Balanced nutrition is crucial to support growth and cognitive development in children. Numerous studies around the world have found a relationship between food and children’s moods. Ask any parent of a child with ADHD or behavioural problems and they will agree with the studies that food does affect children’s behaviour.
By paying attention to what children eat, parents can tell what food triggers behaviour. Good food can positively affect children by improving mood, memory and attention span. Eating a healthy, good quality diet can also be protective against future emotional and behavioural problems in adolescence and adulthood. When children are fed unhealthy foods, parents will see a change in behaviour, most noticeable attention deficit hyperactive disorder, irritability and aggression. They may also see mood-related behaviours that tend to show like irritability, elevated moods (high and low), low motivation and an overall bad attitude.
Here are some ways to develop lifelong healthy eating habits in children.
Skip the Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
Foods with higher sugar are shown to cause blood sugar spikes shortly after eating, which results in short term energy. Once that energy drops (usually 20-60 minutes later) children feel worse. Diets high in sugar can cause children to feel more irritable, unfocused and tired.
Some high sugar foods to be avoided include: Sugary cereal, candy, juices and white bread.
How can you share food knowledge with children if you don’t educate yourself and practice good eating habits? Children will model the adults in their life, so this is your opportunity to show them a positive role model. Learn about balanced nutrition and read labels. Be prepared to be surprised at how much sugar and additives are in food and how many things you cannot pronounce.
Read the label! A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t pronounce the ingredients it’s probably not good for you. Additives found in processed and packaged foods are shown to cause disruptive behaviour in children. This is especially true of colorants and preservatives which have been linked to inattentive, impulsive and hyperactivity in children. One place where you find a lot of additives is ready-made meals full of nitrates and MSG. Same goes for sweeteners. Try replacing sugar with natural stevia, maple syrup or honey.
Be a Good Snacker
Offer regular healthy snacks to avoid energy dips, especially after school. This is the easiest way to help reduce cravings for sugar that children (and adults) get when they are tired and run down.
Some easy and healthy snack ideas for kids:
- Apple sauce – make your own, with less sugar than store bought.
- Celery and peanut butter – schools ban peanut butter, but kids still love it. Try natural peanut butter with no added sugar.
- Yogurt and granola – watch the sugar level and preservatives that can be hidden in store bought.
- Homemade ‘lunchables’ – use little containers with cheese, natural deli meats and crackers. Give them apple slices instead of the usual chocolate bar.
About our guest writer, Paige McEachren:
Paige spent over 20 years working in corporate communications for world-leading technology, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. In 2015, she decided to leave the professional workplace to stay home and help her young kids navigate life with ADHD, Anxiety and dyslexia. She shares her tales of a disordered life on her blog www.pieceofpie.ca. You can also follow her on Twitter or Instagram.