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4 Secrets to Healthy Kids

The countdown is on: We have about a month of winter left to go. At our house each year, by the time we reach this cold and miserable slog toward spring, we've usually racked up enough sick days to become the Michael Phelps of missing preschool. And it isn't just our not-quite-4-year-old who's down for the count every second or third week with the latest virus—our sweet Sharer of the Year brings most of these right home to us, too.

It feels like our daughter is sick a lot, even though we consider ourselves a moderately healthy family. We have a child who was secretly blessed with the glittered blood of a unicorn at birth and as a result eats most fruits and vegetables without much complaint. We're fortunate to be able to pinch pennies in other areas so that we can afford for about two-thirds of our groceries to be organic. We live close to a park, so we're, you know, active, just not in a way I'd ever go so far as to label "dedicated exercise." With varying amounts of success in any given week, we limit the amount of sugar and processed ingredients we consume. We've been able to get our preschooler on board with covering her mouth—a medium amount of the time, at least—whenever she sprays germs out of her face like a plague-spreading monster, and we've definitely nailed washing our hands after we use the bathroom. (You're welcome!)

I realize, of course, that a large part of childhood illness is unavoidable. But there are still things we can do to curb sickness. So this season, I decided to try a more proactive approach and sat down to figure out what else we could be doing to tip the scales of wellness in our favor. Here are a few tips I uncovered for improved immunity in our kids—no matter what time of year it is:

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1. Develop a vitamin habit.

Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc and Omega-3 are a few of the powerful vitamins and minerals that help reinforce our immune systems and enable us to fight off illnesses. It's ideal if we—that's both adults and kids—consume these naturally by eating more of the foods that contain them; fresh citrus fruits, walnuts and spinach are some of the biggies to add to our plates. But if your preschooler happens to possess the superhuman ability to detect a single disguised pea from six miles away with laser vision, even though he still somehow cannot find his shoes when he's LITERALLY STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO THEM, aim instead for a nightly multivitamin to recoup some of those critical nutrients.

2. Boost immunity with probiotics.

Look, if Jamie Lee Curtis hasn't sold you on the power of probiotics yet, I don't really know what else to tell you. Over at The Accidental Purist, holistic momma and blogger Allyson Armistead has a great post explaining the importance of probiotics in regulating and supporting our microbiome. Unsure where to start? Here's what Armistead recommends: "The safest rule of thumb with probiotics is to work with single strain supplements and two basic building blocks that orchestrate all other strains—Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium." There's a dizzying number of brands on the market. However, says Armistead, "the only brand with scientific case studies and backing (and one that I use for my family and can vouch for) is made by Natren." For babies and toddlers, she notes, "I would strongly encourage a very gentle probiotic powder also made by Natren called Life Start."

3. Get. More. Sleep.

I know, I know, for many parents, this is our single, only wish—for both us and our kids. But while there are plenty of times when I can do absolutely nothing to control the third night in a row involving a 4 a.m. wake up, there are also times when we (by which I mostly mean me, because my husband is a toddler bedtime champion) could move the goodnight train along a little faster. In an article for Parents Magazine, Dr. Kathi Kemper, director of the Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and Research at Children's Hospital, points to sleep deprivation as a major contributor to illness because of the way it reduces the ability of our immune systems to fight harmful microbes. The more well-rested we are, the better our bodies can work to protect us.

4. Don't be germ adverse.

You heard me. Many of us have already heeded the warnings to lay off the antibacterial soaps and sanitizers, but Dr. Rajeev Kurapati, a family physician at St. Elizabeth Hospital, adds, "The recent mantra for improving immunity in kids is to increase their exposure to pets and gardening, as well as to use less hand sanitizer, so they build natural immunity by themselves and help build microbiome." The good news: if you're employing the five-second rule for dropped food at your house, you're probably already aces on this one.

RELATED: That Time My Toddler Asked Me About Death

Most of this advice feels like common sense, but it's easy to let these details slip through the cracks in the everyday chaos that's characteristic of most of our lives. I totally get it. But with a renewed commitment to taking our nightly probiotics, trying for at least eight hours of sleep, and possibly flossing (hey, for good measure), I'm cheering on you and your little ones to a healthier season.

Photograph by: Kirsten Clodfelter

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