Change Your Food, Change Your Mood
by Fara Murata
When your children are difficult to manage and you don’t have the energy to deal with them, consider what you and your family are eating. The problem could simply be your diet. Since we live such fast-paced lives, we often grab quick, convenient food that could be causing mood and behavior problems for us and our children.
When we’re busy, we find food that fits our on-the-go lifestyle. We’re grabbing fast food, boxed food and any other kind of pre-made food we can find. When we’re running constantly, the food we eat needs to be quick and easy. Most of us try to find the healthiest choices possible, such as apples instead of fries, or juice instead of soda. But we need healthy food that we can eat on the run.
An easy formula to remember is “3x3” -- three foods (protein, fruit and vegetables) -- three times daily. Protein is something most people miss in their breakfast and don’t eat enough of throughout the day. Fruit is easier to eat at breakfast, but Pop-Tarts don’t count. Vegetables are difficult to get children to eat and are probably only consumed at dinner.
So how can following the 3x3 plan help us eat healthier? Eating protein at breakfast increases the feel-good chemical in our brain called serotonin and gives us a good start for the day. Eating protein throughout the day, every three to four hours, is important to sustain serotonin. Fruits and vegetables will increase and support energy and other brain chemicals to help us cope and stabilize our mood.
The easiest way to make this change in your lifestyle is to stop and think before you eat a meal or snack. Ask yourself, did I eat my protein or fruit yet? Have I had my vegetables? If the answer is no, then stop and eat one of these things before you reach for other food. If your child wants cookies for a snack, then have them eat some turkey rolled up in cheese or half an apple with peanut butter first, then let them eat the cookies.
Understanding the connection between food and mood will not only change how your family eats, but also will decrease the meltdowns and tantrums. Children know when parents are tired and stressed, and that’s when they’ll push our buttons. Preparing food ahead of time, doubling dinners for leftovers and snacks, keeping protein available with lean lunch meats, cheeses, Greek yogurt and nuts will help your family make good food choices. Good food equals good mood.
Snacks on the Go:
Your kids will love to help make and eat these yummy snacks:
- Celery with peanut butter and raisins
- Larabars (fruit and nuts with no preservatives)
- Rolled up turkey with cream cheese and thin slices of celery or carrots in the middle
- Beef jerky/turkey jerky
- Peanut butter on whole grain crackers
- Whole grain cereal with dried fruit and nuts
- Hard-boiled eggs
Fara Murata has worked for 20 years as a social worker and focuses her private practice in Colorado on nutrition to help clients with behavioral and mental health issues. She’s the mother of two and grandmother of three.