How to feed your family nutritious meals without the fuss

by aiims | 14th July 2021 |

Another day, another peanut butter and jam sandwich.

Sure, there is no harm in eating the same sandwich a few times a week but when your son requests it for all meals over five consecutive days, it becomes an issue.

You try to negotiate alternatives – a chicken salad sandwich? No. Homemade sushi? No. Chicken pesto pasta? No. Every suggestion is met with “no, I just want a peanut butter and jam sandwich, that’s it.”

So, you make the requested sandwich for the 15th time this week alone. You have no idea what else to do, he must eat something, right? It’s better than nothing, especially when all the meal ideas you propose are seen as boring and not interesting enough to pique his interest.

Parents, we see you. We understand how difficult it can be to make sure your child eats enough food at every meal to fuel their growing bodies, let alone ensuring those meals contain plenty of nutritional value. It’s a tough task and though it may be near impossible to do perfectly, it’s an area in which we need to seek constant growth.

Why? Because healthy eating plays an important role not only in your child’s development but also in their learning.

 

The impact of diet on learning

According to research, there is a positive correlation between diet and student behaviour and academic performance.

Recent studies show that nutrition impacts student thinking skills, behaviour, and health – all factors which influence academic performance. The impact is both direct and indirect. Directly, a diet that is high in trans and saturated fats can negatively impact learning and memory, affecting the cognitive development of school aged children. Indirectly, poor nutrition can make students more vulnerable to sickness and lead to increased school absences. 

A diet that is rich in essential nutrients supports energy production and increased focus – both key to high levels of engagement and concentration at school. Have you noticed that when your child eats a snack high in saturated fats, they experience a brief period of hyperactivity followed by almost abrupt tiredness or a “crash”? This is because they feel a big drop in energy levels as their body processes the glucose from the food. With low energy, it’s hard to concentrate or focus on anything, let alone schoolwork.

 

Tips for feeding the family

It’s difficult for a parent to read or hear that their child’s diet has such a strong influence on their ability to learn and grow. Particularly if your child has issues with more than just the taste of certain foods but also the colours and textures.

To help you support your child (and your family) on a journey to healthier eating, here are a few tips and strategies you can start implementing today:

        • Make breakfast non-negotiable – a nutritious breakfast is a great way to start the day. Breakfast is known as the “most important meal of the day” as it breaks the overnight fasting period. It kickstarts your metabolism, gives you the energy you need for the day head and contributes to focus at work or at school.
        • Include protein at every meal – when consumed, protein releases chemicals in the body that are essential for thinking and memory. Protein (meats, poultry, eggs, dairy foods, oats) is generally one of the easiest nutrients to include in a child’s diet. The tricky part is the fruit and vegetables.
        • Disguise the look or taste of healthier foods – children can often spot healthy foods like fruits and vegetables from a mile away, so you may need to get clever with incorporating such foods. For example, if you are making pasta, try finely chopping or blending vegetables to cook with the pasta sauce. Or, if serving carrots as a side dish, try adding sweetness by glazing the carrots with honey or brown sugar.
        • Get the family involved – invite the children, or even the entire family, to prepare or cook meals with you. They are more likely to eat the meal if they had a hand in cooking it.
        • Praise your child when they eat their vegetables – reward your child each time they make a healthier food choice through something as simple as verbal recognition. Positive reinforcement is an effective way to encourage certain behaviours.
        • Slowly introduce your child to new foods – rather than overturn your entire meal schedule for the week, try one new meal per week to help them ease into healthier eating.

Digesting all these tips at once can be information overload. If you take nothing else away from this blog, remember these two top tips when it comes to meals to support your child’s mood, behaviour and learning:

    1. Keep to regular meals – this helps regulate blood sugar and can impact the hormones that influence mood and concentration levels. So, no skipping breakfast!
  1. Provide a variety of food – our brains require a range of key nutrients and vitamins to function well and the most effective way to receive these nutrients is through the food we consume. This means try to stay away from the peanut butter and jam sandwich or chicken nuggets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! As children can be creatures of habit, we know this tip is easier said than done but it’s one worth remembering.

Try implementing the tips one at a time to see whether they work for your family, before moving on to the next one. We recommend starting with what you see as the least ambitious and working your way up to the most ambitious strategy. For example, you may choose to start with making sure your child doesn’t skip breakfast.

If you have any tips of your own you would like to share, call us on 1300 001 432, we would love to hear them and help other parents on their journey!

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