The importance of nutrition in the Early Years – and its impact on mental health
Last week was Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and this saw our content and campaign manager, Caitlin Holmes, team up with Louise Mercieca – a nutritional therapist and owner of The Health Kick – to share their expertise around child nutrition, with the subscribers of Lemon-Aid’s newsletter.
If you missed the original article, catch up below…
A healthy, balanced diet is essential for children, especially in those vital Early Years (EY) when they are going through a period of rapid growth and development as they learn more and explore different foods.
As Lemon-Aiders will know, there are advantages and disadvantages to eating certain things when it comes to impacting both your physical and mental health.
That goes for your children too. If they’re getting the nutrition they need, they’ll likely have more energy to learn and a better level of concentration. So, what are some foods that help provide a healthy balance and wellbeing benefits?
- Introduce essential fatty acids
Parents might not think fat is ideal for their child growing up, but foods such as fish and nuts (allergy-permitting) are brilliant for brain development.
- Explore age-appropriate carbohydrates and protein
Like the earlier point, think about eggs, meats and cheese here. If your EY child likes peanut butter too – and isn’t allergic – this is rich in antioxidants and acts as ‘brain food’.
- Avoid sugar
This provides zero nutritional benefits and can negatively impact their palette. Sugar has also been linked to sleep, mood, and behavioural problems along with many other health complications.
- Cook starch-based items
Potatoes, pasta and rice are great examples. Each source can be incorporated into a main meal or used as a light snack. They not only provide energy but vital health benefits from the fibre, iron, and B vitamins they contain.
Of course, let’s not forget about fruit and vegetables! If you’re struggling to get your child to eat these, put them in homemade soups, smoothies, veggie dips or fruit canapés. Not making a big deal of vegetables is really important too as they can easily become ‘the enemy’!
Finally, be mindful of the language you use in relation to food. Rather than pitching a piece of fruit as, “eat this and you’ll get a reward,” opt for more positive sentences like, “this will make you stronger, have more energy for football or help you to concentrate for longer when you’re colouring at nursery.”
Small changes can help your EY child to develop healthier nutritional habits in the long run and, in turn, create more wellbeing benefits as a result.