Find the Mood Altering Foods in Your Child’s Diet
Foods can change a child’s mood. This is more noticeable in some children than in others. Some kids are exquisitely sensitive to sugar. Their mothers report, “Her behavior completely deteriorates after a can of soda or a candy bar.” Some parents and teachers report that children’s attention span and behavior at school is compromised by a junk-food breakfast or lunch. Other very observant parents notice connections between their child’s behavior and various sweeteners and chemical additives in the foods they eat. Not every child’s behavior and ability to learn seems to be noticeably affected by diet. Here are some tips to help you figure out if a mood altering foods are influencing your child’s behavior:
Watch for a change in behavior following a change in eating.
If you’re a 90/10 family (90 percent healthy foods and 10 percent junk foods), you may notice junky behavior when you let down your usual eating habits and allow your kids more junk food treats, perhaps during a holiday or on a vacation. Help your child recognize that his sluggishness is a result of a syrupy, high-carb breakfast or a lunch of breaded chicken strips and french fries. Remember that part of shaping young tastes is teaching children to make the connection between mood altering foods and how they feel.
Observe changes in behavior and learning after de-junking the diet.
Suppose your child is having a learning or behavior problem at school. Change what the child eats for breakfast. Take away the junk carbs and add fiber and protein, plus some healthy fat. After a couple of weeks of the new morning menus ask your child’s teachers if they notice any difference. Pack a nutritious lunch instead of letting your child purchase junky mood altering foods at school, and ask the teachers and your child if they notice any difference. Oftentimes just replacing junk carbs with protein can make a big difference in the behavior of children who have been either hyper or groggy during the school day.
Offer sweet treats with an otherwise healthy meal.
When kids ask for sweet treats (and they will, no matter how much you discourage this), and you want to say yes now and then, be sure they eat these treats as part of a high-protein, healthy-carb, and healthy-fat meal. Protein, fiber, and fat help to level out the roller coaster effect of eating sweets. For many children, how mood altering foods affect them is related to how much of that food they eat: small amounts of sweets have little effect, but large amounts bother them. They may get hyper or “fog out” after downing a 12-ounce cola on an empty stomach, yet the sugar in the cola doesn’t seem to bother them if they drink it with an otherwise healthy meal. Try keeping a food record of what your child eats. Don’t make an issue of his food choices, or he might be tempted to sneak the foods he should avoid.
Get your child to help you identify the mood altering foods in their diet.
From your own observations and from periodically quizzing your child, try to figure out which foods make him feel happy and comfortable and which ones make him feel restless and irritable. You could even make a list with your child, dividing foods into “happy foods” and “sad foods.” Once children become more aware of their own personal food-mood connections, they are more likely to avoid mood altering foods that make them feel bad.
Happy vs. Sad Foods
- High-fiber cereals
- Nut butters
- Oatmeal-raisin cookie
Sad Foods or Fidget Foods
- Bakery “bads”
- Candy bars
- French fries
- Gelatin desserts
- Juice drinks
- Junk cereals