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MindCheck is the Weekly Wednesday Kids Mental Health series with Dr. Ray Pataracchia, N.D.   MindCheck provides in depth information on the orthomolecular approach to coping with mood and/or behavior disorders. The MindCheck Health Series is endorsed by the Mindful Network – ‘A Better Future for Children’s Mental Health’.


Nourished Minds – Healthy Lives

You are what you eat.  Kids that eat well will have a nourished mind and a healthy life.  Developing good eating habits early in life will go a long way.  I hope this blog proves useful from a practical perspective for busy working parents who while balancing life and career, strive hard to provide their kids with healthy meals.  By incorporating basic principles and simple recipe formats, you can spin off winner meals!



Kid Friendly Meals for Improved Mood and Behavior – Part One


Ray Pataracchia ND  ©  2013


Easy to do high protein, gluten-free, dairy-free recipes are ideal for kids for various optimal health reasons.  As a preamble, Part One of this blog will go over basic meal principles for preparation of kid’s meals that are healthy.

Part Two of this article will provide specific breakfast, lunch, dinner, and fun snack recipes.


Diet Principles to Keep in Mind


Protein, protein, protein … Fat, fat, fat

High protein and high fat foods vent away from fast carbohydrate pathways and allow greater and more sustained energy reserves for our child’s highly demanding developing brain.

Kid’s typically have fast metabolisms and burn calories quickly which means that they can handle fat; so including saturated fat from dairy sources (if they are not on a dairy-free regimen) or fat from non-dairy sources can be good.  Dairy based fat sources include butter, sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, cheddar and regular milk; non-dairy fat sources include avocado, bacon (turkey, chicken, pork), nuts, meat, and eggs.  High protein aspects (quality/quantity) are described below.

The 40/40/20 Rule

The basic naturopathic diet ratio of proteins to carbohydrates to fats is 40/40/20.

If you are to maintain 40% protein in your diet (remember neurotransmitters are most all protein-based), then you should aim for one-third of each meal plate as a high quality protein portion; meat or eggs are the highest quality protein but those who are averse to animal protein have other options (see vegetarian scenario below).  This one-third principle provides a good visual marker for the ideal portion of animal protein per meal.  Meat includes fish, poultry, lamb, and red meat (pork and beef); red meat needs to be limited in those with poor digestive function as it takes 3-4 days to pass through the gastro-intestinal tract.

Those with vegetarian restrictions are limited and need to make up for it by consuming more legumes (beans, nuts) and if they are willing, dairy or fish (I find that many ‘vegetarians’ are willing to occasionally rotate dairy and fish into their diet).  Separate supplementation of protein isolates in appropriate amino acid ratios may be needed for vegetarians.

The majority of the 20% fat portion of the diet can come from meat or eggs.  The remainder fat portion can come from plant based sources such as extra virgin olive oil, canola oil (for high heat cooking), alternative margarines, salad dressings, nuts, avocado’s, etcetera.  Dairy is also quite high in fat and can be implemented if tolerated (see ‘Don’t eat foods that make you sick’ below).

The 40% carbohydrate portion of your kid’s diet should dominate with complex carbohydrates of low glycemic load (e.g. brown rice versus white rice) versus simple sugar carbohydrates (white sugar, fructose, candy, pop, white flour, etc.).  Excess sugar triggers greater insulin releases that vent the liver’s metabolism in a direction of converting sugar into fat and storing it for a rainy day, not good.

‘Don’t eat foods that make you sick’

Gluten and dairy are the top food intolerances that we see in kid’s mental health; it is not uncommon to see profound responses in kids and adults that eliminate food intolerant items.  For a good write up on food’s influence on developing children, please read Dr Hoffer’s ABC of Natural Nutrition for Children with Learning Disabilities, Behavior Disorders, and Mental State Dysfunctions (Hoffer, A.  Kingston, Ontario.  Quarry Press Inc. 1999).

The end result of eating foods that make us sick is ‘leaky gut syndrome’ and the lack of nutrient absorption.  Leaky gut is that damaged state of absorption wherein metabolic byproducts of improperly digested matter pass readily into the bloodstream and exist as toxins (e.g. opioid class toxins) that disrupt physical and mental function.  Reactions elicited include immune responses such as atopy (eczema, rhinitis, conjunctivitis, asthma), physical symptoms such as ear infections, fatigue, headaches and, a plethora of mental symptoms/conditions such as ADD, OCD, behavior disruption, learning disability, brain fog, irritability, ODD, anxiety, depression, mania, insomnia, psychosis, and more.

Healthy diet, healthy immune system

A poor diet causes poor digestion and a weakened immune system that is inflamed.  The digestive tract has immune cells called Peyer’s patches that take on a major role in our body’s primary line of defense against foreign substances/pathogens.  So maintaining a good diet is the key to keeping colds and flus at bay.  Kid’s, especially during peak winter school months, need to have strong immune systems.  Immunoglobulin’s that launch immune attacks against foreign substances/pathogens (e.g. mal-absorbed gluten by-products, bacteria or viruses) are proteins so maintaining protein intake is essential to maintaining a healthy immune responses.  Chicken soup and other high quality protein sources are essential during winter months.

Avoid gastric irritants

Foods that are gastric irritants often result in poor digestion and therefore poor nutrient assimilation.  Gastric irritants can result in ulcer-like symptoms, heartburn, burping, nausea, vomiting, or bowel movement issues such as constipation, obstipation, diarrhea, diarrhea alternating with constipation, hemorrhoids, unformed stools, etcetera.  Everyone has a varying tolerance to gastric irritants but those with food allergies or other digestive compromises may be more susceptible to react to gastric irritants.  Examples of gastric irritants may include pepper, hot sauce, chili powder, spicy food, Psyllium, aspirin, over-the-counter drugs, coffee (includes decaffeinated), tea, pop with caffeine, cocoa, chocolate, acidic foods, nightshades (e.g. tomatoes), or any food that causes discomfort.

Maintain caloric intake

Loss of calories in developing children is not good, this equates with a mal-nourished state of nutrient depletion.  If you introduce any dietary change in your kid’s meal repertoire then it should be done whilst providing healthy alternatives without restricting calories.  Calorie restriction is often not desirable unless warranted specifically for overweight issues.

Avoid junk food

The standard North American diet often involves meals that contain are 60% carbohydrate.  Junk foods are fast carbohydrates that are either high in simple sugars, fat/grease, or flour (e.g. baked/farinaceous goods).  Junk food is also highly processed and often contains dyes, preservatives and/or other additives.  Often we see less expensive pre-packed kid’s snackers that are quite unhealthy.  Note that making a big deal of occasional junk food can backfire so it’s often best to introduce alternatives where possible but to allow sweets occasionally;  healthy moderation is the key and we have to trust that our kids will make the right decisions.  Fat or grease in junk food may be tolerated to some degree in kids with fast metabolisms.  Higher protein meals can be a big factor in limiting junk food consumption as sweet cravings are quite often curbed after switching to protein.


Practical Principles to Keep in Mind


Focus on healthy alternatives to junk food

If you clear all junk food from the house you make the move to control what your kid’s put in their mouths, but this must be done whilst providing equal and opposite healthy nutritious snack alternatives.  If the focus is on wholesome snacks alternatives that are fun, you will have more success.  Small bags of potato chips (without gluten ingredients), whole grain crackers (gluten/dairy–free), or cookies (gluten/dairy–free) are OK in moderation.  Also, having a ready supply of nuts and fruit (raspberries/strawberries/raisins/grapes/sliced fruit/blueberries) can be ideal for lunch snacks; everyday availability and repetition of nutritious snacks is the best tactic here.

With time, the goal is that our kids develop healthy awareness of the effect of food on their physical and mental state —  junk food, cane sugar, gluten, dairy, chemicals, preservatives, synthetic dyes, etcetera often have negative consequences that take time for kids to recognize.  Elimination-reintroduction techniques can help build immune awareness.

Prepare a 2 Week Schedule

Many Mom’s comment that kids get bored if they eat the same thing every week so it’s best to have a ready 2 week arsenal of meal choices.  Imagine having a list of 14 dinner, 14 lunch, 14 breakfast, and 14 snack options at the ready.  Cross-over of recipes will allow you to use many of the ingredients of one recipe for another.  Shopping with a 2 week plan in mind will provide variety and better guarantee kid compliance.  Under this scenario, fresh food items may need to be purchased as needed but the main scaffold of ingredients that store well can be purchased in advance.  Shopping for specific meal recipes is also less costly and avoids waste.

Make the most of your weekends

Take the time on the weekend to shop and prepare meals in advance so they can be stored and used as needed throughout the week.   For example, prepare soups and casseroles on Sunday.   Prepare cut vegetables and fruits, and ready your salad greens.

Start the day off right

Eat a healthy breakfast, the most important meal of the day.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the breakfast meal is the most important meal because it is then (between 7 to 11 a.m.) that the energy channels of the body are the most receptive to food assimilation.

KISS Theory

Within five minutes we should be able to zip together a nutritious meal.  How is this possible?  Have everything in its place – to prepare kids breakfast and lunch meals in the morning you require a ready ‘mise en place’, that is, a set up that prevents you from stopping and assembling individual recipe items/ingredients.  If you shop early on Sunday morning and prepare things Sunday night you will be set for the week; rice, quinoa, roast chicken, cut up vegetables, etcetera.  When possible, use leftovers – more on this in the recipe section (Part Two).  When possible, freezing ingredients or meals in advance can be helpful – items can be prepared and stored in the freezer Sunday night ready for the work week.

Maximize variety but don’t experiment during the work week

Kids often get bored eating the same old same old and eating a variety of foods can help keep them captivated, that is, so long as they are eating what they like.  By contrast, it is also important to stick to recipes and foods that you know your kid’s like and not trying something new during your work week (save that for the weekend).

Use Stainless Steel Containers and High-Quality Compartmentalized Glass or Plastic Storage Containers

This is a clean neat way to be organized and keep the hot hot and the cold cold.  Thermos®, Lunchbots®, or other high-quality vacuum flasks, and compartmentalized bento-style storage containers are good investments, ones that kids will get their use of.  Hot meals aid digestion and thereby have greater nutrient value.

No Electronics 15 minutes Before Meals

Often we see kids incorporating TV or electronics into their morning routine but this makes it difficult to build appetite and digest.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the visual effort expended at mealtime concurrently depletes ‘spleen/stomach’ energy pathways, energy pathways that interconnect the digestive and visual organs (i.e. the stomach, intestines, and eyes).  It’s best to avoid TV or electronics 15-30 minutes before mealtime.

Keep it fun

Assembly lines are great – kids can make their own fruit mix, fruit skewers, or their own trail mix – have an assembly line setting up (‘mise en place’) ready to go.  Involvement and participation helps with eating compliance.  Kids that show an interest in cooking should be complimented.

Garnishing meals can be left as a thing for your kid’s to do – it gets them involved and aids in eating compliance.  Adding chopped parsley to a soup, grated Romano to a rice dish, cranberries or pine nuts to a salad, or any other garnish as the final cooking step.

Kids like visual appeal so be creative.  Presenting food is an art on its own and this can be taken to various levels.  Smiley faces on eggs can be made with ketchup, gluten-free hot dogs can be quartered length wise on both ends to form ‘spider-dogs’, etcetera.