Stress and Nutrition: Improve Childhood Mental Health With Nutritious Food

This post about stress and nutrition is in partnership with StressHealth.org, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness.  All opinions are my own.

 

Food plays a critical role in our lives.  It not only nourishes our bodies, but also fuels our minds and brings us together with friends and family. Of course, we know how food affects our bodies: Nutritious foods keep us healthy and energized. Eating too much junk food often causes our bodies to put on excess weight and our arteries to get clogged.  It’s the same with our children.

While they might not enjoy vegetables, veggies are important for overall physical health. Did you know that proper nutrition can also play a role in improving childhood mental health? It’s true — kids’ brains benefit from good nutrition much the same way their bodies do.

Did you know that there is a link between stress and nutrition? Learn how you can improve childhood mental health with nutritious food.

The Link Between Stress and Nutrition

Stress is something all kids have to deal with occasionally.  However, when it becomes a huge part of a child’s life, that stress can really start to take a negative toll on their minds and bodies. Animal studies have shown stress hormones are linked to a craving for foods high in fat and/or sugar. From what I’ve seen, humans may react the same way. Ever had a teen come home from a bad day at school and head right for the high fat, high salt, low-nutrition foods?  

Other kids may react to stress with a lack of appetite.  Right when their bodies need a boost of nutrition, they often turn their nose up at even their favorite meal.  Being too busy to stay hydrated or craving a caffeinated soda are also side effects of stress.

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It’s a harmful cycle.  Stress and nutrition are closely linked. Indigestion, fatigue, poor immunity, and lack of proper nutrition to the brain may result from choosing a poor diet in times of stress.  This isn’t just an issue that affects adults and teens. Young children are often under a great deal of stress, and some struggle with mental health issues. You can help improve childhood mental health by offering healthy food.  

Improve Childhood Mental Health With Nutritious Food

While it may be easy to tell your stressed-out child that they need to eat their asparagus, it doesn’t guarantee they will actually eat it. How do you improve childhood nutrition to help them combat stress?  Here are a few tips:

  • Plant a garden with your child.  Showing your children how to grow the food they eat may make it more fun to actually eat what they grow.
  • Visit a farmer’s market.  Let them bring along their own basket and help pick out fruits and vegetables from local farmers.  
  • Grocery shop together:  This doesn’t have to be a chore.  Try to find a time when you are not in a hurry and let your child help you plan out your weekly menu.
  • Cook a meal together.  Even the youngest child can help with simple dinner chores.  As they get older, kids can be a big help in putting together dinner!
  • Make family dinner a priority:  Family dinner is something I am passionate about in my home.  Put away the phones, turn off the TV and ask your child about their day.  They may open up more about stressful events in their lives at the dinner table.
  • Share stories and create memories:  Turn meal time into story time.  Tell stories about your favorite and least favorite meals growing up.  Talk about your day and create lasting memories your children will cherish when they’re grown.

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Make Childhood Nutrition a Priority

Kids are bombarded daily with ads for soda, candy, and other junk food.  It is up to parents to keep the majority of their grocery cart filled with healthy food to help ensure proper nutrition for their kids.  Stress and nutrition are closely linked. The more stressed out your children are, the more their minds and bodies really NEED peak nutrition.  

Stress eating can lead to obesity, mood and sleep problems, and other health issues. Help your children cope with their stress by teaching them how to make better choices when it comes to the foods they eat.

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More Stress Health Resources

Want more information about childhood mental health? Check out my article about improving childhood mental health with exercise. Or, read more about adverse childhood experiences and mental health   If you or your child has suffered a traumatic event, visiting StressHealth.org is a great first step to healing.

 

More from Turning the Clock Back

Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can’t quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke!

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