Are you worried about your child’s mental health and eating patterns?
This article may help to address concerns regarding mental health and poor eating habits particularly in our tween – teens age group. Lockdown has been a tough time on everyone and valid concerns have been raised in relation to its impact on mental health. Falling out of habits can be easy once our usual routines and social events have been majorly disrupted by a lockdown – and this can be the case with eating patterns too. There are many reasons why children and teens may not be eating well, including:
- Disruption to regular routines and mealtimes
- Loneliness / anti-social mealtimes
- Isolation from friends and family
- Online learning
- Reduced physical activity
- Reduced outdoor exposure
Some tips from your dietitian on how to address these concerns
1. Try to encourage a regular meal and snack routine at home that mimics the school routine
- Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner with 2-3 snacks in between
- Having a nourishing breakfast not too late in the day
- Discourage ‘grazing’ as this can lead to reduced food intake at nutritious mealtimes
- Try to make meals social / family meals where possible
2. Limit sugary, processed and refined foods i.e. packaged foods, foods high in fat and sugar as these foods can typically cause a ‘crash and burn’ effect on our bodies, which is not ideal if someone’s mood is already low or they are suffering from anxiety/depression. Soft drinks, energy drinks and packaged products are very popular among teenagers and thees foods are generally the most nutrient – POOR and energy dense of the lot. Try having other options on hand (see below).
3. Focus on a diet rich in whole foods and healthy snacks from wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, dairy and protein foods (meat, fish, chicken, eggs, tofu and legumes/nuts). Try to increase fruit and veggies in their diet – they are packed with an abundance of phytochemicals that play a role in mood boosting. Ideas for getting in more fruit and vegetables:
- Yoghurt and fruit for breakfast
- Banana on toast
- Banana or berries on cereal/porridge/weetbix
- Fruit smoothies
- Baked beans or sliced tomato and avocado on toast
- Salad sandwiches with lots of salad
- Veggie sticks and dip
- Nuts and seeds as a snack
- Fruit pots in 100% fruit juice
- At least ½ dinner plate to be veggies
- Add grated or frozen veggies in your cooking – e.g. bolognaise sauce, lasagna, pastries/triangles, veggie sausage rolls, corn/zucchini fritters, quiche
- Fruit and yoghurt/custard for dessert
4. Encourage nourishing snacks instead of packaged, refined products. TIP: try fruit and vegetable platters – fruit, veggie sticks and dip, cheese, nuts and seeds for everyone at home – platters can be more engaging and increase intake of healthier options;
- Vitawheat/Ryvita with cheese, nut spreads or avocado
- Popcorn, roasted chickpeas
- Veggie sticks with dip
- Milk, Up&Go, smoothies
5. Set ‘brain-breaks’ and time for physical activity
- Walking the dog
- Playing a board game
- Check out you tube for some fun movement ideas such as just dance or Zumba!
- Check out ‘Phenomenon’ – a fun interactive site for kids that focusing on increasing fruit and veg and has an abundance of educational videos. Go to the ‘moves’ tab for a fun physical activity.
The main strategies to really focus on are routine, structure, socialization and physical activity
- Routine and structure can help kids know what to expect, and what is expected of them. Often poor appetites can be impacted by irregular eating habits and lengthy gaps between meals/snacks
- It has been well established that social mealtimes significantly increase food intake but also help with improving mood, depression and anxiety.
- Physical activity enhances mood through hormones that are exerted during movement and can also make you hungry – a win-win for kids who are feeling low and not eating well. It’s important to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
- There is no specific diet to treat depression and one food alone won’t be able to raise our happy hormones. The key is to limit certain foods which can make you ‘crash and burn’ and eat more foods that can help to improve mood by leveling out other processes in the body – such as blood sugar levels, digestion, appetite and fatigue. These foods are typically found in our whole-foods i.e. wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, dairy and protein-foods so try to base your diet on these, and enjoy sugary, processed foods occasionally.
If you are struggling with your nutrition in lockdown, then reach out and chat to your Dietitian who can guide your through some individualised advice for your circumstances