Nutrition for home-schooled kids: Expert advice to parents

by The Health Sciences Academy — Get free science updates here.

Now that children are being home-schooled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic…

Parents and families may be seeking your expert nutritional advice.

If you’re taking our Advanced Child and Brain Development Nutritional Advisor certification, this is your time to shine!

In addition to the valuable resources found in the certification, we’ve put together some answers to common questions that parents may ask you during this time…

Are there specific foods I should be feeding my children to ensure they maintain good levels of energy, immunity, and brain power?

There’s no single food that, in isolation, can have miraculous effects on a child’s energy, immunity, or intellectual capacity.

Nutrients work synergistically, so boys and girls need a variety of foods.

My kids are hyperactive except when it comes to doing schoolwork, they suddenly become lethargic… how can I prevent this?

When it comes to energy management, a high intake of sugary foods and drinks can give a child a sudden ‘high’, followed by an energy dip, usually associated with feeling more lethargic and having a lower capacity to concentrate.

So, the best way to manage this is through glycaemic control – that is, the consumption of slow sugar-releasing foods or meals.

Therefore, instead of sugary breakfast cereals or toast with jam and butter, lower glycaemic options that help release energy more slowly and more gradually include:

  • Wholegrain toast with poached eggs or peanut butter (provided there’s no allergy)
  • Steel-cut porridge oats sweetened with fresh fruit like banana or apple
  • Natural yogurt with berries or coconut shavings

My child doesn’t seem to remember what they learned yesterday from their schoolwork… can food help?

Besides lack of concentration, a child’s learning capacity can be affected by poor memory.

In addition to essential vitamins B5, B1, B12, and C, a wide range of nutritional compounds involved in memory function continue to be heavily researched.

These include phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylserine, dimethylaminoethanol, and pyroglutamate, which can be made by the body from nutritional precursors found in foods like eggs, soya lecithin granules, and oily fish.

Is it true that Omega 3 helps with a child’s intellectual capacity?

Yes, it’s true. However…

While many parents are supplementing their children with Omega 3 believing it helps with cognition, it’s worth noting that the type of Omega 3 consumed matters.

The Omega 3 family is a big one.

Some Omega 3s are short-chained, and others are long-chained.

Short-chain Omega 3s like ALA are found in most plant foods and are abundant in flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds.

But the types of Omega 3 the brain needs are the long-chained ones, including EPA and DHA, primarily found in animal foods like egg yolks, full-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), and oily fish.

Although the body can convert the short-chain Omega 3s into long-chain EPA and DHA, this conversion process is very inefficient.

Therefore, foods and supplementation with EPA and DHA tend to outperform ALA.

For example, a well-known large-scale study involving 4,154 children aged 6 to 16 showed a correlation between their direct intake of long-chain Omega 3 (DHA) and cognitive performance, with higher test scores in both male and female children.

With the novel coronavirus going around, is there anything I can do to help my children’s immune system remain strong?

Besides good quality sleep, hydration, and physical activity, nutrition plays an important role when it comes to supporting the immune system of a child, which is not yet fully evolved and still developing.

For example…

A deficiency in all essential amino acids that a child needs can impact not just their attention, memory, and mood, but also their immune system.

Foods of animal origin like fish, chicken, eggs, yogurt, and cottage cheese provide all essential amino acids.

However, a vegan diet is more problematic for a child in this respect.

This is because, unlike animal sources of protein, plant sources of protein may not contain all of the essential amino acids individually. In other words, no single plant food contains all essential amino acids.

That’s why we need to ensure a vegan boy or girl gets all essential amino acids from a variety of plant foods, including leafy greens, root vegetables, seeds, beans, lentils, and grains like quinoa, oats and rice.

Which other nutrients might help support a child’s immune system?

We’ve developed a comprehensive Guide on Nutrition for Immune Support, but here are some quick guidelines:

Some essential micronutrients may be used and depleted faster when the immune system is fighting a viral infection, in particular vitamins C, D, and A, and minerals like zinc, iron, and selenium.

Therefore, upping a child’s intake of fresh produce like fruits, vegetables, herbs, legumes, grains like rice, quinoa and oats, and seeds can be very helpful.

Incorporating prebiotics can be helpful, too. In particular fermentable fibre, which feeds ‘good’ gut bacteria (from grains like oats, allium vegetables like onions, and fruits like bananas), as well as probiotic-rich foods such as fermented vegetables and fermented dairy like yogurt and cottage cheese.

Additionally, the body derives a number of metabolites from the Omega 3s EPA and DHA, which have critical immune-regulatory functions.

These immune-mediating metabolites derived from EPA and DHA include prostaglandins, leukotrienes, thromboxanes, maresins, protectins, and resolvins.

So, EPA and DHA aren’t just essential to the child’s brain, but also their developing immune system.

Would love to help little boys and girls with their nutrition?

If so, and you’d like to learn all about it, consider the Advanced Child and Brain Development Nutritional Advisor certification.

What is it all about?

This 70-unit certification will help you learn about the effects of nutrition on physical, emotional and intellectual development in children.

Not only does this give you a unique skill to add to your practice, you’ll also have the ability to aid a larger client base and expand your knowledge in useful and marketable ways.

Children who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, and additional differences can require special nutritional insight.

Having this certification gives you the tools you need to make an impact on families, schools, sports clubs, and the food industry as a whole!

Excited to see more?

You can download the full PDF curriculum here.

Alex Ruani

Chief Science Educator at The Health Sciences Academy and Doctoral Researcher on Nutrition Science Education at University College London

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Plant-based eating appeal is on the rise, with personal and planetary health being the key motivators. More of us just seem to want a healthier planet whilst feeling healthier ourselves.

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