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Expecting your toddler to eat a serve of steamed Brussels sprouts for dinner? There’s more chance of an Aussie Prime Minister serving a full term.
Unfortunately, not all kids jump for joy when presented with a meal that doesn’t start with ‘Happy’ and include a novelty toy (thanks, Ronald). However, with Australian studies linking inadequate fruit and vege consumption with disease and cancer, it’s essential that we equip our children with a healthy diet from an early age.
We spoke with nib accredited practicing dietitian Michelle Allchin to find out what types of foods you should be incorporating into your child’s diet.
We know you’ve heard it before, but filling your children’s diet with vegetables is essential. Veges might be small, but their benefits are mighty, with a powerful combination of vitamins, antioxidants and fibre to help protect your kids against diseases later in life. If you’ve got a fussy eater, Michelle recommends starting by setting a good example.
“Let your children see you eat and enjoy an array of veges and pack your meals with as many servings as you can – choose a variety of different coloured vegetables too. Throw grated zucchini and carrot into Bolognese sauce, eat your pastas with a side salad or add in a handful of spinach when you blend up their morning smoothie.”
Has your child decided they won’t eat a certain vegetable? Michelle explains that it can take up to seven times for a child to accept a new food, so don’t give up!
When choosing what fruits to give your children, fresh (or frozen) is best. Packaged, juiced or canned fruits can contain hidden sugars and preservatives. If you’re struggling to get your children to eat fruit, try cutting it up into bite-sized pieces (many kids will munch on a slice of apple, but won’t eat a whole one) or make ‘fruit kebabs’ by chopping different types of fruit and sliding them onto a kebab stick. If you’re looking for a healthy snack or dessert, Michelle suggests making a ‘fondue’ by serving fruit with natural Greek yoghurt as a dip or freezing some bananas for an alternative to ice-cream.
Grains like rice, bread, pasta and cereals are great sources of fibre, carbohydrates and protein, so it’s important to fuel your kids with quality wholegrains throughout the day. Opt for higher fibre options like brown or Basmati rice, oats, pasta and wholegrain bread (the grainier, the better). These are all lower GI grain foods, which means they’re more slowly digested and absorbed by the body. These lower GI grains also help your children stabilise their energy and concentration levels and keep their bellies fuller for longer.
Protein is essential for building, maintaining and repairing tissue in your body, making it an essential part of your child’s diet. Aim to include a portion of lean meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, legumes (like kidney beans, chickpeas and tofu) or nuts in every meal. Wanting to bulk up your kid’s protein? Opt for nut butters on their sandwiches (natural peanut, almond or cashew butters are delicious), add legumes to your stews and soups, bring out some hummus and carrot sticks for a snack and pop some tofu or chia seeds into their morning smoothie.
Dairy or soy alternatives are fantastic sources of protein and calcium, and are generally one of the easier food groups to incorporate into your child’s diet. Milk (or fortified milk alternatives like soy milk) can be given as a drink or added into smoothies; yoghurt (or soy yoghurt) makes a great snack or addition to soups or curries and cheese (or soy cheese) can be added to almost anything.
Michelle’s final tip for parents is to teach children how to recognise when they are full. “Encourage your child to stop eating when they’re full, even if this means they don’t finish what’s on their plate; however if they don’t eat their meal, make sure you don’t give them a replacement like a milk drink, a snack or dessert. I promise they will not starve!”