With the return to school comes the gentle hope for your child to succeed in whatever the school year holds – school work, friendships, extracurricular and family activities. An important factor in this success is the nutrition our children receive. What can we provide them in their daily lunch box that will optimize their brain growth, development and behavior?
Our brain’s biochemistry is determined by the food we eat far more than any other organ in the body. Nutrition has significant effects on brain function. It helps with alertness, intellectual acuity, and in-class behavior. It is important to remember that eating habits develop early and most children acquire them from parents and siblings. Children don’t develop food preferences entirely on their own, they acquire habits by observing others and by what they have access to; therefore, choosing healthy foods at home can improve a child’s nutritional status.
Good nutrition is when the diet provides the required combinations of vitamins, minerals, and vital nutrients allowing optimum physical and mental health to be attained. For Children, nutrition also paves the way for essential early neurological and physiological development. Proper nutrition enables the body and the brain to grow. The development of the frontal lobe in the brain is especially influenced by nutrition. The frontal lobe is associated with a set of cognitive abilities called executive functions; these include problem solving, planning, using strategies, evaluating and monitoring and staying on the task. These cognitive abilities have been shown to have a direct link to nutrient availability.
When the body is starved of essential nutrients the hormone balance in the brain is affected and the individuals may outwardly express these imbalances as anti-social behaviours. Rather than being relaxed or friendly, an individual may now seem antisocial, introverted, and hyperactive.
When packing a lunch box for yourself or child, it is important to keep in mind 3 parts that every lunch box should contain before it is complete – colourful and fresh, protein and healthy fats. Keeping these in mind will help to create a balanced and nutritious lunch box.
- Fresh and Colourful
- Include fruits and vegetables in every colour. Find out what your child loves, and keep introducing new options.
- Traditional apples, oranges and bananas can be rotated with sliced pineapple, kiwis, berries, mango slices, watermelon, grapes or pears.
- Chop a bunch of fresh fruits in a fruit salad. Make fun fruit kabobs.
- Veggies are easiest for children to reach for if they are finger sized and fresh. Carrots, celery, red, yellow and green pepper slices can be combined in a container with new choices such as beets, broccoli, cauliflower and cucumber.
- Dips are a great way to persuade non-vegetable lovers to munch away.
Picky-eater idea: Homemade or store-bought hummus, tzatziki, or bean dips combine fiber and nutrient rich veggies with protein. Hide veggies in pasta sauces, soups, and smoothies.
- Many children do not eat enough protein with their snacks and lunches.
- Lean protein sources can be animal or plant-based, and should be consumed every few hours to help balance blood glucose levels.
- Adding chicken, fish, nuts/seeds, lentils/legumes, eggs and non-genetically modified soy products to salads, stir-fry, or cut up and eaten as whole foods, can be great ways to assure children are getting the essential building blocks throughout the day.
Picky-eater idea: Make a big batch of lean chicken or turkey breast fingers – Use quinoa flakes or brown rice flour as coating for gluten-free benefits.
- Healthy Fats
- Everyone needs healthy, whole fats in the diet – they are the backbone of our cells and neurological functions.
- Omega-3-essential fatty acids, especially fish oils, are hugely important in learning and growing. They are found in all types of fatty fish, such as salmon. Other healthy fats include olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
Picky-eater idea: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, mixed with some raw shredded coconut, and dried fruit for mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. Fruit and seed bars – see recipe below.
Small changes can make the world of difference in your child’s health, both at home and school. Providing them with an amazing and nutritious lunch box will give them the foundation to excel in the days to come.
Seed and Fruit Bar
- 1/3 cup pure honey
- 2 tbsp coconut flour (or ground flaxseed)
- 1 tbsp all-natural sunflower seed butter
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
- 1/3 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup chopped dried organic fruit
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Trim parchment paper to line an 8×8-inch baking dish, leaving parchment paper to hang over two sides of the dish.
- In a large bowl, add the honey, coconut flour (or ground flaxseed), all-natural sunflower seed butter and salt. Use a spoon to stir until well combined.
- Measure 1 cup of coconut flakes. Place coconut flakes on the cutting board and coarse-chop. Add chopped coconut flakes to honey mixture.
- Next, coarse-chop any combination of dried fruit you choose and then measure out 1/2 cup. Add the chopped dried fruit to the honey mixture.
- Finally, add the pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
- Using a spoon, mix ingredients together making sure they are thoroughly combined.
- Place the bar mixture into the parchment-lined baking dish. Fold overlapping flaps down and evenly press the top of the bar mixture firmly to pack-in the ingredients so they hold together better after baking. Then, peel back the parchments flaps from top of bars. (Do not trim, as the flaps make it easier to remove the bars after baking.)
- Bake for 20 minutes. Then remove from oven and allow to completely cool on stovetop for approximately one hour (or until bottom of baking dish is room temp).
- Place in fridge to continue cooling. (Do not freeze as it makes it impossible to cut the bars without them crumbling.) Once cold, remove dish from refrigerator. Then, run a knife along the two edges without parchment. Using the parchment paper ends, lift the bars from the baking dish and place on a cutting board.
- Cut into 8 bars and individually wrap and store in the fridge or freezer. Then you can easily take out what you need and place directly into your child’s lunchbox (or yours) – no need to thaw.