Start the new school term with healthy, happy kids. Here are some top foods to pile on their plates.
It’s that time of year again. After the summer break it’s time to get your child ready for the new school term. But as well as the practicalities of school uniform, books and pens are you making sure your child gets the essential nutrients to help them function better and feel healthier?
Good nutrition is vital for a healthy brain. Without the essential nutrients it is unable to produce neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that are necessary for brain function. Give your child’s brain a boost by including key foods to help improve their concentration, learning and mental energy.
Your first step should be to ditch the sugary, processed foods and drinks, additives and stimulants. These cause fluctuations in blood sugar that can lead to irritability and lack of focus. Instead include slower releasing starchy foods that will provide a more even supply of energy. This can include sweet potato, whole fruit, vegetables and wholegrains such as quinoa, oats or wholegrain rice. Combine these with high quality proteins to provide the building blocks for neurotransmitters (meat, fish, eggs, poultry). Make sure they also get plenty of vegetables, nuts and seeds and some fruit which will help supply valuable vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, magnesium, antioxidants and zinc – all necessary for brain function.
Iron is another essential nutrient for brain performance and energy – in fact iron deficiency can impair the production of your brain’s neurotransmitters. If your child is low in energy, prone to infections or has little stamina then get their iron levels checked. Iron rich foods include shellfish, spinach, liver, beans and pulses, tofu, lean meat, quinoa, turkey and broccoli.
There are also a range of ‘smart’ nutrients which can help. Choline for example is needed to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine important for boosting memory. It also forms a vital part of nerve cells, cell walls and the sites on cells that receive brain chemicals. Found in egg yolks, nuts, and fish such as sardines and available as lecithin granules, which can be sprinkled dishes or added to homemade bars. Why not start the day with boiled eggs or scrambled eggs for a protein and choline boost.
If your child is prone to anxiety or finds it difficult to unwind try a combination of calcium and magnesium – well known calming minerals. Make their evening meal rich in foods containing tryptophan, which the body converts into serotonin. This has a mood enhancing; calming effect and can induce sleepiness. Good food sources include turkey, chicken, seeds, nuts, potato, fish, oats, banana and eggs. To help tryptophan cross the blood brain barrier combine these foods with some carbohydrate. For example banana and granola or baked potato with canned fish. Epsom salt baths in the evening is another way to increase magnesium – simply put 2 cups of Epsom salts in a warm bath and let them soak for 15-20 minutes
60% of the brain is made up of fat and in particular the essential fatty acids. Recent research has found taking essential fats omega 3 and omega 6 and their active components EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA) can promote mental health, boost IQ and treat specific behavioural and learning disorders. As these essential fats cannot be made by the body they must be obtained from the diet. Oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, sardines, herrings etc) are one of the best sources while walnuts, hemp, chia and flaxseed are useful vegetarian sources. However bear in mind that only a small proportion of vegetarian omega 3 is converted to the active components DHA and EPA, which are so important to health. You can of course take a supplement in addition.
Children have high energy requirements relative to their size so it’s important to provide them with energy-dense, nutritious foods in small, regular amounts. Regular meals and healthy snacks if needed will help keep blood sugar levels steady provide a constant source of glucose to the brain to aid concentration and prevent mood swings and energy dips.
Rather than resorting to conventional sugary processed snacks try some delicious homemade options. We have a great range of recipes to try on website. Mine love protein pancakes, paleo breads and muffins. But it could also be simply a trail mix of nuts and seeds, kale crisps, apple slices with nut butter, slices of chicken or ham, handful of olives and cherry tomatoes, dehydrated vegetable crisps, coconut yogurt and berries or a range of dips and vegetables sticks. Nut butters like almond are a popular choice – a good source of vitamin E, magnesium and iron to energise and protect the body.
Strawberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries – they are all packed with antioxidants and vitamin C to support the immune system and nourish the skin. Add to a homemade smoothie, snack on a packet or stir into yogurt for a healthy sweet option.
Most children don’t drink enough water – whether it’s because they simply forget during the day or dislike the taste. Crucial for maintaining energy levels, dehydration can lead to headaches, constipation, lethargy and poor concentration. Ditch the cans of carbonated drinks and switch to healthier alternatives: try flavouring water with slices of lemon or cucumber. Coconut water is ideal after sporting activities to quickly hydrate the body.
Children can suffer from tummy troubles from time to time but poor digestive health has also been linked to food allergies and skin conditions such as eczema and acne. Supplementing with friendly bacteria (probiotics) can be helpful for promoting bowel health especially following a course of antibiotics. If you can get them to eat fermented foods then try and include these daily – sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha are great options.
If your child always ends up with coughs and colds during the autumn term it’s time to build up their immune health. Check their vitamin D levels. Include plenty of zinc rich foods – pumpkin seeds, seafood, meat as well as vitamin C rich berries, red pepper, citrus fruits and leafy greens. If they do come down with a cough or cold try an Echinacea formula or elderberry extract (Sambucol) and check their iron levels too. Iron is often overlooked yet plays an important role in supporting immune health – a deficiency has also been associated with poor concentration and delayed development.
If you are concerned about your child’s health why not book in for a consultation in our clinic