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The Easy Pleasure That Makes Kids Lose Their Minds

A balanced diet equals better overall health. It sounds so simple, doesn't it? By now we all know that putting healthy foods into our bodies means more energy, feeling better and even looking better.

And yet, it can still be a challenge.

The latest review of the research gives us one more reason to stock the pantry with healthy choices: Healthy eating promotes better health, including reducing symptoms of depression.

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The review, published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, includes the work of 18 researchers from around the world. The researchers found that specific nutrients can boost overall mental health. Many of the nutrients identified in the study can be found in a Mediterranean diet, including: Omega-3 fatty acids, complete proteins (eggs, poultry, soy), folate, vitamin D, zinc and iron.

New research can be mind-opening and help us view things through a different lens. If putting healthy foods into our diets helps boost mental health, why wouldn't we give it a try? I would caution, however, that diet alone does not replace therapy when coping with depression, anxiety and other diagnoses. But it just might help the overall treatment.

This research is specific to adults, but it's important to think about how diet can affect kids. Can the foods our children eat improve focus and mood? Can better diets help them live happier lives?

My daughter quizzed me about certain brands in the cereal aisle the other day. "Why don't you buy that cereal? Kids can buy it for snack at school every day." She had a box of Fruit Loops in her hand. We read the ingredients, discussed healthy vs. unhealthy ingredients, and talked about her thoughts on the matter. In the end, she wondered if the school should be selling string cheese instead.

Sugary cereals and highly processed snacks might taste great in the moment, and treats are good sometimes, but helping your children make connections between healthy foods and feeling happy, healthy and successful in school empowers your kids to make choices that work for them.

I generally let my kids pack their own snacks and, more often than not, she chooses cheese (Irish cheddar or Gruyère) and a plum. I've noticed that on the days she chooses fruit and cheese, her energy lasts longer and she seems more engaged. On the days she asks for cereal (even the whole grain organic kind), she burns out faster. Her body seems to need the fruit and protein combination.

When I stand back and think about the foods that actually fuel my kids, it changes everything. The question is, how do we make better choices to help our kids feel happy, energized and focused when it's just so very easy to get lost in the Goldfish generation? Here are a few ideas:

1. Make and freeze

Being a food allergy mom has its hidden blessings. Most processed snacks are off the table due to ominous food allergy warning labels, so I am a master (and highly efficient) baker. I'm not sure I would win any food competitions on reality TV or anything, but we do make our own granola, granola bars, scones, muffins and just about everything else.

Time consuming? Yes. Healthier option? Absolutely. The great thing about making your own snacks is that you can add protein from various sources and use healthy ingredients. I've learned that the time I put into it is worth it when I send my son off to school with an oatmeal peanut butter scone to refuel him at snack time.

2. Change the way you shop

I used to rely on lists for grocery shopping. When you go with a list you get exactly what you need without spending extra money on extra things. That makes good financial sense. But it's limiting. And it forces us to shop out of habit. "Oh, we're out of this, must buy more."

If we only ever buy what we know we like, how can we branch out and find new healthier options? Now I keep a list for the essentials like milk and eggs, but factor in extra time to shop for new healthy choices.

I know, for instance, that my local market stocks fresh produce on Tuesday mornings (that's also when they have the best sales on fruit), and my kids will try almost any fruit or vegetable. I take them with me, and we search the produce aisle first, looking for bright, inviting colors and discussing healthy choices. When we fill most of the basket with fresh produce, we are more likely to stay focused on healthy choices as we shop.

3. Teach your children

Empowering kids to make healthy choices, rather than simply overhauling their diets, leads to a lifestyle change.

Sugary cereals and highly processed snacks might taste great in the moment, and treats are good sometimes, but helping your children make connections between healthy foods and feeling happy, healthy and successful in school empowers your kids to make choices that work for them.

Have your kids make their own food pyramids. Instead of focusing of how much of each food they should eat each day, have them include foods that energize them, keep them healthy and make them feel calm and happy. Cutting and pasting pictures from food magazines makes this activity fun and might even inspire some new recipes and food combinations.

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We can't control the ups and downs that naturally occur during life, but we can choose to eat healthy foods that nourish our souls so that we are better prepared to handle those downs.

And we can teach our children to do the same.

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Image via Twenty20/Mari Orr

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