It is very easy for your child’s good nutrition to fall to the bottom of the priority list during stressful exam times. However, the healthier your child’s diet the better they can fuel their brains to study better. Here are the Good Life Dietitians’ top 10 tips to help you help your child eat smarter.
1. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
The increased intake of fruit and vegetables has been found to have a positive effect on brain health and functioning, and enhances memory and learning.
2. Chose low GI foods
Chose low GI foods to keep energy levels and thus concentration stable. Low GI foods are foods that when eaten are broken down slowly and steadily absorbed into the blood stream, whereas high GI foods are absorbed very quickly. High GI foods may be comforting now, but will leave your child with spikes and falls in energy levels, resulting in ineffective learning. Choosing low GI foods will help prevent energy these spikes and lows. Choose low GI foods such as whole-grain breads, seed loaf, fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans, and brown rice, instead of refined sugary starches such as sugar, white bread, white rice, and so on. When blood sugar levels are stable, your child will not get tired and will be less easily distracted.
3. Eat breakfast
Our mother’s are right- breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This keeps the body fueled from the beginning of the day to avoid sugary food cravings. Coffee and white toast is out! Instead, try wholesome cereals like All-bran, oats, ProNutro, or whole-grain breads with peanut butter and a glass of orange juice or milk. Try to include a small amount of protein and fat at breakfast meals to sustain energy levels.
4. Eat small, frequent meals and snacks
Rather provide your child with five smaller meals spread throughout the day than three larger main meals as big meals may leave them feeling sluggish. Instead, encourage eating at regular intervals to keep energy levels stable thereby preventing that sluggish feeling. Regular smaller meals will keep energy levels up and also curb eating of unhealthy snacks.
5. Ditch the sugar
Cut down on high sugar foods. High sugar foods like chocolates, sweets, muffins and cakes are high GI, meaning that as quickly as they give you energy, they leave you feeling sluggish and tired.
Instead of offering chocolates and sweets, why not try some fruits? Fruits rank high among the best foods you can eat for your brain. The above-mentioned low GI foods are perfect for snacks, too. When heading for the library pack your child snacks like apples, bananas, carrot sticks, dried fruit, and biltong. Try a slice of wholegrain toast with peanut-butter (add a sliced banana to your toast if you like), a tub of low fat yoghurt with a few pieces of fresh fruit, or vegetable wedges with avocado dip or hummus.
Keeping these snacks handy will prevent your child from reaching for the nearest sugary food. Instead of drinking soft drinks like Coke, Sprite etc, choose a 100% fruit juice, and instead of doughnuts and chips for a snack, give healthier options such as air-popped popcorn.
6. Energy drinks
Energy drinks such as Redbull and Play are not recommended. These drinks are high in caffeine, and may leave your child feeling jittery. If you chose to offer coffee, make sure no more than 3 cups per day. If your child would like a hot drink, chose Rooibos, green tea or herbal teas as an alternative to coffee.
Omegas 3s are very important for growth and development of brain function. Foods that are high in omega-3 are oily fish such as salmon, sardines, pilchards and tuna. Other sources include nuts, vegetable oils such as soybean, canola, rapeseed oil, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and walnut oil. For a good omega-3 intake, aim for 2 to 3 servings of oily fish per week.
Iron is an important mineral in maintaining the physical and mental energy necessary to study well. Foods high in iron include red meat such as beef, lamb, pork, mutton, and veal, organ meats such as liver and kidney, chicken, fish and egg yolk, and in smaller amounts dried beans, peas, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, cabbage), and whole-grain/ whole-wheat foods (bread, pasta, All-bran, oats)
At the same time as you eat an iron-rich food, eat a food with vitamin C, such as orange and orange juice, naartjies, kiwi, guava, tomatoes, broccoli, and green peppers. For example, eat eggs for breakfast with a glass of orange juice, liver with broccoli for lunch, and red meat with tomato stew for dinner.
9. Stay well hydrated
Drinking lots of water will help to detoxify your body and prevent a dehydrated body and brain. Even a very mild dehydration will affect your child’s concentration levels. It is recommended that we drink 8 glasses of water per day. Chose fluids well though- water, milk, 100% fruit juice are better options over coffee. With the hot summer months approaching during end-of-year exam time, it is especially important to remain well hydrated. Send your child to school with a bottle of water that they can fill up on throughout the day.
10. Get physical
Exercise will do wonders for studying. Getting outdoors and breaking a sweat will decrease your stress levels and focus your child’s attention for improved learning.