Calming foods for children

We’ve all seen it. A child, given sugar in some form of treat ‘food’ be it a lollypop, an ice cream, a biscuit, a sugary drink or even something that is claimed to be a ‘healthy muesli bar’, even the cereal they are eating for breakfast, or the bread and jam their sandwich is made from.  The problem is one hit of refined sugar, and they want more, more, more!

As sugar hits the blood stream, it causes our blood sugar spike, then  insulin is released by the body to try to bring the blood sugars back to a regular state, the body increases dopamine production, stimulating the pleasure centers of the brain (a physically identical response to that of heroin)  when suddenly, blood sugars drop and the child needs more sugar to keep up with this sugar high! WHAMMO a blood sugar crash and you have a full blown tantrum, screaming match, hyperactivity, lack of concentration, attitude tardiness, tears…the list goes on! 

Children have tiny digestive systems, the food hits them so much faster than adults, and the highs and lows are so much more dramatic for them than for us adults. They can’t see that they are being irrational or erratic; they just know they feel bad/sad/angry and need to let us know.

So if we dial the clock back a bit and think about what we are giving the kids, and how a treat for one minute, is going to turn into a destroyed 15/30 minutes later, perhaps we should look at the food ‘treat’ we are offering and change it for something else.

Of course, books, new toys, a cuddle, a sticker, a stamp, a turn on something special, a play date or an outing are all wonderful treats in themselves, sometimes this is too expensive or too difficult to manage at the time.  

It's also important to remember that because children do have smaller yet more active systems, they naturally require smaller meals more often to keep their blood sugars in check. Often misbehaviour could be as simple as the fact that they are actually hungry or thirsty. This is not always easy to accomplish as everywhere we go with our children it can be difficult to find healthy, blood sugar helping foods on offer!

"Wouldn’t it be great if you could carry around some food that you knew would have a calming affect on your child and that tasted great?"

The main culprits to behavioral issues purely from food include refined sugar, processed foods, additives and food colorings. So, yes, even those ‘red skinned sausages’ that we like to call ‘savaloys’ or ‘cheerios’ in New Zealand are full of food colorings and additives and are not REAL food.

The main food additives are E110 Sunshine Yellow, E124 Ponceau 4R, E122 Carmoisine and E211 Sodium Benzoate, if you can avoid those to begin with you are off to a great start!

Cooking or making food from scratch is by far the best option, as you know it is ‘real’ food and that it has been grown on a tree or in the ground! If you must buy packaged food (no snubbing here, we all know that there is a time and a place for some pre-packed food!) turn the box or container over and check the ingredients list. Take a look at the sugars per serving on the conversion table, ideally you want those sugars to be under 5g per serve.

Also take note of the ingredients list when shopping. In short, you basically want to avoid any numbers in the ingredients list e.g E102 Tartrazine, E104 Quinloine yellow, E155 Brown GT, these are not natural and will affect your childs behavior and health.

"Be sure to spot the hidden sugar, it can be hard to spot it in children’s food as it can be called so many different things." 

Sugar is also named sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, fruit syrup, molasses and maltodextrin.

Look for “no added sugar’ on the packet. If you can’t see that on a label then read the nutritional information panel and look under “carbohydrates – of which sugar”

Consider adding fish oils to their diet.  There isn't enough scientific evidence to be completely sure about for this one (yet) but initial studies and anecdotal evidence suggests that increasing the amount of omega 3 oils in your children's diet can improve disruptive behavior.

The evidence so far suggests that taking fish oil supplements which contain sufficiently high concentrations of omega 3 oils may well have a beneficial effect on dyslexic and ADHD children and possibly undiagnosed children too, I have even noticed differences in my own children's behaviour and attitudes since introducing Omega-3 supplements into their diets.

So, while the most important way of helping your over-active child is by improving the quality of their diet, giving fish oil supplements may also be worth considering.

I know, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could suggest some cheap packaged food that was full of nutrients and goodness for your child, that would calm their irrational behavior and help them to grow up big and strong?

Sorry…there is no quick fix. We at square one can however remind you that fresh is best. Local or organic fruit and vegetables, brown rice, home made whole grain bread, millet puffs, and other grains like quinoa, black rice, oats, couscous and buckwheat or kasha (children need the energy in grains to run around, grains are low glycemic index, so will provide them with that energy for longer, yet calmer bursts of time) Protein, like meat, nuts, fish, cheese and yogurt and of course the occasional home made baking (where sugar can be substituted for honey or coconut sugar, which contains less blood sugar raising agents), home cooked meals with no additives. Food that you make yourself from scratch, is your answer. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Little scroggin mixes of nuts, dried fruit (not too much) and buckwheat
  • Natural Yogurt, with no extra colourings, preservatives or sugars
  • Fruit and Vegetables, cut into shapes
  • Hummus to dip Vegetables into
  • Low salt crackers, that have no trans fats in them and hummus
  • Cheese - high saturated fat is fine, just make sure the sugars are low
  • Home made baking - then you know what is in it
  • Left overs in small tubs
  • Water
  • Grain Bread sandwiches with healthy spreads and fillings (real butter is a much better option than margarine which is full of trans fats)

Remember to make a huge batch, freeze half, eat 1/3 and save the other 1/3 for leftovers. It may sound like hard work to begin with but once you find your rhythm you will be fine, plus you will have a freezer full of delicious home made meals, and your family will be functioning so much better for all the goodness you are serving them, you may even find you have more time to play, relax…or do that last load of washing ;-)

Written by Jess Eastwood

Do you have any great snack suggestions for small children? what works for your little ones?