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Improving children’s behaviour with diet

Improving children's behaviour with diet

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You are what you eat. If the saying is to be believed then in theory giving children a good balanced diet should translate into good, balanced behaviour. But how much truth is there in the idea that diet can affect kids’ behaviour?

Research published by the School Food Trust in 2009 suggested that primary school pupils did engage better in class after a healthy lunch. Pupils from six schools in Sheffield took part in the study, which introduced new lunch menus and examined the behaviour and concentration of the children involved over two six-week blocks. Following the changes, pupils were 3.4 times more likely to be on task during teacher-led lessons.

No definitive research on the link between diet and children’s behaviour has yet been published. However, studies have repeatedly suggested that improving one can have a positive affect on the other so it’s definitely worth trying.


They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that’s just as valid for kids as it is for adults. Children going to school without having eaten will struggle to concentrate and won’t have the same energy levels as their peers. So before they head out the door, encourage your children to eat a healthy breakfast and they’ll be more likely to engage in their learning.


Omega-3 is important in helping signals go back and forth from the brain to the body. It has also been linked to reducing mood swings and improving concentration and learning ability. Therefore, kids should be encouraged to get enough of the fatty acid in their diet. Good sources of omega-3 include oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds and eggs that have been enriched with omega-3.


It is relatively common for children to have low levels of iron in their bodies. This can have an affect on mood and concentration. Red meat is a great source of iron, which can also be found in leafy greens, beans and lentils as well as fortified breakfast cereals.


Improving children's behaviour with dietIn recent years there has been much in the news about the effects of additives on children’s behaviour. Additives are usually put into food to increase shelf life, enhance flavour or improve colour. Many are completely fine but there are some which studies have shown to have a detrimental affect on kids’ behaviour and learning. These include sodium benzoate (E211), tartrazine (E102), quinoline yellow (E104), sunset yellow (E110), allura red (E129) and carmosine (E122), all of which can contribute to poor concentration.

Excluding foods

If you notice your child’s behaviour changes whenever they eat a certain food, it might be worth excluding that food from their diet for a while to see if it makes a difference. Be aware that the ingredient in question may be used in other foods so read labels to make sure that you are avoiding it altogether. If you are excluding something drastic, such as dairy or wheat from your child’s diet, then it’s best to talk to a nutritionist first.

Health benefits

Whether or not diet does have an effect on children’s behaviour and their ability to learn, there are plenty of other benefits to be had from providing them with a healthy balanced diet. Even if you do not find any changes in your child’s behaviour when you alter their eating habits, it’s highly likely that you won’t regret the decision.






About Maria Brett

About Maria Brett

Maria is a freelance writer with over 10 years' experience producing content for a variety of publications and websites. When not working or looking after her two gorgeous sons, she can usually be found playing flugelhorn in a brass band, helping out at her local hospital radio station, shouting at the television while watching Formula 1, at the cinema or plonked on the couch with a cold glass of wine.

Website: Maria Brett

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