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If you have ever wondered “Does nutrition change behavior?”, well the answer is yes.Children's Nutrition and Behavior
Children’s behavior and nutrition go hand in hand. In my work as a social worker and a health and wellness coach, I often see an overlap in what I tell my clients, and that is, “Nutrition impacts OVERALL health!” Meaning, yes, nutrition impacts our behavior. 

Children’s behavior and nutrition is a subject I feel is often overlooked. Working in a rural community where children do not always have access to healthy nutrition has greatly impacted my view on this subject. I have not taken a nutrition and behavior course, nor do I remember it being offered in my degree program of Psychology and Social Behavior, but it is a course I would definitely subscribe to now. 

When I attended the University of California, Irvine, I ran the research lab for Dr. Salvatore Maddi in my second year. Our research was in the concept of ‘Hardiness’. I like Dr. Maddi’s description of hardiness best: 

“When you can navigate professional and personal changes in a way that furthers yours and your employer’s goals, strengthens your ability to turn adversity to advantage and deepens professional and personal meaning, you succeed as an employee and as a person. That’s the Way of Hardiness!” 

Hardiness is essentially a way of navigating and persevering through life so you can be successful in all areas, hardiness has a workbook and a course because research has proven that hardiness is not fixed and fits well within a growth mindset. Why am I telling you this? Nutrition is a component of Dr. Maddi’s hardiness course and has been proven to impact psychological resilience and behavior. Our behavior is largely our reaction to outside stimuli and situations.

How are Nutrition and Behavior Linked?

Let’s think about this for a moment. Anecdotally, I am writing this blog while I am suffering from extreme stomach discomfort from something I ate this morning! How my body is feeling is directly related to something I ate. Is my mood affected? Absolutely! I feel grouchy, I feel like being alone, I do not feel like writing this blog, I don’t want to be touched, I want to be left alone. 

Now, think about this for a moment. I am an adult with the ability to self regulate. Earlier I was laying on the patio moaning and groaning and feeling sorry for myself because I should have had the green juice instead of the eggs and sausage, now I am suffering and it is all self-inflicted. Now, imagine I am a school-aged child, anywhere from the ages of six to twelve. Do you think my self regulating abilities are the same, do you think my attention span is the same? Likely not. Children already struggle with self-regulation, children start to learn self-regulation skills in their first five years of life largely by what they are exposed to and how they are parented. Children who experience trauma within these first five years of life have an even harder go at learning how to self regulate. Now imagine a child who has a hard time self-regulating and then is feeling crummy or bogged down from poor nutrition and you have the perfect storm! 

You may be wondering if nutrition and aggressive behavior are linked. Based on what I have just told you, what do you think? There is research to support this, but again, anecdotally, I work with a boy who has milk allergies. Regularly, he has exhibits aggressive behavior that we have been able to link back to him having some sort of milk product at lunch causing a behavioral spike in the afternoon. Does this child need medication? Potentially, but don’t you agree a much simpler and safer fix would be modifying and monitoring the child’s nutrition?

How to get your kids to eat healthily?

Many schools have adopted a “Healthy Schools” mindset, including the one I work for. We actually get grant money to support a healthy school and thankfully during COVID shutdowns we were still able to provide healthy foods to our community who may have otherwise not been able to access it. Our children spend most of their day in school so it is important to know what your child’s school is feeding them and what kind of foods are allowed in the school. 

Sugar is kryptonite to children, especially children who exhibit ADHD tendencies and behaviors. You can read more on that in this attached article about Nutrition for ADHD Children. Due to our Healthy Schools grant, children are not supposed to have sugary treats or drinks within the building and teachers are not supposed to give these treats as incentives. Last fall I wrote an article about Healthy School Lunches for both adults and kiddos that can be extremely helpful in the fight to nourish our kids to mitigate behavioral issues. 

Supplements for Kids

As a health and wellness coach, I work for many families who want their kids to get started on the right path of nutrition at an early age. I drink daily superfoods and I recommend kids do too, but kids need different nutrition than we do in their developing years. Daily Sunshine is the kid’s version of the superfoods I drink daily. It is delicious, what kid doesn’t like chocolate or strawberry banana milkshakes? It is a great way to disguise vegetables, fortified vitamins, and minerals into something a child actually wants to eat. 

Healthy Children’s Recipes

I will leave you with a few additional recipes to help keep your kiddo’s minds and behavior right. Superhealthykids.com is a wonderful resource for healthy kid recipes. Here is a dinner recipe that is a personal favorite of mine.

Instant-Pot Chicken and Brown Rice

Ingredients:Healthy Kids Recipes

  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 clove garlic
  • 2 cup carrots, baby
  • 2 cup mushrooms, brown, Italian, or Crimini
  • 2 cup brown rice, raw
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 1/4 cup chicken broth, low-sodium
  • 2 pounds chicken thigh, boneless, skinless
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1 can (10.75 oz) soup, cream of chicken, canned, condensed
  • 2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon thyme, fresh

Instructions:

  1. Push the “saute” button on Instant Pot. While it heats, dice onion, mince garlic and chop veggies. Rinse and drain the rice.
  2. When pot says “HOT,” add oil to the pot and saute the onions for 3 minutes. Then press “cancel” to turn the saute setting off.
  3. Mix veggies, garlic, rice, and broth into the pot. Place chicken on top, add salt and pepper, then cover with cream of chicken soup (homemade is preferable) and Worchestershire sauce. Place 8-10 small sprigs of thyme on top. NOTE: Chicken breasts also work well, just make sure to cut them in half so they’re not too thick.
  4. Seal the Instant Pot, close the vent, and press “manual.” Use the “pressure” button to toggle to high pressure. For brown rice: set the time for 25 minutes. For white rice: set the timer for 20 minutes. 
  5. Once the pot is done cooking open the vent (keep your hand out of the path of the steam) to quickly release the pressure. This should take about 2 minutes. Once pressure has released completely (the pin drops) the pot is safe to open.
  6. Remove thyme sprigs (keeping leaves when possible). Stir pot to shred chicken and mix in any extra liquid. Serve warm.

If you don’t have an insta-pot, you could easily slow cook this on low for four hours.Another great resource I have mentioned before for some great recipes is the TBB blog.

Children’s Veggie Grilled Cheese

Ingredients:Kids Veggie Grilled Cheese

  • 1/2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 medium yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 slices low-sodium sprouted whole-grain bread
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup raw spinach
  • 1 slice Provolone cheese (1 oz.)

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add bell peppers and onion; cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until onion is translucent. Remove from pan. Set aside
  3. Spread mustard on one slice of bread.
  4. Top with bell pepper mixture, spinach, cheese, and second slice of bread. Set aside.
  5. Heat skillet over medium-high heat.
  6. Add sandwich; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip, cook for 3 to 4 more minutes or until cheese has melted.

If you feel like you are wanting more recipes, tips, and tricks to living your healthiest life, I have lots more tips where those came from. All of my meal plans include access to hundreds of recipes and short, easy, all levels workouts. If you have any specific recipes you would like or fitness program questions, always feel free to reach out to me. Thanks for reading I hope this information was useful and finds you in a space of the heart. I’m just me Sarah Roberts (Savino), MSW, RYT200, TBB Coach founder of team Indie Sols, figuring out what works for me and sharing it with you in hopes that it will make some positive changes for you as well! As always if you have any direct questions or want personal consultation for anything you can reach me at my email thefitphilanthropist@gmail.com or contact me through any of my social media: Facebook.com/sarah.savino IG- the_fit_philanthropist

Love and Light Always,

Sarah