Back to school…a time of excitement for kids to see their friends, meet their teachers, get new school supplies. So fun! But not for every kid. For some kids, September is a really stressful time. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns for children, affecting upwards of 20% of children and adolescents.
Some of the general symptoms of anxiety that are present in kids include:
- excessive fear and worrying about family, school, friends, or activities
- worrying about things before they happen
- low confidence and self-esteem
- physical symptoms such as stomach ache, headache, muscle aches, or tension
- feelings of fatigue and restlessness
- changes in appetite
- issues concentrating
- feeling irritable and an inability to relax
- trouble sleeping and having nightmares
- fear of making mistakes or being embarrassed
As a Certified Integrative Nutritionist, and I can make recommendations for foods that might help with anxiety and the associated symptoms your child may be experiencing, or support them in not developing symptoms to start. If you suspect your child has anxiety or another mental health concern, speak with their pediatrician as a first step and consider speaking with a counsellor to help.
Certain nutrients help the brain function at its best for kids:
- Zinc interacts with an important anti-anxiety chemical in the brain called GABA. Having zinc in your child’s system prevents overstimulation in the brain by certain neurotransmitters. This means your child will naturally become more relaxed, by slowing down their breathing and heart rate.
- Iron will support behaviour and learning outcomes in children, and in turn help them focus at the task at hand. A deficiency in it has been associated with increased anxiety and social problems in kids.
- Vitamin B6 helps create GABA and serotonin, our feel-good hormone, in turn reducing anxiety symptoms.
- Probiotic foods and supplements increase the good bacteria in the digestive system. When a child’s gut flora (aka good bacteria in the digestive system) is increased, their anxiety levels can go down. There is a strong link between the brain and the digestive system, constantly sending signals back and forth when a child’s stomach or intestinal track is in distress. This distress in the digestive system can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress or depression. To dive into this topic deeper, check out my 30 Days to Heal Your Gut program HERE.
So how, as parents and caregivers, can we help our kids thrive through food?
Take a quality multi-vitamin. My recommendation is the Smarty Pants Multivitamin & Omega 3 Fish Oil. I love it because the added fish oil can help reduce anxiety in kids. A quality multi is really important to ensure the vitamins and minerals that are in it are absorbed by your child’s body.
Take a probiotic. I would suggest either the Garden of Life Kids chewable or the Renew Life Kids Probiotic. Both are excellent options and can make a big difference in immunity health, digestive health, and in turn can help with symptoms related to anxiety.
What is important to remember is that supplements are just that – supplements, meaning they are to supplement a healthy diet. A handful of vitamins in the morning doesn’t mean your child should go hog wild with food choices for the day. Excessive fast food and sugar intake are linked to anxiety. The ups and downs of your child’s blood sugar can cause panic attacks, sleep issues and anxiety symptoms.
What DO we want our kids to eat?
My normal ‘grocery list’ for all families is fairly obvious – lots of fruits and veggies, healthy fats like nuts, avocado and high fat Greek yogurt, beans and legumes, fish and seafood. Specifically for kids with anxiety, here are a few suggestions:
- Foods high in Zinc
- Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils & beans
- Seeds such as hemp, pumpkin, or sesame
- Nuts such as cashews and almonds
- Dairy such as cheese or plain yogurt
- Whole grains such as rice, oats or quinoa
- Dark chocolate
- Sweet potato
- Foods high in Iron
- Repeat on the legumes
- Dark Chocolate again for the win
- Foods high in B6
- Lean Chicken Breasts
- Sweet Potato
- Pistachio Nuts
- Probiotic Foods
Here are some examples of foods that are great for digestive health that are easy to pack in a lunch box:
- High fat Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Sourdough bread