Better Summer Sleep & Eats

Summer is in full swing – are you enjoying it as much as you should be? Not if your kids are giving you a hard time about food and sleep! That’s why we’ve invited two Chicago superstars (and FITL gurus!), Lara Field of FEED and Janeen Hayward of swellbeing, to share the scoop on healthy eating and sleep habits. Take a look!

Question:

How important is breakfast? My child won’t eat in the morning!

Lara Field’s Response:

Breakfast really is THE most important meal of the day, because it kicks the metabolism into gear for the day’s activities and helps prevent us from overeating later on.  The longer we “starve,” the slower our metabolism becomes, and our bodies become inefficient burners.  This starvation also causes us to burn alternative sources of energy in our bodies.  Instead of carbohydrates, we start breaking-down proteins and fats for fuel, which is not our brain’s preferred source of energy.  This is especially important in kids, who need healthy and abundant fuel to learn and grow.

Those who decide to hold-off eating until lunchtime, when they are extremely hungry, are more likely to make poor choices out of sheer desperation.  And research shows parents who are breakfast-skippers are more likely to have kids who skip breakfast as well.  Bottom line: you and your kids should just eat something in the morning.  You’ll feel better, you’ll be healthier, and seeing your kids’ smiles around the table is a fantastic way to start the day.

Examples of lighter breakfast choices: 6 oz. Greek yogurt, a fiber-filled granola bar, a small apple, or a tablespoon of peanut butter.

Janeen Hayward’s Response:

Breakfast is vital!  Food and sleep are your child’s two main sources of energy for the day. Oftentimes, children who don’t eat when they start the day are more prone to behavioral problems, such as tantrums or difficulty focusing.  This can translate to having a harder time getting along with others or enjoying play, which as we know is the “work” of young children.

Children who don’t eat breakfast often complain of hunger and are more likely to snack on foods that are less healthy and higher in sugar, which offers only a short term boost in energy. If your child is regularly resisting food in the morning, here are a couple of tips that have been proven to help:

1. Let your child make some choices about what to eat (healthy choices, of course) and get him/her involved in the preparation and cooking when appropriate.  It will be messier and slower, but the payoff is tremendous!

2. Sit down and eat with your children.  Make meal time fun and social, so your children look forward to it as a time when you connect with one another.

3. Do NOT focus on how much your child is eating.  Micro-managing meals and intake quickly devolves into power struggles around food, which only makes your child less likely to eat well and more likely to seek control through food.

Question:

Does sugar really make it harder to fall and stay asleep? Do I avoid dessert entirely for my tots?

Lara Field’s Response:

This is a great question for me, a lover of anything sweet (how I love Sweet Mandy B’s!),  but also one who practices what I preach.

From a nutritional perspective, sweets contain nothing redeemable.  Let me repeat that: nothing.  They aren’t found on My Plate (www.choosemyplate.gov), and they don’t provide our bodies with any nutritional benefits.  However, they do affect our brain in a positive way, by making us feel good.  What should you do if you crave sweets like I do?  Consume them in moderation, because depriving ourselves of sweet treats just makes it more difficult to function without them.  And trying to completely remove those tasty pleasures may have the opposite effect in the end, with us sneaking into the pantry late at night and taking a nose dive into the cookie jar.

For kids, just like for grown-ups, there is nothing nutritionally beneficial in decadent desserts.  I’d love to say avoid them, but for most of us this is simply not a realistic option.  Again, moderation is key, since our job as parents is to balance the foods our kids NEED with the foods they are ingesting.  Offering desserts with every meal is unnecessary.  Instead, rotate decadent desserts with healthy ones, so your children also associate fruits, low-fat dairy and healthy grains with end-of-meal delights.

And don’t forget: rewarding our kids with desserts is strongly discouraged.  Choose non-food items instead to prevent food-focused incentives.

Janeen Hayward’s Response:

Children generally get a little boost of energy from a sugary treat shortly after consumption.  As long as children aren’t eating dessert on their way to bed, it is unlikely to impact a child’s ability to go to sleep.  That said, I recommend that children finish eating dinner and desserts at least one hour before going to bed so their bodies have some time to begin digesting the food and they can have a successful trip to the potty before heading off to sleep.

Question:

Are there any sleep-inducing foods you can recommend? Any that just encourage deeper, sounder sleep?

Lara Field’s Response:

Tryptophan, an amino acid which has been shown to benefit mood and regulate appetite, may also assist in sleep. Frequently joked about around Thanksgiving, tryptophan is not only present in turkey, but also is found in high levels in:

Chicken breast

Yellowfin tuna

Edamame (soybeans)

Beef tenderloin

Lamb loin

Halibut

Shrimp

Salmon

Snapper

For our children, ensuring that they are properly hydrated and fed well-balanced meals is key.  By balancing sweet consumption with whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits & veggies, lean meats and protein alternatives, you’re helping your tots build healthy bodies and preparing them for a future filled with yummy and nutritious foods.

Janeen Hayward’s Response:

I love this question. I think it gets at the heart of one of the greatest misconceptions around sleep, which is that food consumption somehow determines sleep length and/or quality.  While there are some foods that make us feel more sleepy, the truth of the matter is that once children eclipse the six-month milestone, the brain is ultimately what determines sleep length and quality.  That is to say that a child will not awaken at night to eat unless they have been responded to with a feeding.  And while they will often happily eat, they do not need to eat at night any longer.  They are perfectly capable of getting all of their calories during the daytime.

Enjoy the rest of summer!

 


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