Adjusting your child’s diet could be the secret to a more peaceful life with the tantrums, says nutritionist Louise Pyne
Think about the last time your tummy started to grumble. At the same time you probably experienced an energy lull, mood changes, and you might have even felt shaky and lightheaded – so it makes perfect sense that when your child is hungry, her behaviour changes, too. In children, hunger is often manifested as temper tantrums, and while they are too young to realise why they’re flipping out, it’s down to you to read the tell-tale signs. Here’s my guide to help maximise your child’s diet and minimise any meltdowns at the same time:
B is for blood glucose balance
Of course, there are lots of reasons why toddlers have tantrums. Frustration, boredom and difficulty communicating often lurk behind meltdown patterns, but controlling her blood glucose levels though a balanced diet leads to a calmer child. When the carbohydrate part of food is digested it enters your child’s bloodstream as glucose, and the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin’s job is to transport glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells, where it can be used for energy or storage. As cells absorb this glucose, levels begin to drop and so the liver starts producing a hormone called glucagon, which releases stored glucose into the bloodstream so we always have a steady supply. When your little one eats foods high in simple carbs or sugar (think cakes, biscuits or white bread), they are broken down quickly, causing a sharp rise in blood sugar levels, whereas complex carbohydrates release glucose more slowly into the bloodstream.
Look for cues
Your child may give you clues when she’s about to lose her cool, so keep a close eye on her behaviour, and if she starts to shows signs of anger, frustration and even anxiety, offer her a healthy snack. Keep a tantrum diary for two weeks to see if you can trace any patterns that might be linked to her diet. You may notice that she exhibits flare-ups when she eats certain foods, or possibly at specific times of the day.
Offer regular snacks
It’s important that your child eats little and often. As a general rule this should be every two to three hours, however, it’s not only timing that’s important but also the choice of snack. Choose the wrong types of foods and her inner monster is more likely to make an appearance! Carbs on their own increase insulin levels, while protein raises stress levels, however combining these two macronutrients provides the perfect food match as together they counteract blood glucose surges. (See our list, left, for healthy snack ideas).
Fill her up with fibre
Foods like brown bread, wholemeal pasta and fruit (with the skin on), will offer an energy boost and a dose of fibre. Since fibre doesn’t rely on insulin to be digested it won’t result in blood sugar peaks and will keep your child feeling fuller for longer.
Refill the beaker
Thirst is often mistaken for hunger so it’s just as crucial to ensure your child fills up on liquids as well as offering her snacks at regular intervals. And when it comes to fluids, water always wins. Adequate H2O will give her the energy she needs while nourishing her body’s cells so they function optimally, and keep her bowels working well.
There are no official guidelines on water intake for toddlers but making sure she takes regular sips throughout the day should help her stay hydrated. If she refuses plain water, invest in a bottle infuser, which allows you to flavour water with her favourite fruit. Avoid sugar bombs like fruit juice and squash. Most varieties are crammed with the sweet stuff and contain zero fibre, which sends blood sugar levels skyrocketing. Instead, you can also make smoothies with full-fat milk and plenty of low-sugar fruits like blueberries and raspberries.
Always feed her full-fat dairy
Although NHS guidelines state that you can swap to semi-skimmed products once your child reaches two years old, sticking to full-fat products will give her the calories she needs to fuel her activities.
Furthermore, the fatty acids contained in full-fat products will help your toddler feel more satisfied sooner and for longer. Avoid low-fat foods like diet yogurts – they usually contain sugar, which will play with her blood glucose levels, and always make sure you read the ingredients list.
Healthy snacks – Keep energy levels high with these bite-sized meals
Oatcakes with cottage cheese
Oatcakes are high in energising B-vitamins as well complex carbohydrates. Cottage cheese is rich in protein and has a soft texture that your child will love. Spread one tablespoon of cottage cheese on two oatcakes and top with cucumber slices.
Apple with almond butter
Apples are low in sugar while high in fibre, and almond butter is a good source of protein. Cut an apple into slices and spread a layer of smooth almond butter on top for tasty blood glucose balancing snack.
Mashed banana with flaxseed on wholemeal toast
The riper the banana, the higher the sugar content, so opt for yellow skinned bananas over ones that have already turned brown. Mash a small banana and stir through half a teaspoon of ground flaxseed powder for a protein hit. Spread the mixture onto a slice of wholemeal toast.