by Keith Bishop
Food provides fuel for a child’s mind and body. Understanding how to provide the best combination of foods can help a child maximize his or her potential in academics and sports.
Meals should contain a mixture of three essential food groups: carbohydrates, fat and protein.
Carbohydrates include sugars, grains, vegetables and fruit. The fiber in fruit and vegetables and high-fiber grain may provide two hours of energy.
Fat sources include vegetable oils, nuts and animal fats. Sufficient fats typically give energy for two to three hours. Each cell wall in our bodies is made up of fat. Fat comprises approximately 60 percent of the brain and nervous system.
Protein can come from vegetable or animal sources. Vegetable sources include beans and legumes, while animal sources include milk, eggs and meat. Sufficient protein typically provides energy for four to five hours. Protein provides amino acids necessary for brain function and neurotransmitters, bone, muscle, tendon, ligament, skin, hair and nail growth and repair.
Brain Function and ADHD
The brain can function with carbohydrates or fats for energy. If a child eats only carbohydrates for breakfast at 6:30 a.m., the brain has to make the difficult switch to burning fat (called ketosis) for energy before 8:30 a.m. If the child has very little body fat to convert to energy, his or her brain may start exhibiting ADD/ADHD symptoms.
The same thing goes for lunch. Their bodies and minds will be running on empty if they are not consuming carbohydrates, fat and protein by about 3 p.m.
A breakfast and lunch containing carbohydrates (up to two hours of energy), fat (up to three hours of energy), and protein (up to five hours of energy) will provide a smooth transition of brain and body energy to go from one meal and snack to the next.
Most school sports activities require carbohydrates for energy. Even if a child is eating a good combination of carbohydrates, fat and protein for lunch, he or she will probably be running on empty by the time after-school activities start. Both physically and mentally, they may not be at the “top of their game.”
Sufficient protein is necessary to repair muscle, connective tissue and bones while the body is resting and sleeping.
Collagen protein powders are flavorless, easy-to-mix products that can be incorporated into many low-protein meals or smoothies.
Smaller children require less food. An older larger child may be able to consume a larger glass or whole protein bar, while a smaller child may only need to consume a small glass or one-half of a protein bar.
Simple/Fast Breakfast Ideas
1. A protein fruit smoothie—made from frozen fruit and/or vegetables, coconut oil or olive oil and protein powder—is easy to make and nutritious. Fix in a blender and split with the family. Also try juiced vegetables and/or fruit with coconut oil or olive oil, blended with protein powder.
2. Protein bar (not to be confused with prepackaged tarts or low-protein breakfast drink mixes). A variety of flavors is often important to keep children from getting bored.
3. Eggs with fruit and/or vegetables. Eggs can be pan-fried, scrambled or hardboiled. Most biscuits, toast and bagels are not high in fiber and don’t provide two hours of energy.
4. Oatmeal with butter, coconut oil and protein powder.
5. Breakfast cereal with milk (protein) and protein powder.
Teachable Lunch and Dinner Ideas
Teach children the three-palm rule. A palm is the span and thickness of a person’s hand. The larger a person’s hand, the more the amount of each food group a person needs.
For meals, children (and parents) need a minimum of three palms of food:
• One palm of protein (meat, beans, protein powder)
• Two palms of carbs
• Fats will usually find their way in or can be added, if necessary
Convenience Is the Rule for After School and Before Sports
Young athletes often consume commercially available or homemade energy protein bars immediately prior to sports. These dense energy sources should contain carbohydrates, fat and some protein.
Homework snacks can include fruit, vegetables with peanut butter, nuts or a protein bar.
Keith Bishop is the clinical nutritionist at Flourish Compounding Pharmacy and Nutrition Center, located at 14720 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Oklahoma City. For more information, call 405-751-3333 or visit FlourishRX.com.