Anyone who’s ever endured spending an hour or two with kids after they’ve been trick-or-treating or collecting candy at a birthday party probably doesn’t need a medical study to tell them that there is a link between kids’ diet and behavior.
That’s why I, for one, was not shocked at all when I saw that a recent study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that teens who eat a “Western-style” diet are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as those who have a “healthy” diet.
The Western-style diet referred to in the study was high in processed foods and sugar; whereas the healthy diet was higher in fruits and vegetables and other whole foods. Again, nobody’s shocked here, right? I’m sure the topic needs further study, and the article did state that researchers are unsure exactly what aspect of the Western diet is implicated in ADHD, but it seems to make common sense that eating bad food can lead to bad behavior (in addition to bad health and bad teeth).
But it also seems to me that hungry kids are pretty challenging, too, and getting something — anything! — in them is often most moms’ No. 1 job. Our lives and our kids’ schedules are crazy. Feeding kids something that is not processed and full of sugar but is also quick and convenient is a real challenge. It’s not impossible though, I promise. Here are some ideas for feeding kids something truly good at those times when you would really rather put a Pop-Tart in the toaster or tear open a GoGurt.
Is it just my household, or are weekday mornings total mayhem? It seems like we are always running late, the kids are groggy, and I’ve got papers to sign, lunches to make, oh, and shoes to put on. But, instead of Pop-Tarts, consider these healthier breakfast options.
Whole Grain Steel Cut Oats: Since they take a while to make, cook a huge batch either on the weekend or overnight in your slow cooker. It’s very easy to do this, by the way, and it makes the oatmeal creamy and delicious. In the morning, all you have to do is heat it in the microwave, and the kids can customize with berries, nuts, milk, whatever.
Mini Waffle PB&B Sandwiches: My kids aren’t allowed to take peanut butter to school (due to food allergies), so I try to get some of this awesome protein source into them either before or after school. Buy some whole wheat mini waffles, toast them, and spread with all-natural peanut butter. Top with blueberries and another waffle.
High-Protein Smoothies: I’m not a huge fan of protein powders; I think they taste yucky and, well, they seem to be almost as highly processed as KoolAid. So, instead, I add a huge spoonful of organic almond butter to my smoothies while I’m blending.
Here’s the favorite smoothie recipe around our house (all quantities very approximate):
In a blender combine 1/2 cup crushed ice, 5-6 strawberries (or a handful of blueberries, or raspberries, or any combination; frozen is fine), 1/2 cup organic yogurt, 1 cup orange juice, 1-2 tablespoons almond butter. Blend until smooth. My son hates bananas, but if yours doesn’t, add those too.
Apple Slices: Whatever you’re serving for breakfast, take a minute to cut up an (organic) apple into nice, crisp slices. Put them on the table where the kids are eating. The idea is that they will look so inviting that the kids will eat at least a few slices with breakfast. Apples are very high in fiber, and it’s amazing how well they stave off hunger. I usually eat what they don’t finish throughout the morning, and find that it helps keep me out of the cookie jar.
Again, mayhem. I’m not sure why our schools seem intent on starving children, but my kids come home famished, cranky, and unable to wait five seconds for a snack. They usually whine for a granola bar, and occasionally I do break down and give them Clif ZBars, which are organic and seem relatively wholesome but are obviously processed, packaged, etc. Here are some other options that have gone over well with my (fairly typical) kids.
PB & A Wraps: Spread natural peanut butter on whole wheat tortilla. Cut up an apple into French fry–sized pieces and put the pieces on top of the peanut butter. You can sprinkle with a little bit of granola or drizzle with honey. For variety, you can also substitute strawberries and raisins for the apples. Wrap tightly. My kids love these, they’re portable, and they provide enough energy to get them through soccer practice and a list of vocabulary words.
Mini Pizzas: Toast a whole wheat English muffin, then top with tomato sauce, a tablespoon of shredded mozzarella, and some sliced turkey, olives, a green bell pepper ring, sliced tomato, pineapple, or whatever your kids like. If you have that odd open afternoon (highly doubtful, I know), let the kids make their own; they’ll probably eat a few olives and tomatoes while they’re at it, which is always a good thing. Broil for a minute or two. Hot and satisfying.
Snack Skewers: Get some small (6-inch) bamboo skewers and thread with whatever you’ve got on hand. The more colorful and creative you make these the better. Try mixing grape tomatoes, cubed cheese, olives, melon balls, sliced salami or turkey (folded in fourths, then skewered), berries, orange segments — seriously, almost anything.
Junior Antipasto Platter: This is a great idea if you’re home making dinner and the kids are supposed to be doing homework but are bugging you about food instead. Find a small platter or serving tray. On it, put out an assortment of healthy, generally savory one-bite things that your kids like, such as olives, shelled edamame, raw almonds, bits of cheese, dried cranberries or raisins, cut-up veggies, grapes, etc. The kids can nibble at the platter while doing their schoolwork and probably not ruin their dinner. Since it’s nutritious and real food, I don’t even mind too much if my kids eat more of this than of dinner.