after all. Eating when you aren't hungry creates impurities (ama) that can cause digestive problems and weight gain.
Kapha children often don't feel hungry until Pitta time kicks in at 10:00. By that time they are already at school and may have hours to wait until lunch time. Whether you're a child or a grownup, it's best to eat when you are hungry. Not eating during Pitta time, when the sun is directly overhead, may cause digestive problems.
Eating overly-processed food too hurriedly in a noisy, crowded lunchroom is not ideal for digestion either!
What's a mother to do?
Can we turn the clock back to the day when children got out of school for a whole hour and could walk home from their neighborhood school to eat lunch made with love by their mother?
My wife recently got an email from a high school junior on a limited budget who has to catch the school bus at 7 a.m. She wanted a suggestion for something easy she could eat for breakfast that would hold her over until her school's 20-minute lunch at 1 p.m.
Vicki suggested making oatmeal by pouring boiling water over quick-cooking organic oatmeal, letting it sit for five minutes and then adding soaked raisins and nuts and a spoonful of almond butter. Once it cooled down a bit she adds a spoonful of raw honey. The young ayurveda client liked the oatmeal, but it still didn't tide her over until lunch. Now she's asking my daughter for an easy-to-make cookie recipe to bake the night before and take with her to eat before her 10:00 class.
Another common complaint from young school kids is "My tummy hurts." It could be a touch of food poisoning or the stomach flu, both of which can take root more easily if the digestive system is compromised by ama (impurities). Or it could be caused by stress. School children across the nation are learning the Transcendental Meditation® program to help them deal with stress in their lives.
When I was in second grade my mother took me to the doctor because I complained of frequent stomach aches. He told her it was due to my "intense personality" and would go away when I got more used to school. He was probably right. I was the classic red-haired little Pitta kid.
If you have a Pitta child, teach him to cool down by taking a mouthful of cool water and splashing cool water in his face. Try room-temperature Organic Cooling Pitta Tea and a snack of Organic Rose Petal Spread.
Fresh, ripe juicy sweet fruit is a great snack for kids — apples, pears, grapes and pomegranates are good for both Pitta and Kapha. My wife says the trick to make apples and pears irresistible to kids is to cut the fruit up into bite-size pieces first.
Raw honey is always good for kids, once they are at least two years old. The vaidyas (ayurvedic experts) say honey is the ideal Kapha pacifier. Freshly-made juice from sweet juicy fruits, juiced with a little fresh ginger, is ideal for children. Pomegranate juice is also good. Dilute it with pure water and add a little honey if it's too bitter.
To help power up your child's digestion, try offering ginger before meals. Kids generally like candied ginger as a treat. After meals, candied fennel seeds can aid digestion and help prevent gas. So can plain fennel seeds, of course, but they might be a harder sell.
If a child is constipated, offer raisins and figs at night. If that doesn't go over, try organic fig newtons, a favorite for many kids.
As much as possible children should eat real food, not highly-processed food with lots of additives. Sodas and high-fructose corn syrup can harm digestion. If a child has persistent digestive problems, check into food allergies — many kids don't tolerate dairy, gluten or food additives.
Family meals are making a comeback. People realize that cooking and eating together strengthens family ties. It's always good to take time to eat sitting down. Begin the meal with a moment of silence or a prayer from your family's religious tradition. Then enjoy the food with all your senses. Encourage children to notice when they are satisfied. Don't force them to clean their plate. After eating, continue to sit together, enjoying pleasant conversation. This helps digestion get off to a good start.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.