Do you want your child to perform to the best of their ability at school? One of the best places to start is diet and nutrition, writes Mary Kate Hickey.
There is no doubt that feeding your children a healthy diet helps them to perform well at school. Numerous studies have shown the power that certain foods have on growing bodies. Without the essential nutrients, a child will lack the vitamins and minerals necessary to faciliate normal development. There are many ways that you can implement a healthy diet in your school-age child.
Research has shown that breakfast-eaters perform better academically and have fewer behaviour problems than breakfast-skippers. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it gives your child the best start to the day to be able to concentrate and learn in school. A balanced and nutritional breakfast is the best way to do this. Sending your child off to school without breakfast could mean that by the time they eat lunch it could be up to 16 hours since they have last eaten. They need the energy given to them from food to learn, grow and play during school.
Tasty, nutritional and easy breakfasts for the whole family include:
- Porridge with honey and fruit.
- Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, jam, or cream cheese and fruit.
- Fresh fruit smoothies.
- Scrambled eggs with whole-wheat toast.
✔ Make time for a sit down breakfast, your child needs that time to properly eat and digest their food, to fuel their brain for the day ahead.
✔ Make it easy on yourself, chop fruit the night before so you only have to throw it in the blender and flip a switch, keep your bread beside the toaster so you just have to pop it in. Organising these small things the night before will make all the difference when you’re running around looking for matching socks the next morning!
✖ Take the easy route and give your child sugar fueled cereal. To keep their brain energised, the first meal of the day should be high in protein and good carbohydrates – the whole-grain variety that will keep them going for a long spell and keep their blood sugar up. Most teachers cover the more academic subjects that require more concentration, like maths in the morning time. Your child needs their energy from breakfast to last the morning so they can soak up everything taught to them in the morning.
Hydrate your kids
Dehydration, even a very mild case, makes children listless, lethargic, and irritable. Make sure your child brings a large flask of water to school and offer water at every meal.
The school lunch is one of your child’s three meals of the day, so it’s crucial to be sure you are giving them healthy options. This can be tricky with fussier children, so try making their packed lunch more colourful and fun.
Tasty and nutritional lunches:
- Pitta bread with chicken breast, cheese or salad.
- Crackers with cheese spread or avocado – topped with tomatoes or fruit for extra colour and flavour.
- Brown/whole-wheat wrap with lean ham, cheese and potato salad.
- Pesto pasta salad with chicken, peppers and tomatoes.
- For the colder days – homemade vegetable soup in a flask with brown soda bread.
• Pack a bottle of water or even a small carton of milk, if they are lucky enough to have a fridge to store it in during the day, with their lunch. These drinks are good for your child, and kind to teeth, unlike cordials and soft drinks.
✔ Shake things up – children can get bored very easily and get tired of the same lunches alternating every few days.
✔ Make an effort with presentation – if you’ve the time why not cut shapes in the bread with cookie cutters; make faces with fruits and veggies, and use loads of bright colours in their lunch box!
✖ Forget about portion size. Younger children need smaller portions, and the bigger ones naturally need more, and more variety. Getting a sectioned lunchbox will really help with getting the portions just right for your child’s needs.
Healthy snacks are an important part of almost every child’s school day. Children cannot eat a lot of food at one meal and typically get hungry between meals. Be sure they are eating a balanced mixture of healthy snacks, and limit treats to certain days.
Tasty and nutritional snacks:
- Chopped fresh fruits and veggies with hummus, peanut butter and cream cheese for dipping.
- Grilled mini cheese and tomato pizzas made on a whole-wheat tortilla.
- Homemade trail mix with cereal, dried fruit, nuts or soy nuts and mini dark chocolate chips.
- Homemade blueberry or banana mini muffins.
- Fresh fruit salad bowl.
✔ Go for variety, snacking is just a mini meal, and you wouldn’t eat a meal with just one item, so mix up the snacks you give your child to keep them interested in and enjoying their food.
✖ Make it too complicated; keep it to finger foods that are easy and relatively mess free to eat. And make sure to pack some napkins for those all to inevitable spills and sticky hands!
Sometimes it can be hard to be 100% sure your child is getting all the necessary vitamins and nutrients.
A daily multivitamin or mineral supplement can come in handy here, and can greatly benefit fussy eaters or those with chronic medical conditions.
Important vitamins and nutrients for kids:
• Vitamin A (found in milk, cheese, eggs, yellow/orange vegetables such as carrots, yellow peppers, butternut squash.)
• Vitamin B group (found in meat, chicken, fish, nuts, eggs, milk, cheese, beans).
• Vitamin C (found in fruit and vegetables, particularly citrus fruits and kiwi fruits).
• Calcium (found in dairy products like milk, cheese, yoghurt and fish with edible bones such as salmon or sardines).
• Iron (found in red meat, chicken (thighs and legs in particular), liver, seafood, egg yolks, fortified breakfast cereals).
• Omegas (found in oil-rich fish like salmon, mackerel, haddock, walnuts, flaxseeds.
According to The Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institure (INDI,) probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria found in certain foods and supplements, which can have beneficial effects on our health. Probiotics improve the balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract by competing with harmful bacteria to prevent them from settling in the gastrointestinal tract. In some cases they can also stimulate the immune system, helping to fight infections. Probiotics are available in a wide range of different forms; capsules, powders or mixed into foods. There are a number of fermented milk drinks and some yoghurts in which probiotics naturally occur or have been added.
There are two kids of essential fats – omega 3 and omega 6. Omega 3 is essential for brain function. Omega 6 fats are crucial to brain and eye development and they help to stabilise mood too. If your children are not eating oil-rich fish at least once a week, try giving them a daily fish oil supplement.
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