A sulky pout or the occasional tantrum are normal occurrences in young children, but consistent moodiness can signify a serious problem. Examining your child's diet could reveal unhealthy eating patterns that exacerbate underlying issues. Adding more vegetables and fruits, maintaining a balanced diet and swapping out artificially flavored foods for natural ingredients not only builds good nutrition habits but may also even out mood swings in children.
The Meat of the Matter
Protein gives children plenty of energy to make it through the day, and protein-rich snacks can stabilize blood sugar and reduce mood swings. Lean proteins are the healthiest, so tuck slices of turkey and chicken breast in a plastic bag for a mid-morning snack. Fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which boost brain function and balance uneven moods. Family favorites like battered fish fillets, grilled shrimp kebabs and tuna noodle casserole are excellent ways to boost omega-3 fatty acid consumption, which leads to sunnier dispositions all around. For a lunch box snack, a small cup of tuna salad and some whole-grain crackers can perk up a slump during the school day. If your child is a picky eater, make these protein-filled meals more appealing by adding flavors he loves. For example, provide ketchup or ranch dressing for dipping the fish fillets and shrimp kebabs. Or, make the tuna salad with creamy salad dressing in place of the traditional mayo.
Many fruits and vegetables are proven mood boosters, but increasing your child's consumption of these mood-boosting powerhouses can be a challenge. Dark green vegetables like broccoli and spinach produce folic acid, which produces mood-brightening serotonin. Tomatoes, pineapple and bananas are rich in serotonin, which is known to brighten moods, but in order for serotonin-rich foods to be successful, they must be paired with foods that contain tryptophan. Turkey, egg yolks, beans and other protein sources are high in tryptophan, so try spaghetti with ground turkey meatballs and tomato sauce, or a bowl of hearty chili for a serotonin-boosting meal. Steamed broccoli, grilled fish or chicken and wild rice make a quick meal high in serotonin and tryptophan that can be put together easily on a busy weeknight. Make extra and mix the leftovers with a creamy salad dressing for lunch the next day.
Food Allergy Flare-Ups
What might be construed as moodiness in small children can actually be the sign of a food allergy. When small children don't feel well, their discomfort can be expressed through a desire to sleep, lack of interest in activities, crying and snappish behavior. Look carefully at what children have been eating and eliminate foods that may be causing an allergic reaction. Peanuts, shellfish, strawberries, dairy products and whole grains are common triggers for food allergies. Remove them, one at a time, from your child's diet for a period of 10 days to see if there is a marked improvement in the child's mood. Consult a pediatrician or physician before beginning any food allergy tests.
Foods that are free of chemicals can significantly stabilize children's moods. Common preservatives and additives like sodium benzoate and food colorings can cause children to feel jittery, emotionally sensitive, snappy and unable to concentrate. If his diet includes lots of processed packaged foods, slowly eliminate them from his diet and substitute fresh options instead. Swap out packaged fruit snacks with a cup of fresh berries or homemade trail mix featuring nuts, dried cranberries and whole-grain, unsweetened cereal. Change brightly dyed fruit drinks or sugary sodas for bottled water or organic fruit juice that has no added sugars or dyes.
- WebMD; Foods to Help You Feel Better; Elaine Magee
- Nutrition Wonderland; Understanding Our Bodies - Serotonin, the Connection Between Mood and Food; Christine Wilcox; June 24, 2009
- "Healthy Food for Happy Kids"; Suzannah Olivier; 2004
- "Eating for Autism - The Ten Step Plan to Help Treat Your Child's Autism, Asperger's or ADHD"; Elizabeth Strickland
- What to Expect: Brain-Boosting Foods for Kids;
- "Prevention"; 15 Mood-Boosting Foods; Colleen Pierre; January 19, 2005
- Thomas Jackson/Lifesize/Getty Images