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  • Ashburton Baptist Preschool

How food impacts our moods

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

Kia ora whānau,

We have all heard of the term Hangry = Hungry + Angry/Grumpy and we have certainly all felt this from time to time. Our tamariki (children) feel this more often than us and most of the time cannot express this emotion to us.

Tamariki will often feel some of the following:

· Irritable,

· Have trouble regulating emotions,

· Show a lack of concentration,

· Talk too much or not as much as they usually do,

· Trouble following instructions or show acts of defiance,

· Have hyperactivity,

· Be disruptive; such as interrupting others, inability to sit still,

· Possible sleep issues at night, either trouble getting to sleep or waking throughout the night.

These emotions/moods throughout the day can be influenced by what foods they eat and when they eat them.

We can minimise some of these emotions by:

· Eating breakfast. It has been proven to improve a child’s’ performance and reduce symptoms such as hyperactivity and even depression.

· Provide lots of fluids. This is to prevent dehydration. Children can be more easily affected and can result in headaches as well.

· Give regular meals as well as snacks. This can help alleviate the whinges, children often whinge when they are hungry.

· Avoid too many processed foods and wherever possible include plenty of fruit and vegetables.

· Read ingredient labels (avoid food with sugar or salt as the first ingredient)

· Choose preservative free where possible.

· Choose colour free where possible.

Tamariki need a varied diet of whole unprocessed foods to ensure that their body is getting the right nutrients for the hormones that control and regulate their growth.

Ghrelin is the “hunger hormone” this is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and plays a role in regulating the reward hormone dopamine and sending signals to the brain. To make the Ghrelin happy we offer foods with protein and healthy dietary fat (good unsaturated fats), foods like peanuts, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpking seeds and fish.

Leptin is the other hunger hormone, known as the “fullness hormone” this is produced in the adipose cells and helps regulate the balance of energy in our bodies by telling our body it is full. To fuel leptin we provide it with foods that are high in fibre (beans, lentils, broccoli, plain popcorn), zinc (pine nuts peanuts, cashews, whole grains), protein (lean beef, chicken, eggs), omega-3s (salmon, mackerel).

To help the metabolism our bodies use insulin, this is produced in the pancreas and moves sugar from the blood and puts it in cells. To help this try to reduce the sugar intake especially the refined sugar, limiting lollies, biscuits, cakes, donuts, soft drinks and juices. A substitute for this can be plain milk or water for drinks and dried fruit for a wee sweet treat in lunch boxes.

Tamariki are always growing and that is thanks to the “Human Growth Hormone (HGH)”, this is produced in the pituitary glands and stimulates growth, including muscle growth, strength and cell repair (from injuries and disease). Fuelling HGH with protein and alkaline foods (lemons, beetroot, and green leafy vegetables) will help your child with everyday tasks such as turning on taps, picking up heavy objects and getting over injuries quicker.

Men produce 10 times more testosterone than females and that is why it is known as the male hormone but every child boy or girl has testosterone and this plays a part in their development, it drives their muscle mass, strength, alertness, aggression and growth alongside HGH. Providing tamariki with foods with protein and good fats, vitamin A (carrots, broccoli, melon and pumpkin) and zinc helps their development.

Melatonin is partly responsible for our sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) and is produced in the pineal gland. We make melatonin in our bodies but can get some from milk, pistachios, tart cherries, fatty fish, rice, mushroom and oats.

Cortisol the “stress hormone” is produced in the adrenal cortex within the adrenal gland and is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration, it helps in regulating sleep cycles, reducing inflammation, increasing blood sugar, managing how the body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and controlling our blood pressure. Foods that might trigger a cortisol response are processed meats, high sugar foods, caffeine. To combat stress with food, try foods that are high in vitamin B (beef, chicken, eggs and fortified yeast), omega-3 fatty acids (anchovies, avocados, chia seeds, flax seeds, salmon, tuna, walnuts), magnesium (bananas, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, spinach, avocados and serving size of dark chocolate), protein.

Now let’s talk about iron, our bodies use iron to produce haemoglobin a protein found in red blood cells that carries the oxygen around our bodies, and is used by myoglobin that carries the oxygen to the muscles. We also use it to make some hormones.

So how much iron do we need?

Adults (19-50) require 8-18mg, teenagers (14-18) require 11- 15mg, pre-teens - teenagers (9-13) require 8mg, tamariki between 7 months to 8 years old require 7-11mg, per day. Teenage/Adult females require more than males but in pre-teen and younger age groups all the way to preschool the amount needed is the same.

The best food sources are beef and lamb (the redder the meat the more iron it has in it), shellfish (mussels, oysters) chicken and fish. Other foods that have iron are grains: porridge, oatmeal, iron-fortified breakfast cereals (e.g., Weetbix) and wholegrain breads, vegetables: greens (spinach, silverbeet, lettuce), beans and peas, pumpkin and sweet potatoes, eggs, chickpeas, beans, lentils and some nuts.

For example, 1 grilled lean beef fillet steak (173g) gives 5.8mg of iron, 2 grilled lean lamb leg steaks (116g) gives 4mg of iron, 1 wheat biscuit gives 1.5mg, 1 cup of cooked broccoli is only 0.96mg of iron. When you break down the value of iron in the foods as above you can see why we need to eat multiple meals a day and have such a varied diet. Eating foods rich in vitamin C (kiwifruit, citrus fruits, oranges, capsicums alongside our iron rich foods, increases the amount of iron our body actually absorbs when eating these foods.

Have a look at this basic meal plan for a child aged 1-5 years:

As you can see in the table serving size doesn’t have to be much but the right amounts of the right foods will help your child’s growing mind and body.

Portion size is also something to consider when feeding your hungry little ones.

Ever wonder how much do I give my child? Am I giving them too much or too little? How do I work it out? These are all great questions and you will find answers to these on the New Zealand Heart foundation website which has a fantastic poster to show portion sizes feel free to check it out.

An easy way to work out how much you should be serving yourself and others that you may prep for is right in your hand. That’s right you hand is the best tool to work out how much to give of each component of the meal.

When serving up dishes for other people it is recommended to use the size of their hand, as our tamariki hands are much smaller than ours they do not need as many pieces of broccoli etc.

Cup your hands together, come on as you read, cup them together as if you are trying to hold water in your hand. Imagine it full of non-starchy vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower etc. this is the ideal amount of vegetables you should be eating in a meal.

Now take one hand, ball it into a fist, (fun fact this is the size of your heart and two together is the size of your brain), this is roughly the size of the serving of grain foods (rice, or bread roll), starchy vegetables (potato, taro, corn, green banana) legumes (chickpeas, lentils and beans) that you would dish yourself up.

Unclench that same hand and lie it flat, the ideal portion of fish for our plate is as big as your whole hand, imagine a fillet of fish that big... mmmm yummy. While you have your had outstretched can you see the palm of your hand. That is the ideal portion of poultry or lean red meat that you should be having.

Snacks, we all love them and there is an ideal portion size for these too. See your outstretched hand, cup it up like you did with the vegetable portion. The ideal snack size for a person is one cupped hand of vegetables, fruit, or nuts.

Now I know that it can be hard getting children to eat food at the best of times and it may seems almost impossible when they are “hangry” and that's when cheat days come in handy. Limiting how often you have a cheat day is ideal, while having consistency and a regular routine around meals and set boundaries will help tamariki feel secure. This will also help them to learn the critical executive function skills, which are impulse control, emotional control, flexible thinking, working memory, self-monitoring, planning and prioritizing, task initiation, and organization. Remembering that when children experience a period of fussy eating, they are not being difficult or naughty, they are being particular about how they eat and what they eat and this is ok, it is all part of their learning and development.

Try not to get discouraged and continue to put the foods they are fussing over on their plate. If they are getting distressed when you do this you could remove them from their plate put them on a “trying plate”. This could be a bright coloured plate that you set beside them while eating or placed in the middle of the table and put foods on that you wish for them to try.

Involving children in the meal preparation is a great way to encourage them to have a healthy food habit and they are more likely to try new foods or “snack” while preparing as the food looks enticing.

Eating together at least once a day, discussing your day’s events is a great way for children to enjoy the meal time. Seeing you eating, role models what are good food habits and how to chew, drink, swallow and use utensils. It strengthens their communication skills, lowers stress and anxiety, reduces over eating and aids in better digestion.

Overall, children learn best from example and watching us. If we can provide them with routine meal times, a wide range of whole unprocessed foods, water or plain milk to drink, creating healthy food habits we can ensure that our tamariki have all the right things they need to grow “big and strong”. Strengthening their ability to learn all sorts of skills at preschool, school and later on in life.

Author: Kate


The Nourished Child - By Dr Julie Bhosale

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Kate Dixon
Kate Dixon
25 de mai. de 2022

Here is the recipe of the chocolate muffin our wonderful model is holding!!

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