Well, it’s back to the school routine once more …and the daily trauma of trying to get a decent breakfast down your kids.
Let me just start by saying that – health coach or no health coach – I definitely don’t have all the answers and I’m still very much trying to figure this one out. Like many kids, mine would happily have a Nutella sandwich or a bowl of Coco Pops every day before school. Often, they don’t feel like eating at all so early in the morning and it’s as much as I can do to get them to drink a glass of water (dehydration and learning don’t go hand in hand so, after fasting all night, water is essential).
I know from personal experience that changing habits in kids is really tough and frequently frustrating – particularly if, like mine, they grew up with the standard “Frankenfoods” and have got used to them (I wish I hadn’t had them in the house but I didn’t know any better at the time). In addition, teenage brains aren’t yet fully matured and so they’re not wired to connect the habits they have now with their future health. In the spirit of honest sharing, here are a few strategies I’ve tried repeatedly over the years which have completely tanked:
• Leaving articles from The Times featuring health warnings about sugar strategically placed on the kitchen table. (Ignored. Every time.)
• Lecturing my kids about how all the sugar they eat increases their risk of Type 2 diabetes (response from one of them; “So what if I get diabetes? There’ll be a cure by then.”)
• Dramatically illustrating how much sugar is in what they’re eating by pointing out food labels. (Blank looks all round.)
• Elucidating how their favourite cereal packet is painstakingly designed and marketed to appeal to kids and teens (response: “I know all that. I just like the cereal.”)
If you’re finding yourself at loggerheads with your kids over food (as I frequently have been), it’s really important not to beat yourself up. We’re all doing the best we can. Take a deep breath and remember you’re in it for the long haul so it’s best to take it very slowly – even if your kids are insisting on their normal breakfast cereal and you give them some fresh blueberries on the side, well at least you’re getting some powerful plant nutrients down them first thing.
Every family is different and likes to eat different things but I’ll share with you some strategies I’ve personally found useful.
One thing I try to do where possible is to encourage the kids to eat more good fats, particularly in the morning before school. I know from being absolutely starving as a teenager all through school mornings (I didn’t understand I was suffering from low blood sugar back then) that no teacher can compete with a hungry tummy. The standard carb bomb that we’ve all been brainwashed into eating for breakfast (cereal, toast, bagel etc.) is actually the very last thing our body needs after fasting all night and just sends our blood sugar soaring and then crashing. This rollercoaster not only encourages the body to lay down fat but plays havoc with energy levels and brain function. There’s been loads of research to show the effects of this type of breakfast on children’s bouncing-off-the-walls behaviour and inability to concentrate at school, so it’s worth experimenting and tracking if your kids’ focus improves at all with different foods.
A couple of breakfasts I’ve found really useful are:
• Pancakes made simply from beating up 2 eggs with a very ripe banana and frying gently in a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil.
• Smoothie made from e.g. almond milk, a cup of frozen blueberries, one banana, a tablespoon of coconut oil and then a small handful each of seeds, nuts or nut butter. (See my video for how to make a brain-boosting blueberry smoothie).
I like these two breakfasts because they’re very quick to throw together and are high in quality proteins and those all-important good fats. These not only keep blood sugar stable but keep those tummies feeling full right though to lunch and, importantly, feed young brains so they can concentrate (the brain is made of 60% fat and needs good fats to function properly).
I’ve found that my kids aren’t keen on eating nuts, particularly in the morning, but they don’t really notice them at all if they’re whizzed up in a smoothie – you’ll need a high-powered blender though….otherwise they’ll be gagging on bits of nut.
After many years in the breakfast wilderness, my eldest son now makes his own morning concoction which he has called “tahini sundae” (click here to watch him in action with an earlier iteration of tahini sundae). He basically mixes tahini paste with raw cacao powder, melted coconut oil and a bit of maple syrup. He went from having no breakfast at all (and struggling to concentrate in morning lessons) to having this every day throughout his sixth form and first year at university and is feeling much more focused and better on it. Tahini is a brilliant food as it’s high in protein, good fats and a host of vitamins and minerals, including calcium – so don’t just save it for a savoury dip.
My daughter, who goes off foods she previously liked with alarming regularity, will now eat one of my homemade seed crackers with a slice of cheese or a slick of butter and a few tomatoes. Click here to watch how I make these crackers – they’re easy and quick to make and full of healthy fats.
I also find that my kids will happily eat a flapjack made from oats, almond butter, coconut oil, maple syrup and banana. This is a vast improvement on those nutritionally bankrupt, sugar-laden bars that are marketed to us as “breakfast bars”. You want to stay well clear of those. Remember that the food industry is not particularly interested in your kids’ health or brain function – merely on getting them hooked on their products, so don’t be fooled by clever marketing and make sure you read those small print labels.
Lastly, I really do think the very best thing we can do for our kids’ health is to model a healthy approach to feeding ourselves and trust that our kids will (eventually) take their cue from that. So start by ensuring you have a decent breakfast every day, always making sure you include the protein and good fats that will kick-start your metabolism and set you up for consistently high energy throughout the day.
If you’ve managed to find a healthy breakfast kids will eat, please do leave a comment below!