Back to School

Tips for navigating ‘back to school’ whether your kids are venturing out or not


Did you ever wonder what your kids’ teachers talked about in the faculty lounge, back when school was fully in session?

Sure, they were likely discussing school politics, their lesson plans, or what they made for dinner last night. But were they also chatting about the children? Your children!

Back in the day, early in my nutrition career, when my son was much (much) younger, I got a sneak peak behind-the-scenes of several classrooms. Teachers used to contact me regularly to come speak to the parents of their classes and I’d gain insights into the struggles with managing kids throughout the school day.

These teachers asked me to address topics such as the importance of breakfast, healthy lunch options and how to navigate severe allergies in the classroom.

But what I also heard was where these wise teachers thought a nutritional upgrade could benefit the kids they spend time with every day. And you know what? Those teachers were right! Here’s what they were seeing, and what many of us have been seeing and will continue to see as our kids school from home…

  • yawning by 10am
  • lack of focus
  • skin irritations and outbreaks
  • dark circles under the eyes
  • chronic runny noses
  • spacing out during math
  • sassy attitudes in response to directives
  • disruptive behaviors that take time away from classwork
  • and more

Holy moly. Is this what so many of us are in store for as the classroom moves to the living room?

None of us want to hear or see any of these things in our kids, right?!

Truth be told, we especially don’t want to learn that anybody—teacher, grandparent, auntie or neighbor—thinks that there’s anything we, as parents, could be doing to help or support our child that we’re not already doing. Heck, it’s our job to give them the best-of-the-best and we pride ourselves on our abilities to do so! 

Feeling judged about our parenting is the worst. Especially right now, when we’re all a little stir crazy and overwhelmed with the added pressures of parenting during so much disruption and change.

First of all, kudos to the teachers that were paying attention and reached out for some added insight into the potential for food to make a difference in our kids’ daily form and function. If those teachers did happen to dish it in the lounge, it’s because they care.

We should all be so lucky to have our children (back) in classrooms with faculty that show their concern for our child’s welfare both inside and outside the school environment.

And I know you care too. I know how hard it is to care about food and want to make good choices for your family and to navigate just how to get there.

The big question we can be asking ourselves as we head back into the school season is: 

How can we cultivate a true habitat for educational digestion and absorption?

I may have just given you the answer: learning is in part due to digestion and absorption. And that brings us right back to the food our kids eat and how their bodies process the key nutrients that help their bodies and brains prepare for learning.

The time is ripe to address some of these issues. In fact, with many of our kids schooling from home, it might just be the perfect time to do a simple nutrition upgrade!

3 keys to using ‘food as medicine’ for your kiddos (and yourself!)

 

The #1 meal to boost your child’s mental acuity and emotional balance…

Breakfast!

Even if your kids wake up and say they don’t feel hungry, don’t think their bodies and brains aren’t starving. It’s called break fast for a reason. The last time your kids ate may have been 8 to 12 hours before their morning meal! 

That “fast” is necessary for proper digestion and to give the body a rest from processing. Yet breaking that fast is equally as important. The drop in blood sugar that occurs with the fast leads to mood swings, exhaustion, and cravings and consumption of sweeter foods.

To avoid these pitfalls, make sure their morning meal (and yours!) has fat, fiber, and protein. This powerful trio will supply steady energy for the brain and body.

The #1 food category to feed your child’s developing bones and brain…

This one can be controversial. The answer is fat. Yes, fat!

The brain is 60% fat—it’s the fattest part of your body. And in order to function well, it needs to be fed…fat!

The brain actually uses dietary fat for cell membrane integrity, cell permeability, and building the brain at a structural level.

The brain is key to your child’s ability to perform well on their exams, to understand and process the world around them, to relate to other individuals, and to feel content and at peace, happy and balanced. 

Our brain is critical to sleep, to eat, to function! The brain is a vulnerable organ affected instantaneously by nutritional deficits and imbalances. It needs good fats to perform at its best.

The GOOD fats include:

  • coconut oil
  • organic butter from grass-fed cows (if no dairy intolerances)
  • ghee (clarified butter)
  • olive oil
  • unrefined sesame oil
  • lard, if you eat it
  • flax oil (not for cooking)
  • hempseed oil (not for cooking)

Also:

  • nuts and seeds (if no intolerances)
  • fats from good quality eggs, beef, and full-fat dairy—if those animal proteins are in your diet and work for the bodies you are feeding

And remember from Key #1 to have some of these good fats for breakfast!

The #1 substance that inflames bad moods, bowel challenges, asthma, allergies, eczema and all those behavioral struggles we’ve been mentioning…

The culprit is sugar!

Sugar aids in these unwanted outcomes: 

  • mineral depletion
  • immune system repression (whoa, not right now please!)
  • blood sugar and insulin imbalances
  • brain function (including its inhibitory effects on serotonin production)
  • inflammation
  • heart disease
  • and of course, the teeth!

Sugar has a dis-regulating effect on myriad areas of the body. Reducing sugar intake could very well be the key to your child’s equanimity.

We all have a sweet tooth to some degree. And there are ways to enjoy something sweet without putting too much stress on your body. 

Start by reading labels for ingredients, and making simple treats with some of the healthier sugar options. Below are 2 lists—the sugars to avoid, and the ones to INCLUDE!

Sugars to avoid

  • beet sugar
  • brown sugar
  • cane juice crystals
  • confectioner’s sugar
  • corn sweetener
  • corn syrup
  • evaporated cane juice
  • fruit juice concentrate
  • granulated sugar
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • invert sugar
  • powdered sugar
  • raw sugar
  • sugar cane
  • turbinado sugar
  • white sugar

Sugars you can safely INCLUDE:

  • raw honey (ideally local)
  • grade B organic maple syrup
  • coconut or palm sugar
  • brown rice syrup
  • stevia
  • clear raw agave, on occasion
  • fruit and dried fruits (dates make a great sweetener!)

These sweeteners get my stamp of approval for kids for different reasons. Some are just plain whole foods and therefore have some great minerals and nutrients (dates, honey, and maple syrup); some are lower glycemic (like coconut sugar, brown rice syrup, raw agave and stevia). Using them will allow you to satisfy your child’s sweet tooth without compromising their health.

You might even want to invite your kid to help make the new batch of sweets, or help plan a hearty breakfast. They’re more likely to partake if they’ve participated in the making. And hey, it could even be a fun part of your new schooling routine!

Please tag us on Instagram at @functionalnutritionalliance with some of your favorite kid-friendly breakfasts and treats that follow the top tips I’ve outlined here!

Functional nutritionist and educator Andrea Nakayama (FNLP, MSN, CNC, CNE, CHHC) is leading patients and practitioners around the world in a revolution to reclaim ownership over our own health. Her passion for food as personalized medicine was born from the loss of her young husband to a brain tumor in 2002. She’s now regularly consulted as the nutrition expert for the toughest clinical cases in the practices of many world-renowned doctors, and trains a thousand practitioners online each year in her methodologies at Functional Nutrition Lab. Learn more about Andrea here.

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