What is in your kid’s lunch box?
Up to Something Fishy
Mischievous behaviour has always been part of classrooms. Research has shown a link exists between the behaviour of school-aged children and fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) consumption. One of the types of fat found in fish, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), has been linked to improved brain function and development. In June 2013, researchers at the University of Oxford reported that in school-aged children (ages 7-9) a low blood level of DHA was associated with poor reading abilities. Other studies have shown children with higher omega-3 levels have decreased levels of inattention, hyperactivity and emotional difficulties. Can’t imagine getting a tuna fish wrap into your kid’s lunch box without them displaying some serious drama?
Red Fish, Blue Fish…
Your child’s ability to remember their school lesson is influenced by their iron and zinc status. Both iron and zinc are important minerals for memory. A study from India reported in 2011, that children aged 6 to 11 with low levels of zinc and iron were more likely to have memory deficits. The researchers found that supplementation of iron and zinc improved the children’s memory. Kid-friendly foods that are rich in zinc and iron include fortified breakfast cereals, chicken and soymilk. As for their lunch boxes, one food that is rich in iron and zinc is hummus. Spread it on a wrap or pack in vegetables cut into sticks for dipping.
An Apple a Day
Apples, berries and citrus are common lunch box items as they are kid-approved and easy for parents to quickly pack up during a crazy, time-crunched, get-out-the-door morning. These fruits are packed with helpful flavonoids. Flavonoids protect and enhance the ability of neurons in the brain to function. No wonder we give a teacher an apple – it’s brain-friendly food.
Snacks Worth Packing
Cookies and granola bars are common lunch box items that are hard on the brain. They are high in fat and sugar. Diets high in sugar and fat cause a type of damage to the body which scientists call oxidative stress. The problem with oxidative stress is it damages neurons. Neurons are cells that send messages. They play a key role in learning. Luckily, researchers have discovered that a well-known fighter of oxidative stress, vitamin E, positively effects learning and memory in high-fat, high-carbohydrate diets. Wondering how to pack some vitamin E into your kid’s lunch box? Try nuts (if allowed) or seeds. Seeds are delicious as a topping to homemade muffins, or part of a snack mix with dried fruit and whole-grain cereal.
According to a 2008 research paper, soft drinks are the leading source of added sugar in children’s diets. In fact, 85% of school-aged children consume at least one soft drink a day. Yikes! Did you know there are as many as 9 cubes of sugar in a soft drink can? Consuming a lot of sugar increases a child’s risk of obesity and related illnesses. Yet, perhaps the greatest concern is that foods high in sugar take the place of nutrient-rich, brain-boosting foods in a child’s diet. Instead of sending sugary drinks like sports drinks, soda pop, fruit punch and chocolate milk in your child’s lunch box, try sending water or plain milk.
Wake Up Sleepy Head
Dozing off in class? Protein can help keep your kid’s head off of their desk. Pack hard-boiled eggs, nuts (if allowed), seeds, bean-salads, cheese or yogurt into your kid’s lunch box. And, get some sleep! Getting a good night sleep is important to a child’s ability to learn. According to a paper published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology in June 2013, children who don’t get enough sleep can experience academic struggles and challenging behaviours. Experts recommend children get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night.
Lunch should be fun – they are kids after all. Cut broccoli into trees or red peppers into rings. Send a straw so they can have fun slurping-up their yogurt or applesauce. Use colourful, small reusable containers to pack finger foods like cherries, wholegrain crackers or cubes of cheese. Most importantly, let your kid pack or pick what goes in their lunch. Kids who pick what goes in their lunch are more likely to eat it.