NATURAL MEDICINE: Back to School Balance

By on October 11, 2016

How parents and kids can stay healthy this school year.


JACKSON HOLE, WY – School is such an exciting time and getting into a good routine is essential. Most people think about shopping for new clothes and computers to start the school year, but spending some time keeping kids healthy will benefit both them and you.

The National Center for Health Statistics estimates American students miss 144 million school days per year due to illness. Meanwhile, parents miss more than 100 million workdays annually to care for sick children. Let’s do better than that this year.

First of all, let’s focus on food. If you are making school lunches, a great first step is decreasing sugar. Snacks like unsweetened applesauce, a mixture of raw almonds/cashews/raisins/cranberries, fruit roll-ups and grapes are all better than granola bars, which are loaded with sugar. For example, Each Nature Valley granola bar has 11 grams of sugar. A can of Mountain Dew has 77 grams of sugar.

They say everything in life is a negotiation and I’m guessing no parent will argue with that. When I was a child, my mother wanted us to eat brown bread and I wanted to eat white bread, so we compromised. I had a sandwich with one slice of brown and one slice of white bread. If you are trying to think of new ideas for the lunchbox here are a few options:

Use a wrap filled with chicken and guacamole or turkey and pesto.

Make extra for dinner and put it in the lunch box.

Kids love sushi. It’s healthy and easy to make. When I was in college, I made the poor man’s sushi: Nori, rice and canned tuna.

Purchase an insulated food container. You can make soups or heat up a healthy can of soup and add something fresh to it. Add some fresh tomatoes to chili, or chopped parsley or spinach to lentil soup.

Second, keep your kids clean. Children are exposed to a plethora of germs in school. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes hand hygiene as the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection. When your kids walk in the house from a day of school, the first thing they should do is wash their hands. The following is common sense, yet a great reminder for preventing illnesses by 30 to 40 percent: wash your hands before eating food, before and during food preparation, after using the toilet, after touching an animal or animal waste, after touching garbage and after blowing your nose.

Third, there are a few supplements I recommend for children. School can be stressful for kids. I recommend taking a multivitamin that contains B vitamins and vitamin C. These vitamins nurture the adrenal glands, which are responsible for helping us deal with stressful situations. Kids love them, but “Gummys” are NOT multivitamins. They are a form of candy marketed as multivitamins and you should avoid them. There is no question that learning and academic performance are affected by nutritional status. If your child is not a great eater, meaning he/she eats only white foods, i.e. mac and cheese, bagels with cream cheese, etc., studies have shown kids on this diet who take a multivitamin benefit most.

A probiotic is another supplement I often recommend. Dr. Pedro Gutierrez–Castrellon recently published a study showing that preschoolers given a daily probiotic for three months had fewer respiratory infections and instances of diarrhea. Research has shown you can change your microbiome by ingesting vegetables and foods rich in probiotics.

Fish oil is not only beneficial to your child’s immune system, it also benefits the brain. One study showed that when 200 children were given 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, after six months the children themselves did not report significant changes, but their parents reported a 48 percent improvement in externalizing behavior (disobeying rules, physical aggression and threatening others). Parents also reported a 68 percent decrease in internalizing behavior (social withdrawal, feelings of loneliness or guilt, feeling unloved, feeling sadness, fearfulness, not sticking up for oneself, changes in sleeping or eating patterns).

After practicing naturopathic medicine for the past 20 years, I’ve seen how children are exposed to a phenomenal amount of stresses whether physical, emotional or electromagnetic. The right food and supplements will give them a fighting chance and allow them to perform at their full potential. PJH

Dr. Monique Lai graduated from naturopathic medical school in 1996. She is an alternative health expert with a family practice in Jackson, where she works with patients to restore their health. Monique enjoys working with a variety of health challenges, particularly autoimmune disease, thyroid disease, digestive disorders, menopause and diabetes. For more info visit

About Dr. Monique Lai

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