Most reports about food in connection with children recently have been about overeating, the obesity epidemic in the UK, and how this is affecting health.
But there is also a problem with the opposite, with children not eating enough of the right foods, going hungry or nutritionally deficient, and the impact that food can have on their education and learning and the part it plays in their overall achievement.
Everyone’s aware that a balanced diet is essential for health and wellbeing. It’s particularly important for kids as they are still growing and developing and need it for healthy bones, blood, immunity, organ health etc. It’s sometimes forgotten though that the brain needs the same kind of nutritional balance as any other part of the body, to maintain healthy activity and development.
Food hugely affects the way children function on a day to day basis. It affects their stamina, their behaviour, their mood, their cognitive abilities, and consequently their receptiveness to learning.
The Centre for Educational Neuroscience says that children who skip breakfast, or who are undernourished in general, show a decrease in cognitive ability and performance in relation to their learning, especially if tasks are mentally demanding or involve memory.
They also suggest that the type of food consumed, or a lack of it, affects children’s behaviour and consequently their ability to focus on and achieve educational tasks.
It is already well documented that food affects mood and mental well being overall, a fact often overlooked in relation to the children. The mental health charity MIND suggests that we should all eat well to regulate our moods and stave off episodes of low mood and depression and this is equally important for the kids. They offer some useful information and advice about diet to counteract low mood and depression on their website.
The BBC website Goodfood suggests that children need a range of nutritional foods to set them up for their learning day.
This could contain fresh fruit and whole grains for breakfast (e.g. bananas are great energy boosts, and cereal that is low in sugar content, porridge, or wholemeal toast with egg or beans). Foods that contain additives like colourings or preservatives should be avoided. And a snack at break time can top up blood sugar levels and keep the brain going, although sweets, biscuits and bars full of refined sugar should be avoided. They should drink plenty of water. (Further detail can be found here)
There is no doubt that the way we fuel our bodies greatly affects our minds as well as the way we perform and develop and this is the same for children. If we want children to achieve to their potential, as well as be healthy and happy, it’s important we take into account their nutritional intake, see that they are not going hungry, and provide them with the right foods to enable them to do so.