Healthy Eating – Diet, Behaviour and Learning in Children

New Year Resolutions

The holiday season is over and, with it, all that excitement and excess. Now is the time when we try to make resolutions and renew our routines; especially in relation to food and drink!

Many of us aspire to a healthy lifestyle but it can often be a struggle with children who may have acquired a taste for sweet treats over the holiday period.

If adults are good role models, with a little thought, you can help your children acquire the habits and tastes that aid their health and development.

Remember, you are the one in charge of what food enters the fridge!

Top Tips

  • A healthy breakfast helps children to function throughout the day
  • Offer water or milk regularly, avoid juice or fizzy drinks
  • Avoid sugary foods and added salt
  • Limit processed foods; these can be less nutritious and have more additives
  • A wide variety of foods over a week can increase the nutritional value of meals
  • Regular, frequent, small portions maintain children’s blood sugar levels to help mood and concentration
  • Omega-3, Fibre, Vitamin D and fermented foods are good for healthy body and brain development

Want to know more?

Regularity and Variety

It is important that children eat a regular and varied diet. This will support their growth, energy levels, general health, immune systems and brain development.  The nutrients needed include vitamins, fibre, proteins and essential fats – yes, some fats are essential!

The combination of all nutrients working together makes them effective. The “Eatwell” plate illustrates the variety of food needed in a meal for children over 2 years old: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/528193/Eatwell_guide_colour.pdf

Mood, Concentration and Attention

Regular, varied, healthy meals and snacks help control blood sugar levels.  Food has a big influence on children’s mood, behaviour and ability to concentrate. Children are meant to be active and expend a lot of energy; so they do need calories. However, they should not be “empty calories” with little nutritional value, like sweets or fizzy drinks.

A healthy breakfast, low in sugar but high in slow release carbohydrates, is vital for children to have a proper start to the day. Sugary, breakfast cereals (often marketed to attract children) should be avoided. Choose breakfast foods with wholegrain cereals and bread. These can be supplemented with milk, yoghurts, fruit (fresh or dried).

For meal and snack ideas and healthy alternatives see:

 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/weaning-and-feeding/baby-and-toddler-meal-ideas/

https://www.nhs.uk/healthier-families/food-facts/healthier-food-swaps/

There is some evidence to suggest omega-3, vitamin D, dietary fibre and fermented foods are helpful in the regulation of mood and attention. Omega-3 is contained in oily fish which is good to eat a couple of times a week (sardines, herring, mackerel, salmon). If fish is not in your diet Omega-3 is contained in nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables (walnuts, flaxseed, chia, rapeseed oil, kale, cabbage).

Vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight. Most people in Northern Europe lack Vitamin D, especially in the winter months. Dieticians regularly recommend this as a supplement as it is hard to get from food alone. It can help regulate children’s mood as well as building strong bones and muscles. For more information go to: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/

Many convenience foods remove fibre in manufacturing and processing. Lack of fibre means that the positive effects of food on mood, may be short lived. Without fibre, food does not remain in the gut for long and causes blood sugar levels to dip. Fibre and fermented foods, live yoghurt for example, create a good “microbiome” in our gut to aid digestion and the absorption of nutrients.

Keep Hydrated

Last but by no means least… ensure children have plenty of water to drink. Regular hydration helps the body and brain to function efficiently. Fizzy drinks contain additives and, like juices and smoothies, they also contain high levels of accessible sugars. These cause blood sugar levels to spike and drop rapidly, are also a major cause of childhood obesity and cause tooth decay.

Children in nurseries drink water or milk throughout the day. You may be interested to know that rarely do children ask for fizzy drinks or juice! Neither do they ask for sweets or biscuits. So maybe you can resist putting these items in your trolley when shopping with your children, the whole family will get used to not having them and that is a good start to healthy habits!

For more information:

https://www.nhs.uk/healthier-families/

https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/healthy-eating-for-children.html

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/weaning-and-feeding/what-to-feed-young-children/