Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 17, 2005, Herald Journal

Nutrition important for children


“You are what you eat,” is a statement that we’ve all heard, and research says that nutrition plays a role in children’s, as well as adults’, mental processing and functioning.

Parents shouldn’t overlook the role good nutrition has in learning. The types of foods we eat can affect our moods, energy level, memory function, and concentration.

“Anything that affects general body chemistry will affect brain chemistry,” Dr. Stephen Reisman, director of the Mind-Body Medical Center in Nashville, on the web site Tennessean.com said.

The general idea is to feed your child a diet that’s rich in protein, fruits, and vegetables, while avoiding caffeine, sugar, and fried and fatty “junk” foods, he said.

Proteins supply the body with amino acids used to make brain chemicals. Fruits and vegetables provide a variety of vitamins and minerals. Caffeine and sugar have destabilizing effects on a child’s attention, Dr. Reisman added.

In a well-publicized study of one million school children enrolled in the New York City school system, IQ scores improved by 14 percent after additives, dyes, and artificial flavorings and colors were removed from their lunches, Dr. Phil noted in his book “Family First.”

Recent research done in Massachusetts showed that those whose diet was comprised of high levels of refined carbohydrates, such as commercial cereals, sugar, and sweets, had a lower IQ than those with a healthier diet, according to the web site www.napuda.com.

Dr. Phil also noted that nutritionists say that the human brain is an extremely active metabolic organ and depends on a steady supply of glucose (blood sugar) from natural carbohydrates to support cognitive functioning. Natural, unrefined whole grains, fruits and vegetables, as mentioned, are the best choices to drive mental activities.

DHA, a fatty acid found in fish, is also excellent for our brain’s functioning.

One of the most important things we can do for our children nutritionally is to have them start the day eating a good breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

A nutritious breakfast provides approximately one-fourth of the recommended dietary allowances for key nutrients such as protein, vitamin A, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. These key nutrients, missed in the diets of 50 percent of children in the United States who skip breakfast, are not usually made up later in the day.

A breakfast meal including foods from several food groups will provide the most benefits nutritionally, mentally, and physically, the Redleaf Press said.

“If a child comes to school hungry, he can’t concentrate,” Sarah White, executive director of school nutrition for the Tennessee Dept. of Education, said.

Studies have found that children who eat breakfast do better academically, pay more attention, and spend less time in the principal’s office.

The above information is compiled from Dr. Phil’s book, “Family First;” the Redleaf Press, and the web sites www.tennessean.com, www.napuda.com, and www.5aday.com.

Recipe tips

Make eating fruits and vegetables fun for kids. Decorate dishes with fruit and vegetable garnishes.

Help your child top off a bowl of cereal with a smiley face, featuring sliced bananas for eyes, raisins for a nose, and an orange slice for a mouth.

Encourage kids to draw a picture using broccoli florets for trees, carrots and celery for flowers, cauliflower for clouds, and a yellow squash or an orange for a sun. When the picture is done, the child can eat his masterpiece.

Make frozen or fresh fruit kabobs with kids using pineapple chunks, bananas, oranges, and berries, or whatever fruit you may have on hand.

Go shopping with your children and let them pick out a new fruit and vegetable to try. Children are always more apt to try new things when they have a “say” in it.

For breakfast, help children add fresh fruit to their cereal. (My son loves Cheerios with sliced bananas.)

For your child’s snack or breakfast, make a quick smoothie with yogurt and fresh, canned, or frozen fruit.

Remember, children will eat what is on hand. If there are lots of chips, candy, etc., they will eat those items. If you have fresh fruit in a bowl on the counter and in the refrigerator, carrots and other veggies and dip, crackers, cheese, peanut butter, and other healthy snacks available, they will eat these foods, or learn to eat them. (I’ve been working on this in my home, since I love my sweets, too.)

These recipe tips are from www.5aday.com.

A good winter read

“Little Miss Spider at Sunny Patch School, New York”: Scholastic, 2000.

This is a book about Little Miss Spider’s outdoor adventures with beautiful illustrations. All the Little Miss Spider books are wonderfully illustrated and fun to read.

Fun indoor activities

Let your child explore with shaving cream or bath funny foam that comes in a variety of colors.

Have your child roll up her sleeves, and put some shaving cream onto the table or counter (a vinyl table mat works good for many children’s activities), and let her use it as she would finger paints.

Children can draw shapes or even practice their letters and numbers in the shaving cream. It wipes up easily with a damp sponge or paper towel.

My children also love to take baths using the funny foam to create pictures and shapes or to practice printing and writing numbers, letters, and words.