If your child is filling up on crackers and juice, his brain isn’t getting enough fuel. Without steady energy, he’ll have trouble controlling his behavior.
To keep your child on more of an even keel, let him graze on something better: fresh fruit slices and veggies dipped in plain yogurt, for example.
Children’s behavior often deteriorates in the late morning and late afternoon, or three to four hours after a meal, suggests pediatrician and author William Sears. Children simply run out of fuel. Let your child nibble on nutritious foods throughout the day, Sears says, to smooth out mood swings.
The “glycemic index” of a particular food refers to the rate at which sugar from the food enters brain cells and other cells of the body. The best energy for the brain isn’t dumped into cells rapidly, but is absorbed more slowly. Sears lists these favorable foods on the website www.askdrsears.com.
• Fruits: Grapefruit, apples, cherries, oranges and grapes have a low glycemic index. Fruits have a lower G.I. than fruit juices, because the fiber in the fruit slows the absorption of the fruit sugar.
• Cereals and grains: Oatmeal and bran have the lowest G.I. Other foods with a favorable G.I. are spaghetti and rice. Corn flakes and sugar-coated cereals have higher glycemic indexes.
• Vegetables and legumes: Soybeans, kidney beans, chick peas and lentils have the lowest glycemic index of any food. Potatoes and carrots have a much higher G.I.
• Dairy products: Milk and yogurt have low glycemic indexes. Plain yogurt has a lower G.I. than yogurt with fruit preserves or added sugar.
Dr. Rallie McAllister, whose books include “The Mommy M.D. Guide to the Toddler Years,” agrees that letting children graze on nutritious foods is a healthy approach. Also, kids are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods if they’re fun and easy to eat.
Cut your child’s food into fun shapes and sizes, she suggests. For example, you can cut apples into building blocks, slice celery and carrots into quarters to make logs, and cut broccoli and cauliflower florets so that they look like miniature trees.
Kids love dipping and decorating their food. Fill a small container with yogurt or a wholesome type of salad dressing, such as one made with olive oil, and allow your child to dip away. Or fill a squirt bottle with yogurt or salad dressing and allow her to decorate her food, McAllister suggests.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests these ideas for snacks:
• Layer vanilla yogurt and mandarin oranges or blueberries in a glass. Top with a sprinkle of granola.
• Break a graham cracker into bite-size pieces. Add to low-fat chocolate pudding.
• Toast an English muffin, drizzle with pizza sauce and sprinkle with low-fat mozzarella cheese.
• Top a banana with low-fat vanilla and strawberry frozen yogurt. Sprinkle with your favorite whole-grain cereal.
• Fill a waffle cone with cut-up fruit and top with low-fat vanilla yogurt.
• Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on hot popcorn.
• Peel a banana and dip it in yogurt. Roll in crushed cereal and freeze.
Ideas for dips:
• Baby carrots and cherry tomatoes in low-fat ranch dressing.
• Strawberries or apple slices in low-fat yogurt.
• Pita chips in hummus.
• Graham crackers in applesauce.
• Animal crackers in low-fat pudding.
• Bread sticks in salsa.
• A granola bar in low-fat yogurt.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to concentrate better, have better problem-solving skills, be more alert and think more creatively.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and preschool teacher. If you have tips or questions, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Parent to Parent at 704-236-9510.