How to boost brain-power

Octayvia Nance

A NATIONAL chain store dietitian has said that maintaining balanced blood sugar levels through eating small and regular meals will help school children to get the extra boost of concentration needed during their exams.

Woolworths dietitian Cindy Chin, who was in Nelson Mandela Bay earlier this year, said that through the store’s Brain Food initiative they wanted to provide parents with the tools to help children function at their optimum. She highlighted the importance of eating a healthy breakfast and small, regular meals through the day.

Woolworths Mom’s Store Tour visited Walmer Park Shopping Centre this past week and, coinciding as it did with many children currently writing or preparing to write exams – the focus was “brain food for exams”.

Chin said pupils required “specific nutrients for optimum functioning on a day-to-day basis, to encourage development, and even more so during exam time to facilitate the learning process.

“Small, regular meals help maintain stable blood sugar levels, which provide the constant supply of glucose to the brain that is essential for concentration and problem solving when children are preparing for exams,” she said.

Chin said growing children require essential building blocks from food to function optimally. “It is important to provide the best quality of nutrients through a balanced and varied diet and to support their growth and high activity levels.

“A good food option is a choice of food that is nutrient-dense, as opposed to a food choice that is only energy dense [providing a lot of calories], but which is nutrient poor, otherwise referred to as ’empty calories’.”

For example, a chicken salad sandwich on whole wheat bread provides a good source of protein from chicken, a starchy carbohydrate that is high in fibre, and vegetables that provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, she explained.

“In comparison, a doughnut provides many calories from fat, refined starches and sugars with few vitamins and minerals,” she said.

She also said that, because of our busy lifestyles, good food options should be practical and easy for parents to prepare while taking into account individual tastes and preferences.

“Parents should pack balanced lunchboxes. This includes foods from the following food groups: carbohydrates, proteins, dairy or dairy alternatives, fruit and vegetables, small portions of healthy fats and don’t forget to include a bottle of fluid – water being the best choice.

“The types and proportions of foods from various food groups will vary according to multiple factors such as the child’s age, gender, weight and activity levels. For example, a toddler’s stomach size limits how much he or she can eat in one meal so it is important to offer regular meals and snacks that are nutrient-dense. Whereas an active adolescent boy’s energy and nutrient needs will be much greater,” Chin said.

Nutritious lunchbox tips

AS SCHOOL-going children are still growing and tend to be quite active, parents should make an effort to offer them a variety of nutrient-rich foods from each food group.

Dietitian Cindy Chin gives seven tips for school lunches:

  • Keep lunchboxes fun and exciting.
  • Add variety by using different types of bread and dried and fresh sliced fruit. Vary textures and flavours by adding soft foods like dried fruit, yogurt and soft breads along with crunchy items such as fresh apple or pretzels.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Compile weekly menus, cook extra to use as part of your lunchbox and have different size containers at hand to pack different items that form part of your lunch box.
  • Be snack wise. Pack healthy snack options and remember that children should balance activity with their snacking routine. Go slow on high energy, sugary and fatty snacks, and keep these for special occasions.
  • Sneak in fruit and vegetables by adding to sandwiches and pasta salads and presenting them in different shapes and sizes like fruit kebabs, dried fruit strips and fruit purees mixed with yoghurt.
  • If you are adding perishable items to your lunchbox, pack them into a small cooler box or freeze your child’s water bottle to use as an ice brick.
  • If your child refuses to eat wholegrain or seed bread, make checkerboard sandwiches by taking one slice of white bread and another slice of brown low GI loaf, adding your favourite filling and slicing it into checkerboard blocks.
  • Remember to use spreads sparingly and opt for healthier options such as mashed avocado, hummus, nut butters and reduced-oil mayonnaise.

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