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Barnes: Celebrate with some specific foods in mind

dfox • Dec 2, 2015 at 6:00 PM

The foods we eat impact the way we feel and function in our everyday life, this is especially important in the educational setting. According to Vanderbilt our emotions affect our eating habits. The connection between food and emotions often are formed in “early childhood experiences” (Buck, 2013). For parents it is important to help children establish preferences for healthy foods so that if they develop emotional eating habits, they are selecting healthier options. Another study, conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, wrote that “food affect powerful mood-modifying brain chemicals” and that there are two main neurotransmitters that affect our minds.

The first is “serotonin…enhances calmness, improves mood and lessens depression” (Cleveland Clinic) and “dopamine and norepinephrine that enhances mental concentration and alertness” (Cleveland Clinic). These two aspects affect our children’s classroom behaviors by increasing their ability to sit without getting restless as quickly and retain the information teachers are presenting our youth.

Having the ability to retain information will increase test scores and help boost children’s. These two neurotransmitters are found in carbohydrates and foods high in protein. So when we’re looking for ways to celebrate the holidays and special events, try some of these ideas to not only bring the celebration but to also keep the children functioning well in their academics.

• Birthday bash – have an ice cream party but instead of bringing the usual toppings, bring fresh fruits to flavor the ice cream with. Carbs will be found in the cones and regular toppings, the extra protein is hiding in the fresh fruits.

• Turkey Time –thanksgiving and fall festivities are when pumpkins, squashes and many other veggies are available. Roasting veggies changes their flavors and adds a new vegetable to their plate. Make the vegetables into crispy chips, dippable sticks or spice things up with a pumpkin pie (instead of cupcakes). Pastas are often used as carbs; try replacing pastas with a spaghetti squash for the starch that will give you healthy energy.

• Bring on the luck – time to celebrate spring time and often the color green is used for celebration! For a fun activity with your children, set up a “green buffet” with the parents in the classroom and have each family bring their favorite healthy green snack to share with the classroom. Children can then vote on which was their favorite. Many green fruits and veggies provide a lot of protein. Turn them into a fruit pizza for that zip of energy from the carbohydrates.

• Winter chills – wintertime is always filled with many holidays! From Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Day, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day and more, children are having celebrations at their schools. Bring some healthy choices into the holiday by providing a frozen treat – blend fruits and freeze for a fruity popsicle, dip fresh veggies into a hot chicken (to get that protein in) dip or fruits in a dark chocolate dip.

• Heritage Carnival – to celebrate the diversity of the classroom have the different families bring food that is special to their culture or lifestyle. Many cultures eat more rice, beans, fruits, vegetables and fish than we do. These are all healthy ways to incorporate food into the classroom without having to include all the sweets. Rice, tortillas, beans and greens provide a lot of proteins and carbs and when adding a bit of ethnic flair, we can show children a variety of ways to eat these healthy foods.

Being able to bring cultures together, give children a new experience and include food in the celebration provides the fun with the health that parents are wanting to supply for their children. It’s also important to remember that sweets and special goodies are not a bad thing, but moderation is the key.

As parents, we want to make sure our children are getting a diverse experience when it comes to classroom celebrations. Most classrooms depend on the parents to supply the goodies for these festivities, so the responsibility of keeping our children healthy turns to us when it comes to special events. Make the fun twice as good when we add foods that will stimulate growth and development!

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state and provides equal opportunities in all programming and employment. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.

For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes can be reached at sbarnes@utk.edu or 615-444-9584.

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