The impact of food and drink on a child’s education

17th July 2014

The food we eat every day has a significant impact on the way we, as humans, function. Whether as an adult or as a child, the ability to concentrate for long periods of time is something that can fluctuate from one day to the next. Although concentration can be affected by a wide range of variables such as the weather, the environment or activities planned (being excited about a cricket match after school as one example!), there are ways of maximising our focus on the tasks in hand.

The food we eat can have short term and long term effects on our concentration, for example, many people find that after having caffeine, their concentration increases for a short period of time. This can have positive effects on education but, with caffeine, it’s easy to have too much which leads to the opposite affect causing loss of concentration.

Instead it’s best to focus on foods that are believed to help promote concentration when eaten regularly. Oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines have a high level of Omega 3 which helps brain health including enhancing memory performance by increasing neural function.

Avocados are another food that helps promote brain function by lowering bad cholesterol and increasing blood flow around the body which, in turn, helps supply the brain with more oxygen. Berries such as blueberries and tomatoes are full of Vitamins A, C and E all of which help improve blood flow.

Wholegrain foods are a way of not only maintaining the body’s fibre requirements but are a good source of vitamin E. Regular fibre intake helps to keep blood sugar levels stable and thus improve energy levels constantly helping you concentrate throughout the day. Refined carbohydrates such as food made from white flour, although often very tasty, can cause the body to feel tired and lethargic due to being easily broken down into sugars which the body produces insulin to combat. Wholegrain foods are much harder for the body to breakdown leading to a slower and more constant release of energy.

Bananas are another excellent fruit, not only as a supply of energy and a wide range of nutrients, but also are a source of dopamine which is thought to help the body to focus. Dark chocolate in small amounts provides the body with antioxidants, which can help the mind to focus.

Fruit and vegetables in general are a great source of vitamins and minerals which all help the body to operate more efficiently, but leafy greens, like spinach, are full of folic acid which is thought to help improve the brains memory function. Legumes such as chick peas and lentils are chock full of folic acid as well as being a source of low fat protein in general.

It’s very important for the body to stay well hydrated. Not only does this affect the body as a whole but research has shown the brain to work far less efficiently when dehydrated with the key areas associated with problem solving and learning largely affected. The Department of Health gives rough guidelines of 6-8 200ml glasses of water per day, whilst this isn’t a hard and fast rule and is affected by age, body size and the weather, aiming for this intake across the day is a good target. It’s important to remember that a glass of water when waking up and at breakfast would be a good start to the day with drinks at break times, lunch times and in between lessons helping to keep the body hydrated.

Ideas for packed lunches

Why not try changing butter, margarine and mayonnaise for mashed avocado? Mash an avocado thoroughly with a fork, add some black pepper, a little salt and a good squeeze of lime or lemon. Perfect with any cooked meat, cheese, or even chopped boiled egg. For an extra nutritional hit, why not add some finely chopped tomatoes, a clove of crushed garlic and some chopped coriander. Some added fresh chilli and you have a healthy guacamole.

For an interesting and healthy salad why not try baby spinach mixed with a handful of chick peas, some tinned tuna or salmon and a few chopped walnuts. Dress with a squeeze of lemon juice and a grind of black pepper.

For a healthy and nutritious lunch, why not try an omelette filled with spinach leaves and some flaked mackerel and a few sliced boiled potatoes.

Popcorn is a fantastic and healthy snack, try to pop your own and then sprinkle with smoked paprika (or any other spices) and a very small amount of salt. Store in an airtight container or zip lock sandwich bag with the air pushed out to stop the popcorn going stale.

A fruit milkshake with breakfast is a quick and easy way of getting both fruits and milk into your children: use a hand blender to puree the fruit, top up with milk and give a final blend. Grate some dark chocolate over the top to get an extra hit of goodness. Works perfectly with bananas and berries.

Instead of buying individual yoghurts, why not make your own by putting some plain yoghurt into a small container. You can then add your own flavours whether, whole fruit, fruit purees or rolled oats.

Remember as well that food should be something to enjoy and kids love something sweet, here is a great recipe that not only goes down well with children but also here in the TLC LIVE office!

The TLC Granola bar:

• 200 grams oats
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 50g dark brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon maple syrup
• 3 tablespoons honey
• Pinch of salt
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 150g dried fruit ( you can swap 50g for almonds, walnuts, sesame or sunflower seeds)
• 50g dark chocolate, chipped

1. Heat oven to 180°C
2. Spread the oats on a baking tray and lightly toast, stirring every couple of minutes. If using nuts or seeds you can also add these to the roasting tray.
3. Once you can smell the oats and they are very lightly coloured, remove from the oven and place in a mixing bowl.
4. Combine the oil with the honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat.
5. Stir frequently until the sugar has dissolved and you have a smooth consistency.
6. Mix the dried fruit and chocolate into the oats and then pour the butter mixture in to bowl mixing well. Leave the mixture in the bowl to cool for 2-3 minutes before transferring all the mixture to a baking tray. (Silicon bake ware works really well here but otherwise line a tray with greaseproof paper.)
7. Press the mixture firmly down and keep pressing in order to have a good firm consistency.
8. Cover the tray and put in the fridge for 2 hours to set.
9. Once chilled, remove and cut into your desired size.
10. Store bars in an airtight container, if you make these at the weekend they will last all week.

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