Help your child concentrate at school
We're a few weeks into the new term, our little cook's initial excitement has faded and the tiredness has set in. We can't be with them all day, encouraging and motivating, but we can ensure that the foods we give them helps their concentration.
What we eat directly affects our energy and how we feel. Food is our only fuel. If you put watered down petrol in a car it wouldn't run properly and similarly if we put food that is nutritionally watered down into our bodies we don’t run optimally.
A normal school day is demanding - not just the focus they need to learn, remember and recall, but the social interaction, the physical exercise, the pressure of tests and exams, all the while conforming to the rules and behaviours that are expected at home and at school - it takes a lot out of them! It’s not surprising that some days it is all too much. Of course this would happen sometimes no matter how well children eat and sleep, but eating the right foods and getting good quality sleep will give them the necessary foundations to enjoy these very rewarding but demanding days.
Reduce refined sugar
Not all sugars are equal - naturally occurring sugar found in fruit and vegetables is a great source of energy for our brains. However, a diet that is high in refined sugar reduces the production of a brain chemical called brain derived neutropathic factor (BDNF). This chemical is vital to learning, memory and higher thinking - and in contrast, low levels of BDNF have been associated with depression and dementia.
So the most important way we can help our children learn and enjoy school is to cut back on the refined sugar. Here are a few examples but always check the ‘added sugars’ in food you buy - it is shocking how much is added to everyday food:
- Replace high sugar cereals with porridge sweetened with mashed banana and cinnamon - oats provide slow release energy so will keep you child fuller for longer and less likely to snack mid-morning
- Replace toast and jam with wholewheat (ideally sourdough) toast with crushed avocado, olive oil and lemon juice
- Replace cereal bars and sweet snacks such as chocolate in lunch boxes with refined sugar-free treats. There are a few great options available to buy Rude Health is one brand to look at and we have some healthy snack recipes here)
- Encourage water over squash, fizzy drinks and fruit juices
- Replace sweetened yogurt with greek yogurt and berries
Eat good fats
Our brains are over 60% fat. Fats are often spoken about in the media in general terms, and therefore all needing to be reduced, but this is not the case. Every single one of our cells has a phospholipid membrane made of fat, we need fat for hormone synthesis and to absorb fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K). The most relevant advice for school children is to make sure they are getting enough omega 3 and as little trans fats as possible. Here are some tips for doing this:
- Foods highest in omega 3 are: oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flax seeds and flax seed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, spinach, cauliflower:
- Try to serve oily fish 2 times a week
- Add flax and chia seeds to your breakfasts or smoothies
- To avoid trans fats remove sugary processed foods (cakes, crisps, biscuits, doughnuts) and use butter rather than margarine in sandwiches
After school snacks
Every kid comes out of school starving! Try to make sure healthy snacks are available for them to avoid gorging on the foods we've suggested avoiding (and which they are most likely to want!) - nuts, dried fruit, sugar free treats, smoothies. Another tip that can be very effective is to bring dinner time forward so kids eat a big meal straight after school, and then offer them a smaller meal closer to bedtime - if this works with your family’s schedule.
Our bodies, and especially our brains, need sleep. While we sleep our stress and therefore cortisol levels drop; our immune systems get stronger; our brains process complex information, consolidate memories and clear out toxins; and we release important hormones including those that aid growth. So it’s really important to help school kids get as much good quality sleep as possible. Here are some tips for helping to wind down and get a good nights sleep after a hectic day at school:
- Deadlines on screen time - blue lights from tablets and computers wreak havoc with the brains ability to wind down. We recommend no screens after 7pm and to ban phones from bedrooms in order to avoid the issues found in this research by Digital Awareness UK - kids going to school tired and unable to concentrate because they use their phones throughout the night.
- Don’t eat too late and avoid caffeine in the evening - tea, coffee, soft drinks like coca cola, energy drinks and chocolate.
- Add some epsom salts to their baths. Also known as magnesium sulphate, the benefits outlined by the Epsom Salt Council are:
- Eases stress and improves sleep and concentration
- Helps muscles and nerves function properly
- Regulates activity of 325+ enzymes
- Helps prevent artery hardening and blood clots
- Makes insulin more effective
- Reduce inflammation to relieve pain and muscle cramps
- Improves oxygen use
- Flushes toxins
- Improves absorption of nutrients
- Helps form joint proteins, brain tissue and mucin proteins
- Helps prevent or ease migraine headaches