Hey moms and dads!
Feeling STRESSED yet? Packing lunches, rushing from activity to activity (and “dining” in the car), and oh…that potentially dreaded cafeteria food…
Today I am going to talk about how we need to be teaching our kids to eat healthy early on…
I’ll give you info on some simple diet and nutrition habits you should start (with your kids… and even yourself and your significant other!).
I’ll also share with you the 5 things you can teach your kids to help them stay healthy, control their weight, and remain energetic as they grow.
First, since we’re talking “back to school”, let me talk a bit about our kids’ brains!
We know diet can affect our children’s ability to focus at school.
photo: Ella O.
Research has shown and is showing that eating a ketogenic diet is “Brain Healthy”.
A ketogenic diet consists of healthy fats, moderate proteins and low carbs (from veggies or low sugar fruits only). This eating process leads to burning fat for energy instead of glucose, so is supportive of maintaining a healthier weight along with being good for overall brain health.
A ketogenic diet is healthy for the developing brains of our children too.
A ketogenic diet is one of those “habits” that you need to start early for kids or it will get more difficult the older they get.
There are lots of no carb/low carb options to use for a sandwich, for example. You can use romaine lettuce leaves as a bread substitute, or use one of the many paleo wraps that can be purchased and used as bread substitutes for sandwiches as well as to make a burrito or even a pizza.
Not only is a low carb ketogenic diet healthier and better for our children’s brains, but a ketogenic diet is much better for your child’s gut microbiome as well. And we know that the health of the gut microbiome is connected to the brain. If your child’s gut is healthy it will be more able to absorb healthy nutrients that your child’s brain needs to be the most productive.
In addition, a healthy gut can actually impact a child’s mood and behavior. I recently interviewed a very respected neurologist and best-selling author, Dr. David Perlmutter, about how an unhealthy gut microbiome can actually alter neurotransmitter production.
He believes – as I do – that a healthy gut microbiome’s influence on the brain is key to a child’s hyperactivity as well. Listen to my interview with Dr. David Perlmutter on this fascinating topic of the microbiome’s influence on behavior, mood and underlying diseases.
So we know diet affects attention and behavior, unquestionably.
So as parents, what are the healthy habits we need to be teaching…(and adhering to ourselves! let’s walk the talk!)
Healthy Habit “Must do’s”
#1 Must eat breakfast!
A breakfast with healthy low-glycemic foods! See this blog with kid and parent friendly recipes for breakfast and lunch by my friend, affectionately known as Wellness Mama. I love the Breakfast Egg Muffins!
Sugar and sugar substitutes
Artificial food coloring, especially red dye.
Gluten and grains – For more information about how so many people are affected by this, check out the excellent book, GrainBrain, by Dr. Perlmutter.
So many cereals are loaded with grains, sugar and artificial food coloring and other ingredients! And so many packaged lunch foods and snacks, too. Read the ingredients! The better, whole foods don’t have 20 ingredients you can’t pronounce!
Cow’s milk – The hormones and antibiotics in milk provide little benefit and can increase ear and respiratory infections. Many people, including children, are just sensitive to dairy.
Research through the Microbiome Project over the past few years concludes that eating foods rich in probiotics positively influences brain behavior and can decrease anxiety and depression as well.
There are a lot of fermented foods that kids will enjoy. Sauerkraut is good as it is tangy. If you start them early kids will learn to eat beets, kimchi, kombucha, and pickled cabbage! My kids enjoyed kefir, a fermented milk drink, but we used a dairy alternative due to dairy being a very inflammatory food for so many people.
My girls like to mix kefir to a smoothie (with Mighty Maca of course) with maybe fresh berries. Delicious and so good for them.
If your child just can’t deal with fermented foods talk with your pediatrician about a good probiotic supplement. I have used Probiomax or chewables for kids.
Along with probiotics your child will benefit from prebiotics, these are foods that your child can eat that support the beneficial gut bacteria. Bananas are easy for school lunches and snack bags and are good prebiotics. Beets, beans, garlic and onion, and all types of lentils are good choices, too.
#4 Increase foods rich in DHA (Omega 3 fatty acids)
Yeah oysters! Ava loves raw oysters…again, it is a taste preference/habit you need to start early.
Fish and other seafoods. Especially salmon and sardines, organic egg, walnuts.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain growth and function. And research has shown that people who get more fatty acids in their diet have sharper minds! Ensure you find a way to add omega-3-rich foods to your child’s lunch, including sea veggies, flax seeds, chia seeds, etc.
Note: If supplementing with DHA and/or Omega 3’s, it must be very high quality. Fish oils can be a source of heavy metal contamination and turn rancid.
#5 Teach your kids that green is good!
Delicious, too. Salads are great, especially if you can get them to add in some healthy fats like nuts or avocado slices. My youngest loves all types of veggies including spinach, lettuce and Brussel sprouts; she loves kale chips..and also makes her own Mighty Maca® Plus smoothies with green veggies and some fruit.
And add a handful of rainbow-colored antioxidants to those green salads to keep your child’s brain functioning at its optimum. Throw in some carrots, pumpkin slices, sweet potatoes or berries. Look for the most intense colored berries, as they are usually the most nutritious.
#6 Teach your kid to try different things!
Part of the challenge of “eating green things” is our reluctance as parents to serve our children “new foods”…why is this? Well, it certainly is easier not to have to argue with them. But we need to keep trying. Again best to start young. As I mentioned, my youngest Ava even loves raw oysters for this reason…she started eating them very young.
And toss away your notions of the typical kid’s lunch! You don’t have to pack a sandwich, chips and dessert. Instead add apple slices (and provide a little almond butter dip), sliced carrots, celery or other veggie.
Weight control and lifestyle factors – important advice for kids
Along with these diet and nutrition guidelines I think it is important to teach our kids about the obstacles that often stop people – of all ages – from reaching our health goals, including maintaining a healthy weight.
I’ve written on this earlier, so you can check that out here:
- Take responsibility for your own health! Maintaining your good health requires some focus and commitment to good habits.
- Schedule your health as a priority in your life: Make sure that along with eating well you schedule in fitness and rest. This is a big one for college students (and on my mind as I just dropped one of my daughters off at her initial year of college).
- Health is your greatest investment for a happy life.
- Self-worth is so important. Love who you are and don’t look to the media for who you have to be!
- Surround yourself with supportive people.
(you can read more at the referenced link!)
Final tips for the healthiest school lunches!
Healthy leftovers are key to healthy school lunches! I learned a long time ago that when I fix dinner I plan on having left-overs. Do you? It is such a simple thing yet many people don’t think about that when planning the contents of their dinner. When I cook I know it will be healthy! So, I try to make enough extra to package it up the next day (or two) for a delicious and healthy lunch.
And don’t forget to use non-toxic utensils and materials in your child’s lunch. Use steel containers!