Yesterday I went with the eldest son to take the eldest grandson (EG) to his swimming lesson. MD was with the daughter-in-law taking the youngest grandson to his soccer game. It was a typical modern regimented kid Saturday. While I was observing the EG in the throes of his lesson I noticed another manifestation of modern child-rearing behavior. A young family in the chairs in front of me were getting their kids, who had just finished their swimming lessons, packed up and ready to leave.
The kids, both boys, looked to be about 7 and 4. As the parents were gathering all the towels, goggles, and other paraphernalia, the youngest kid was taking his cookie out of the little sack that it came in and dropped it. The cookie hit the indoor/outdoor carpet that covers the floor in the observation area and broke into four or five pieces. The kid hurriedly began to pick them up and get them back into the sack, but was spotted by the sharp-eyed mother.
“No,” she shrieked, “you know the rules. We don’t eat food that has been on the floor.” She gathered up all the pieces and threw them away as the kid stood there looking hangdog.
The mother acted appropriately, but for all the wrong reasons.
At this particular swimming school when the kids do a good job they are rewarded with a big sugar cookie. In my opinion this is not the way to reward children. They come to associate the sugar-fat taste that is so addicting with good performance. I think we should do all that is possible to disassociate sweets with any kind of reward. So, the mother acted in the best interests of her son, or at least in the best interest of her son’s pancreas by tossing the shattered cookie.
But she did a disservice to his immune system.
Because kids need to eat a little dirt.
In this case, I doubt that the cookie would have gotten all that dirty. The indoor/outdoor carpet had been trod by a thousand chlorine-y feet fresh from the pool, so I doubt that there was a germ within a hundred feet. But had the cookie fallen on the ground or on the floor of the kids house or at school, it would have been okay to eat, blood sugar considerations aside.
Why? Because kids need the germs to fine tune their developing immune systems.
We as a species evolved in the presence of a zillion bacteria, parasites and fungi. As our immune systems developed, they did so in with all this fauna on board. Now we lived in a squeaky clean world. No one in developed countries ever has parasites except for the occasional case of pin worms or head lice brought home from school. Most kids are vaccinated for all of the common childhood diseases and taken to the doctor for antibiotics at the least sign of a sniffle.
Endotoxins are components of the cell walls of various bacteria and are found in dirt and dust everywhere, but especially in the dirt of farms and barnyards. Exposure to endotoxins during infancy and youth is associated with much less trouble with allergies later in life. Kids who grow up in spotless homes tend to have more allergies than those who grow up on farms. Kids who have pets don’t develop asthma or as many allergies as kids who grow up without pets. First born kids today have more allergies than those later in the birth order. Mothers are able to keep the house clean and are ever vigilant for dirt with the first kid; by the time the others come along, she is a little overwhelmed and the house isn’t quite as neat. The kids after the first born are the beneficiaries of mom’s fatigue.
Why does exposure to endotoxins help the immune system develop properly? No one knows for sure, but it is theorized that if the developing immune system doesn’t have enough to stimulate it, it turns on pollen, house dust mite and other common allergens as well as , the latter of which can cause auto-immune disorders. I like to think of the immune system of kids in neat-as-a-pin homes as being like the Highland Park police.
Highland Park is an upscale area of Dallas that has no crime to speak of. The notorius Highland Park police, since they have no crime to fight, turn on the normal citizens and ticket them for the most nothing infractions. If you come to a rolling stop at a stop sign in Highland Park they call out the swat team.
It’s much the same with the developing immune system. If there is plenty of endotoxin around, the immune system is kept busy dealing with it. If there isn’t, the immune system starts going after stuff it shouldn’t.
So, whenever you see kids drop some food on the floor, just pick it up, knock off the visible dirt, and let them eat it. Visit a farm and let your kids play in the dirt. Don’t admonish them to wash their hands every five seconds. Let ’em be the nasty little kids nature has intended for them to be. Their immune systems will thank you.


  1. I guess that mom hasn’t heard of the “two second rule”, especially for dry foods. There’s actually research out there saying it works. Even my 8 yo old learned that somewhere (wasn’t from me). Yeesh!
    Then again, sometimes moms have rules about what happens in public (more strict) than what happens at home (relaxed). That’s because we are so aware of what the other moms are thinking about us (I guess we have to worry about the grandpas, too). My friends call it “parenting for the other parents”.
    Last year, I was at a museum with my family and a friend and her three kids. After we finished lunch at the outdoor cafe, the older kids went to play on the nearby lawn and we leisurely finished our lunches. Then we realized a young couple at the table next to us (with their own baby in a stroller), was very concerned about my friend’s baby sitting on the patio eating bread droppings under the table. My friend said to them “oh it’s ok, it’s her brother’s bread”. They looked horrified.
    So then I said, “Don’t worry, her husband is a physician and my husband is a research scientist. They both say that it is important to expose the kids to lots of germs to develop their immune systems. It won’t kill her, it will make her stronger”, tongue-in-cheek, of course. That couple looked even more horrified and packed up their super clean baby & stuff and left. We had a good chuckle over that.
    But I’ll mind my Ps & Qs if I notice any grandpa observers. 🙂
    If you notice this grandfather watching, just roll the dropped cookie around it the dirt a little before you give it to the kid.

  2. I agree 100%!! I’d like to see less people using hand sanitizers, antibacterial soaps, etc too!!
    I love seeing a kid covered in dirt! “Clean dirt” is what my mom called it.
    As for the cookie? We had the 5 second rule. My friend would bless it and offer it up to Jesus! LOL
    Oh yea, all of our kids survived! And are happy and healthy adults and near adults. LOL
    Yeah, all these kids that eat dirt somehow grow up to be healthy.  Yet the modern mom goes ballistic at the least sigh of dirt.

  3. “If you notice this grandfather watching, just roll the dropped cookie around it the dirt a little before you give it to the kid.”
    Bingo. My Grandfather used to say that a person needs to ingest at least bushel of dirt in his/her lifetime.
    I have always been absolutely convinced that our national obsession with cleanliness has been an invitation for bacteria to resist. Even “Potting Soil” has labels warning about dangerous bacteria, and Gardening “experts” patronizingly tell me that I must wear gloves when working in the garden to protect myself against the dangerous soil. Good grief!
    My Sister in Law was a clean freak when her boys were young – always wiping her counters with bleach, using antibiotics irresponsibly, taking the kids to the Doc for a hangnail. Now she and her kids are paying the price. They still take antibiotics irresponsibly, only now it’s all the time.
    My 5 year old boy had a great time in the mud last week- I’m sure a lot of it ended up on the inside. I feel good that he was doing what a kid should be doing. Of course, his friend’s Moms were horrified.
    Hi Karen–
    Sounds like you’re doing a great job of parenting.  Keep it up.

  4. My grandmother used to say you eat a peck of dirt before you die.
    I hope she’s wrong since I’m sure I’ve eaten way more than my peck already.

  5. My first truly low-carb meal – so my mom tells me – was worms out of the compost pile. I’m still here to tell the tale.
    MMM,mm.  Now there’s a real dirt/low-carb combo for sure.

  6. I have a friend that washes her children’s hands almost every 5 minutes when we are in public places, and her kids are sick all the time. I make sure my kids wash their hands before eating and after using the restroom, other wise I don’t worry about it. My kids will drop something, pick it up and blow on it, and go right on eating it. My kids are rarely sick. Of course, I don’t allow my children lots of sugar and processed junk food, so I’m sure that helps their immune systems as well. :0)
    Probably the dietary combination of dirt and low-carb food underlies the development of the best immune system possible.

  7. I eat dropped food all the time and have never had a problem. I have to be careful at church though. Everyone there would be horrified.
    I’ve never used hand sanitizers, but after getting sick 3 times in the last 4 months I’ve started using them after touching things that lots of other people have touched, such as at the gym. I *never* get sick, so 3 colds in 4 months – something changed somewhere. So I’m using the hand sanitizer more now – both to keep myself from getting sick and to keep myself from passing on my cold to others.
    Hi Victoria–
    I believe in hand sanitizers in such circumstances.  If you touch someone else’s snot (from when they wiped their nose then touched something that you then touch) you can transmit the cold virus to yourself.
    Whenever I fly during cold season (or really anytime) or when I’m around the grandkids when one is sick, I always use hand sanitizer and am careful about touching my own nose.
    Eating food that has fallen on the floor is a different story. 

  8. I’ve often wondered if the hypervigilant parenting extends to allergies as well. When I was a kid in the seventies I knew of ONE person who was allergic to strawberries. Now there’s the label “WARNING: this food may have come within 50 feet of nuts, soy, wheat, etc..” on almost every food you buy I can still remember my sister having a birthday party for one of my nieces a couple of years ago and literally eighty percent of the parents of the kids who came to the party claimed their kid had an allergy to something on the menu. I know food allergies are legitimate, but I hear about Ethan or Madison having one much too often for it to be that widespread.
    I’m quite certain food allergies are not that widespread.  I don’t know what all this ‘my child is allergic to this or that’ is going to do to all these kids when they’re grown.

  9. My mother always told me dirt was good for me! I guess I must have taken that to heart, since I spent a lot of my childhood playing in it, smeared in it, getting it in my mouth, etc. The hand sanitizers really bother me. I lecture people I work with when I see them using it. I believe that sort of thing, along with the overuse of antibiotics, will create the super bugs that will kill us all one day.
    I don’t spend much time around children, though I do ride the subway system in NYC everyday, which is a notorious germ exchange and breeding ground …
    I agree about the overuse of antibiotics.  There are non-chemical hand sanitizers that work and don’t increase the development of resistant bacteria.  These sanitizers basically wipe out viruses, which are the pathogens that are most often transmitted through hand to hand contact.

  10. LOL! Reminds me of what my sister once said:
    “With the first baby, if she drops the pacifier, you boil it before you hand it back to her. With the second one, you pick it up and run some water over it before giving it back. The third one? Heck, you just pick it up and wipe it off on your jeans and hand it back.”
    My mom was a big believer of eating some dirt being good for you. We were always in it because if it was a good day out (and just about every day in southern AZ is a good day), she didn’t want to see us in the house. My dad is a farm boy and perhaps that’s the reason he and his siblings live pretty long lives.
    The fourth one, you don’t even wipe off, you just plop it back in the baby’s mouth.  I come from a family of five kids.

  11. I remember a show on the National Geographic channel about a tribe in Africa that had a ritual for two year olds in which they were rubbed with a wet clay. I don’t remember whether the parents made it themselves or went to a special place,but I remember thinking that is was good for the child’s immune system, since I had read articles about allergies and overly clean homes by then.
    What happened to playing in the mud in your own yard? I look at today’s obsession with one’s house, all the landscaping–hardscape, softscape, blah,blah–and all I see are yards that kids can’t play in. The very first yard I remember, had patchy grass with areas of dirt and mud, and all sorts of fruit trees placed here and there. We would make mudpies, and then with our arms covered up to our shoulders with mud, go pick fruit.
    I think that in this HGTV world, we’ve gone too far in trying to make everything perfect, and our kids suffer in unknown ways.
    Agreed!  Maybe someone should start a movement so that along with soccer practice, Tee ball, swimming lessons, piano lessons and (scheduled) playdates, kids must have regular dirt outings.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen, though.

  12. Great entry. Thanks again.
    Speaking of dirt, how about insects too. Do big sibs still make little sibs eat bread, butter, and ants? My bad inner child sometimes hopes so.
    I was a big sib, so no comment.  One ever knows who is reading.

  13. See? I knew we should have had a cat.
    We probably could have had I eaten more dirt as a child.

  14. “The fourth one, you don’t even wipe off, you just plop it back in the baby’s mouth.”
    No doubt that’s exactly what would have happened if number four hadn’t been 13 months old when she was adopted. She did, however, come with her thumb firmly attached in her mouth and heaven knows what all was on that thumb so it probably all evened out in the end.
    Funny thing is that child in the picture could so easily be one of my sister at that age. She was the one that was always in the dirt and later went on to major in geology.

  15. The gardening comments made me remember this one. Here in NC it is illegal to use “grey water”, (as in dishwashing water) to water your garden! The law is in place because grey water can have many bacteria and other germs in it.
    But if they’re MY germs how can they hurt me?!?!
    Just another case in which our great bureaucratic masters know so much more than we.

  16. Also, keep in mind that we are going on the second and third generation of formula-fed infants.
    True, but not yours truly, thank God.

  17. I grew up on a farm, and my mom loves to tell me about how when I was little and out in the animal pens while she and my dad did chores I would sample the “goat raisins.” I’m now in my 20’s and quite healthy, so if goat poop doesn’t kill you, I definitely don’t think a little dirt will. 🙂
    Goat raisins!  Hmmm.  I wonder if they would make a good infomercial product?

  18. To the subject, in German there is an old expression that is quite funny in that context , because it combines two political incorrect statements, we know here are lies.
    “Dreck macht Speck” which means “Dirt makes lard” meaning that if children eat a little dirt they will be in better health and can have a little more fat on the ribs.
    Funny that being fat was seen as healthy in old times (my mother used this expression and she grew up in the 30s).

  19. I agree with you. Our immune system is also developing. Exposure to different bacterias will give our immune system the experience on how to deal with them. Maybe it’s like a training period to fight with the germs. Having been able to, the immune system is gaining the counter measures for that bacteria.

  20. I am with you. Almost all of us had eaten dirty foods and we grew up fine. It could boost the immune system but it’s also the reason why children have worms. I think that these are all normal for kids.

  21. It is said that Attila the Hun, who, as the leader of a nomad army, hated to waste food. His limit was 19 hours, and the army did pretty well.
    Your fan,
    His army did indeed do very well.  Maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

  22. HA!
    You can always tell a new parent by the way the hyper-sterilize everything baby touches. WIth baby #1, if the binky hits the floor it gets boiled before returning to baby. With baby #3, mom wipes it off on her magic shirt and baby should count himself lucky that the dog didn’t get to it first.
    For me, I am more worried about the crap ingredients in kid food than a little dirt. I can’t even seem to find a chewable vitamin for my kids that doesn’t contain aspartame and trans fat. (Any ideas?)
    Hi Anne–
    Our grand daughter takes Gummy Vites, which have passed muster with us.  No artificial anything.  And she likes them.

  23. How refreshing to see that the entire world hasn’t become phobic to the point of ridiculousness about germs. I work with people who run around with hand sanitizers and Clorox wipes for the bathroom door but for some reason, they’re always the ones who seem to be sick. Maybe their immune systmes have gotten lazy from never having anything to do?
    My dad is 95 and a retired MD himself. I recall him visiting one day when my dd’s (now teenagers) were playing outside and me apologizing for their grubby state. He just laughed and said, “a dirty child is a healthy child; as long as you clean them up at the end of the day, they’re fine”.
    Hi Liza Jean–
    I agree with your dad.  Too bad so many ‘modern’ mothers don’t.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *