This past week was very challenging. Claire has been ill with fever, runny nose, croupy cough, nasal congestion, headache, and just feeling crummy. I am sure she had a bad cold, but what did not help her was my overscheduled week especially with a presentation and book event at Whole Foods Market on Wednesday night. My heart was overflowing with pride and love when I watch her offer to sign some of the books, even in “cursive”. Thursday night I rushed to make a pot of chicken soup from scratch, and make “stroganoff” which Claire asked for, so that they would not just eat out this weekend since I was going out of town to attend a scientific meeting. After that, I had to finish preparing for my presentation as well as packed for my travel to Scottsdale.  Friday I finished 15 surgeries and then caught a flight to Phoenix for the meeting. Despite feeling guilty for leaving a sick child at home, and exhausted just to get here, I can always count on the gift of unexpected conversation with someone that will inspire me.

I met and enjoyed an incredibly enlightening conversation with a gentleman who is also an ENT surgeon. As we talked about our families and children, he shares with me that his wife is not just a stay at home wife, but a woman who parents with intentionality. He shared with me that they have three children, including a teenage son who defies the stereotype of difficult teenagers that we all hear about. I was most intrigued when he shares with me that he and his spouse read “7 Habits of Highly Effective Families” and have always believed that parenting requires planning, intentionality, and even “curriculum”. I asked him to share with me specific examples of “intentionality”. Since he holds a leadership position and has very limited time with his children, he set aside a set time with each child on a regular basis to give them undivided attention.  What is even more intriguing is that even though his wife stays at home, she takes the time to thoughtfully plan out conversations to have with her daughters about a variety of topics. I called Claire later that day to ask her to think about what she would like for us to do during our together time on Sunday afternoon when I returned home.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines “Intentionality” as the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs. “Intentionality” perfectly describes how I want to live my life, do my job as a pediatric ENT physician and surgeon, be a parent, teach medical students, residents, and fellows.  My philosophy about the importance of diet and dietary habits in the health of a child demands that as parents, we must feed out children with intentionality.  So what does that mean? How do we do that in the 21st century when we live with overwhelming and constant demands of our time and attention, and our children live lives that mirror ours? The key is living thoughtfully and with awareness.  I have learned the hard way that I experienced high degree of burnout when I became so busy that I lived my life in autopilot. As a busy surgeon who was always pressured to get through my busy days, both in the clinic and in the operating rooms with over scheduled appointments/cases, I stopped thinking and was always just “doing”. This was also a period in my life when I became progressively irritable, angry, and stopped enjoying what I was doing. In order to truly enjoy my blessed life at work and at home, I continue to practice to live in the moment.

Doing anything with intentionality requires time and awareness specifically dedicated to the thoughtful planning of what we are trying to achieve. Feeding our children and helping them learn A Healthier Wei of eating and living is no different. That means that busy parents and caretakers have to make the time to plan their family meals, grocery lists, and then make the meals.  Feeding with intentionality means that we ask ourselves what kinds of eating habits we want our children to develop, and how we can achieve those habits with them through practice.  We are all at risk for unhealthy eating and eating habits when we think about it the least, when we are the most busy and there is no “time’ to plan our meals. I know that some of the most unpleasant conversations I have with Dave are actually over the topic of what’s for dinner.  On days when I am exhausted and have not had a chance to eat all day, I rush to get home during the rush hour and to put my work day behind me. I call him to let him know I am on my way and go over our plan for dinner. If I had not taken the time to cook on Sunday, or defrost protein for cooking when I get home, then the conversation gets tense quickly. It gets tense because I don’t’ want to have to make another decision now that I have left work, and I want to enjoy a relatively healthy and tasty meal as soon as I walk in the door.

Am I tired? Yes, just about most days and nights.  Would I rather sit, “relax”, and  read some magazines or watch TV? Absolutely.  However, I have made a choice that feeding my family and I is important enough that the time required to plan, shop, and make meals will not be compromised but instead something else may not get done in the timeline that I would prefer. I recognize that not every mother or adult may obsess about food and meals like I do.  I know that most families have more than 1 child and have to juggle the schedules of activities of many more family members than just my family of 3. Regardless, each of us have the power to make a conscious decision about how we choose to prioritize our lives and the time spent on activities that we deem most important.

Let’s feed ourselves and our children with intentionality. In fact, we must do so if we are to have any chance to improving the health and lives of all Americans as we continue to debate the challenges facing all aspects of our health care system and the rising costs of health care in this country. There is simply no more cost-effective way than to do what is much harder than take a pill and hope for the best,  that is to do the work. Convenience is a luxury which comes at a cost, and we can’t afford to feed our children based on convenience.  We must feed our children like it matters, because it does.  What they eat and when they eat are the most important factor in keeping our children healthy. And of course, let’s not forget exercise. However, while not everyone can exercise, everyone definitely eats.

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Dr. Julie Wei is a pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist and the author of A Healthier Wei. As a mother herself, Dr. Wei is a passionate advocate for improving children's health through better diet and dietary habits. She has been committed to helping parents learn how to eliminate their child's ear, nose, and throat problems simply by reducing excessive sugar and dairy intake, as well as minimizing habitual late night snacking. She hopes to raise awareness for the need for accountability by both medical professionals and parents to ensure that children are not prescribed or take unnecessary medications long term.

When she is not in the clinic, operating room, or conducting research, you will find her in the kitchen preparing food with love along with her daughter Claire. If you sit next to her on the plane, she will likely share with you information about how to minimize choking hazards in young children, and many other tips for improving your child's health.