Why some foods may put your pre-schooler in a bad mood

pre-schooler

By: Anne-Marie De Beer, Nutrition, Health and Wellness Manager, Nestlé East and Southern Africa Region (ESAR), writing for The Growing Parent, a supportive platform for parents and caregivers with children between the ages of 3 – 5 year.

Being mindful of the kind of food you give to your child is important as that may influence their overall wellbeing.

Bad mood or no good food?

Stats SA reports that in 2021, more than half a million South African households with children aged five years or younger were experiencing hunger. Children without adequate or consistent high quality nutrition face grave challenges ranging from physical and cognitive impairments to difficulty focusing and erratic mood swings. This often poses an issue for caregivers, leading to frustration and even exhaustion when a step in the right direction may simply start with a proper, well-balanced meal.

The health and happiness of a child are the priority for every parent and caregiver. A balanced, nutritious diet plays an important role in achieving this, as it provides the pre-schooler with the energy needed to run through the day, and nutrients required for all the brain functions too.

Understanding the relationship between the food our children eat and how they behave is complex, but one that may have immense value. The gut and the brain are closely connected, and this interaction plays a vital role not only in gastrointestinal function but also in feeling states and intuitive decision making. It all links back to the microbiome in the gut (gastrointestinal tract). The microbiome is an ecosystem of various bacteria that serves a variety of functions in the human body. From the synthesising of vitamins to general wellbeing, prevention of obesity and ultimately, our emotional state.

An imbalance of the microbiome in a growing child’s digestive tract may impact their mood which can be identified as periods when a child feels overtly excited, confident, and filled with a lot of energy. These feelings, however, quickly turn to confusion, irritability and possibly depression.

Children who are overexposed to a diet high in energy dense, nutrient scarce food are more likely to experience changes in mood paired with difficulty concentrating. Furthermore, these refined foods can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to sudden drops in the blood sugar, insatiability, and feelings of fatigue because the body cannot process and distribute the refined sugars and carbohydrate intake in a sustainable manner.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

While many of these high energy, nutrient scarce foods are convenient and very accessible do they really serve your child in the long run?

Nutrition experts assert that a pre-schooler’s exposure to eating habits includes family, caregivers, and peers, which are all influenced by community, society, media, and food offerings. As a result, young children model themselves on their caregiver’s eating behaviours and eating-related attitudes.

Here are 5 helpful and healthy tips to keep your growing child energised and satiated all while maintaining a balanced mood:

Cut back on overly processed foods

Reduce processed foods as an option by giving your kid cold meat cuts such as chicken fillets rather than cold meats from the deli section – the latter are very high in salt. Consider breakfast options that require some cooking such as rolled oats, maize meal or even maltabella. These grains are mostly without any sugar and very moderately processed. Encourage fresh fruits and vegetables as far as possible.

Pack whole grains for lunch

Make sure that your child’s brain receives a constant supply of energy and nutrients by including whole grains such as brown or even whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, potato with the skin. Apart from the essential nutrients we get from whole grains it also provides fibre – a critical element for maintaining a healthy microbiome.

Offer oily-fish 2 to 3 times a week

Oily Fish is rich in omega-3 and greatly beneficial for mental health and cognitive development. Examples of omega-3 rich foods include salmon tuna, trout, mackerel, herring, and seaweed.

Vitamin D may regulate mood and reduce depression

Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and decreasing the risk of depression. Studies have found that Vitamin D improves symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even severe fibromyalgia.

Our bodies produce vitamin D naturally when it’s directly exposed to sunlight, it is therefore recommended that we (including our children) spend 15 minutes a day in direct sunlight – without any sunscreen. After 15 minutes we should ensure they have sunscreen to prevent sunburn.

Foods high in vitamin D include margarine, fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, egg yolks, cheese, beef liver, fortified milk and fortified cereals and juices.

Always encourage your children to eat breakfast

Children have better concentration when they are not hungry. Eating breakfast can improve your child’s mood and behaviour for the day. Use fruits as a natural sweetener for cereals.

To achieve the necessary dietary requirements for pre-schoolers, parents and caregivers are advised to provide high energy, nutrient scarce foods in moderation and complement their children’s diets with powdered drinks for growing children to ensure that pre-schoolers get the nutrients their growing bodies require.

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