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It’s no secret that growing bodies need a lot of fuel, but so too do growing minds. The early years of a child’s life is an important time to be building healthy eating habits. Yet with sweetened drinks and fast food all around us it can be hard to make healthy foods seem exciting.

We know that specific nutrients play essential roles in children’s growth and development. But there is now a growing body of research showing that when a child is lacking in nutrient-rich foods, it negatively impacts brain areas that play important roles in developing positive social and learning behaviours. By proactively ensuring your family’s diet consists of predominantly nutritious food, you can set your children up for a successful future full of possibilities.

What Foods Should Children Avoid?

When it comes to food choices, what’s great for adults really is great for kids too, so children don’t need a special diet. Instead it’s important they avoid processed foods, such as lollies, chips and food colourings, that have unhealthy levels of added sugar, sodium and fat and often contain harmful additives that have an effect on a child’s activity level.

These additives produce a rapid increase in blood glucose levels or what is otherwise known as a ‘sugar spike’ because they enter the bloodstream so quickly and cause an increase in hyperactive behaviour in children.

Highly processed sugars also contain things like ‘gums’ which are used to bind the processed foods together. However, when consumed in the body these ‘gums’ often contribute to inflammation in the gut lining which leads to poorer attention, mood and behaviour. When this occurs, children find it harder to focus, learn and absorb information the way they should. This nutritional imbalance can negatively influence multiple other bodily functions and result in poor B12 and insufficient zinc in the body. Since these all work together to achieve optimal brain development, if a child is deficient, it can result in a lack of interest, energy and concentration, particularly when it comes to learning.

What Foods do Children Need?

Each different coloured food or vegetable provides a unique set of nutrients, so when preparing a child’s meal try to serve ‘the rainbow.’ Food diversity plays a major role in proper nutrition and development, so by aiming for different colours on the plate – you are likely to capture the whole gamut of nutrients. Try getting the kids involved in picking a few colourful items to include in their meals or snacks. This will motivate them to eat their fruits and vegetables and help them learn about different produce.

Some suggested foods that will support children’s behaviour and assist in achieving greater learning outcomes.

Nuts, seeds and meats. These are rich in zinc and very important for mood, the immune system and concentration.
Good omegas like avocado and salmon, which provide children with the nutrients required for brain development.
Greens are a great source of magnesium, which plays an important role in growth, development and energy production in children.
Iron-rich foods such as red meat play a large role in achieving high concentration levels – they also offer B12 which is crucial to optimal brain development.

Whilst these foods don’t have to be in every meal, it is ideally suggested they appear at least twice a week as each are essential for improving concentration, energy and mood. These foods are also low in glutamates, a type of flavouring found in numerous processed foods that can cause a spike in aggressive behaviour and result in mood changes if children are sensitive or have an intolerance.

What Else Should Parents be Looking Out For?

If you’ve got a fussy eater, it can be an uphill battle when trying to get them to eat their fruits and vegetables. In certain situations, achievement of the recommendations can prove to be a challenge. In this situation, consider eating or using probiotics or fermented foods and drinks like Kombucha, that if flavoured correctly, can be a healthy and tasty alternative to soft drinks. Fish oil is also another great source for children’s development as it improves behaviour, reduces hyperactivity and boosts attention in kids under 12.

How to Improve Household Nutrition as a Family

Children are more successful at developing healthy habits when they are a part of the whole family’s routine. In the household, it’s important to be a role model and create an environment that encourages them to develop lifelong eating habits. But it certainly doesn’t have to be a boring task. Instead, there are multiple fun and engaging ways you get the whole family involved. Here are some of my personal favourites:

Involve children in the cooking – Getting children involved in preparing meals, trying new foods together, and eating regularly as a family all contribute to building healthy habits. Children will learn by watching you cook and gain an increased interest in the foods being served.

Grow a vegetable patch – Planting and growing veggies in the backyard is a great way to get the kids excited about eating and gives them the opportunity to learn about the different grown vegetables and their benefits. Not only is this a fun family activity, but children that grow their own food are more likely to eat it too.

Watch food documentaries – If you’re having a night in, why not change it up and watch a food documentary as a family? Discussion and investigation through food documentaries will often spark curiosity and show kids the process behind how different foods are grown.

Every child deserves to be happy and healthy. By providing children with the correct nutrition, you are enabling them to reach their full potential and giving them the stepping stones to a healthy life.

Head on over to www.australiannutritioncentre.com.au for more advice and support on nutritional needs.

James Jensen

James Jensen is a Functional Medicine Practitioner who holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy. As the owner of Australian Nutrition Centre, James is passionate about treating the root cause of symptoms through natural therapy for a range of health issues including Diabetes, Hormone Health, Anxiety, Fertility, Weight Loss and Children’s Behaviour Management.