Feed Kids So They Have Energy and Feel Good

I always say I’m a lucky mom for many reasons – among these, Luke is a very even-keeled boy. Not too moody. Generally happy. He laughs a lot and is fun to be around, unless he doesn’t get enough sleep or hasn’t eaten in a long time. Part of his disposition I can safely attribute to genes, but he’s also a pretty good eater who enjoys a consistent energy supply throughout the day. When he rocks the boat and goes overboard with soda and/or sweets, his demeanor and attitude are impacted.

Energy for adults

It has taken me many years to appreciate the extent to which food affects my energy level throughout the day. That’s one reason I really liked this FitSugar article, “Foods That Zap Your Energy.” A sugary breakfast and high fat foods are among those included.

A blog post I wrote a while back, “The Secrets to a High Energy Day,” pretty much mirrors her thoughts. Included in my top 7 list:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Don’t skip meals.
  • Don’t over-caffeinate.
  • Avoid an all-carb diet.
  • Think protein.
  • Watch the sugar.
  • Eat dinner earlier.

Do the rules change for kids?

If we, as adults, are carefully abiding by these rules to feel good and have energy, then why shouldn’t we apply the same ones for our children? If we wouldn’t want to eat chicken nuggets with a side of pasta because we know how we’d feel afterwards, then why serve this to our kids? Part of the challenge is overcoming some of today’s common temptations, such as McDonald’s happy meals, chocolate cereals, and restaurant kid menus, just to name a few. And sometimes it’s easier and simpler to pull something out of the freezer, warm it up and throw in on a plate. I know I’m guilty of this, especially when friends come over for dinner and not everyone likes curry salmon stir-fry!

However, if we know that our child’s mood and energy level may mirror what he just ate, maybe we’ll think twice and serve up something a bit healthier.

Tricks for kids

To eat healthy within the parameters of today’s norm, here are some tricks I try to implement in our household.

1. Think twice at breakfast time. Luke loves cereal for breakfast, Froot Loops included, and it’s hard to say no to something that is quick, easy, and contains a few added vitamins and minerals. The problem is that many cereals are sugary and most are quickly digested, leaving kids sapped for energy in a few hours or less. Though late morning snacks, discussed shortly, help offset the energy lull, some added protein at breakfast can help, too. Try feeding your little ones some toast with peanut butter if you’re in a hurry, and if time allows, scramble up an egg. The protein provides more lasting energy and helps avoid the late-morning meltdown.

2. Watch the fat. Whether it’s a sweet treat or something deep fried, there is research to indicate that fatty foods may be addictive. In fact, according to Sarah Klein at CNN Health, high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. If children are only fed fatty items, they want more of the same – and sadly, vegetables and other healthy foods become less appealing. Another bonus of a balanced diet and variety is avoiding such an addiction!

3. Eat out less. Sure, there’s the occasional restaurant where the entrees include baked chicken and sautéed trout (when parents like myself jump for joy!), but most offer the usual fat-laden dishes. According to Nutrition Unplugged, the top ten items on kids’ menus, in order, are: Chicken fingers, grilled cheese sandwich, macaroni and cheese, burger, hot dog, cheeseburger, cheese pizza, corn dog, pizza, and spaghetti. Children naturally develop a palette for this cuisine, and it’s hard to break the habit if you eat out or takeout all the time.

4. Keep snacks healthy. Snacks are almost as challenging as kids’ menus, as it is tough to find a quick treat that also has a decent nutritional profile, too. Fruit is a good choice, as are nuts. Yogurt and cream cheese bagels are quick grabs that are a bit more redeeming that fruit roll-ups and chips. And another thing. Don’t fill up on snacks just before dinner, or else they’ll eat less of something more substantial and healthy. I have learned this lesson the hard way!

5. Be selective with desserts. I passed my sweet tooth along to Luke, and I probably do little in the way of eliminating or at least alleviating his love for chocolate. However, I am strict about when he eats sweets, making sure we avoid them between meals. Sugar on an empty stomach affects his mood, as blood glucose levels spike suddenly then crash quickly afterwards. If these sweet treats are served after a belly full of good food, this effect is not nearly as dramatic.

Melinda Hinson