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How unhealthy snacking is affecting your child’s behaviour

We’re all convinced that pantry raiding is a common part of childhood and so this topic may be of particular interest to you! And it is a reflection on how we relate to food in a Western culture today and we all need to work on how to manage our intake a little better and in turn how we pass this onto our children.

As one of the Wellness App’s experts, Ruth Fellows is a clinical Nutritionist, Herbalist, educator and speaker, with over 13 years clinical experience. She helps parents of children with behavioural concerns, ADHD, mood health and sleep using natural medicine, to bring calm to the household and to let your child’s real personality shine. Ruth covers this topic in a recent Podcast in the Healthy Mummy Wellness App explaining how unhealthy snacking can have negative impacts on children’s behaviour and how to combat the problem of the pantry raider!

In particular, a specific pantry raider. The pantry raider who barely eats anything all day and then end up absolutely starving and resorts to filling up on junk food and snacks and then refuses dinner. The concern is that they are not getting enough nutrition from their diet and it ends up affecting their behaviour or their schoolwork or sleep. And then you have the child who seems to just live off treat food or junk food and parents think it’s a carb addiction and this trend is concerning as it seems to be happening more and more in families.

Setting aside the fact that we may not be properly teaching our children how to self regulate lets now dive deep instead into what may be going on metabolically or internally in that child that could be driving these cravings or food preferences, to the exclusion of healthier food choices.

Why we crave certain foods

When we look at children with ADHD or on specific medication – many parents will know that a common side effect is decreased appetite and no interest in food. This can mean that they are running off air and by the time they get home from school the medication has worn off and they are super hungry. And you may ask why they don’t make a sandwich or something other than several bags of chips and biscuits. The reason being that the body is trying to do a lot of catch up, its been deprived of energy and they need it quickly. The easiest, fasted and most efficient way to do this is to grab something that is carbohydrate rich because it will break down into a quick supply of glucose and will pick the brain up to feel normal and more human again. And the same goes in adults when we feel flat we gravitate towards certain foods, and these tend to always be carbohydrate, starchy or sugary foods because they all translate into a quick pick me up or boost, as well as comfort and relaxation in the brain.

Carbs boost serotonin

And these tendencies aren’t just reserved for children with ADHD or on medication – it can be seen in any child. If there is a consistent carb preference to the exclusion of very little meat or fruit and vegetables you need to look at whether there is a particular stress in their life. Sadly many children are stressed today and perceptive to what’s going on around them and there can be a lot of stuff that can be going on in their heads and they naturally try to bring calm to their brain and regulate their own emotions.

Carbohydrates give you that serotonin boost which is the comforting hormone – it used to be termed the happy hormone. It could also be a confidence hormone as it helps to overcome that overwhelming feeling. So these foods are literal comfort foods as they give us a calm and a lift and a mental and emotional boost.

So how can we overcome these urges?

We have the knowledge and now for the tools. As parents and teachers we need to look out for their stress points which is a long term view as to how to curb that carb craving and unbalanced eating. Aside from this long term view a simple strategy to begin with would be to look at what’s in the pantry and you will find that like most families it is full of a lot of carbohydrates and quick fix snack foods. And then consider what it can be replaced with. Don’t panic we don’t need to start making everything from scratch but there are a lot of good alternatives out there. Look for things that have more whole grains, more fibre or something that is chewier and therefore takes longer to eat. This is a general guide but if we want to get a little more specific you need to look at each meal and see how you can make it more balanced. Carbs aren’t the enemy they just need to be in proportion with the remainder of your diet – your proteins and your fats. Carbs are a quick fix and don’t keep you full for long.

Why breakfast is so important

When your diet is balanced you will feel fuller for longer and less likely to grab another quick fix snack. Having a good balanced breakfast will make a difference to your child’s cravings during the day and that sense of starvation when they get home. This can be as simple as eggs on toast where you have a good balance of protein, eggs and carbs. If you are time poor you can boil some eggs the night before so they are ready to grab and go. And let’s not disregard some good old-fashioned porridge. It really is the perfect winter hearty breakfast. Add some chopped nuts and seeds to add a protein boost, and it’s delicious to boot.

Get this nourishing recipe for Blackberries, Oats and Chia Seeds here

Creamy foods are good for sneaking in extra supplements such as collagen for adults or protein powders for children. A morning smoothie is also a good option for fussy eaters. This alone will have an impact on their mood, energy levels and behaviour throughout the day. Freezing leftover smoothies into moulds can also double up as a healthy and nutritious snack for later on.

Be prepared for the snack attack

Another strategy for combatting the afternoon snack attack is to have something in the car with you when you collect your kids. This could be a smoothie or a mini meal such as a rice paper roll, a quiche or some sushi. Making snack count as a mini meal is a good mind set. The beauty of this is that you have a captive audience and while they may not ordinarily favour that food if its sitting there and they are hungry they are more likely to eat it.

Might make for a more pleasant car trip too!

Top 3 tips tally

  1. Check your pantry and swap for more whole grains proteins and fibres
  2. Make sure your kids have a balanced breakfast
  3. Have a healthy snack option ready and waiting for them after school.

How food affects a child’s behaviour and mood

Learn more about Family Wellness in the Wellness App

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