St. Albert and Sturgeon County parents can tune into a free talk next week on how lunch can help their kids’ mental health.
Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools and Alberta Health Services have planned a free online workshop Dec. 3 on how nutrition affects student mental health.
Running the workshop is Lalitha Taylor, a registered dietician in Edmonton and past national spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a heap of new mental stress on youths, who may have to flip in and out of in-person classes or stay apart from friends or grandparents due to health restrictions, Taylor said. That makes it all the more important for parents to find new ways to bolster their resilience.
Nutrition affects our mental health through our brains, which need certain nutrients to make neurotransmitters function properly, Taylor said.
“If we’re not getting enough of our carbohydrates, proteins, essential fats and certain vitamins, this can affect brain chemistry,” she said, which can worsen stress, anxiety and bad moods.
Food can also be a comfort mechanism, with people reaching for salty chips or alcohol whenever they’re feeling down, Taylor continued. This in itself isn’t a problem – it only becomes an issue when those foods start to displace the nutrients our brains and bodies need.
“There really is no ‘good’ food and there is no ‘bad’ food. Food is food.”
More than just salad
Taylor said her workshop would serve as a primer on nutrition and what you should include in your kids’ meals to set them up for school and life.
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive. Taylor said frozen fruits and vegetables are effective, inexpensive options for healthy eating, as were canned salmon and tuna.
“Meat is really expensive,” Taylor said, and it’s not the only way to get your protein.
Sprouted grain bread, green peas, and even cow’s milk were all great ways to add protein to your meals, Taylor said. You can also try a vegetarian chili or other meatless meal once a week.
Taylor has a few suggestions for parents with picky eaters.
Avoid using food as a reward or punishment – if you tell your kid they won’t get dessert until they finish their broccoli, the kid will see broccoli as an obstacle to what they want and learn to hate it.
Do act as a role model, she continued. If you peel, serve and eat apples with your child, and they can see everyone at the kitchen table eating those lima beans, they will be more likely to eat more of those fruits and vegetables.
Working with food can give you an emotional boost and an outlet for your creativity, Taylor said. You can bond with your kid and make them more likely to finish their lunch if you let them help pack it, for example, and help them build confidence and life skills by letting them cook dinner.
Taylor also encourages parents to support school nutrition programs, many of which have been struggling during the pandemic.
The Healthy BobKats program at Bertha Kennedy Catholic is continuing to offer students healthy snacks and nutrition tips this fall with the support of parents, although they had to switch to pre-packaged meals from their usual veggie trays for pandemic safety reasons, said teacher advisor Karen Armitage. The snacks keep students focused in class and show them healthy diets are about more than just salads.
“You always hear that saying: healthy bodies, healthy minds,” Armitage said.
The free talk runs from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Visit bit.ly/3lewkwx to register.