How Important Is The Role Of Nutrition When It Comes To Children’s Brain Development? 

Michelle Theodosi, 24 Jun 2022

Nutrition plays a vital role in the brain development process of children below the age of five, defining how their brain will grow and function throughout their entire life. It can directly correlate to how a child thinks and feels, enduring effects on memory, attention, mood and sensory systems. During these early years before kindergarten, a nutritious, balanced diet will provide the adequate building blocks for a healthy child.

Nutrient deficits and shortages have long been linked to reduced brain cell function, minimised synapse production and lacking cognitive development. By holistically managing a child’s diet, caregivers can promote the growth of a healthy brain and set a child up for positive neurological development well into their adult years.

Although proper nutrition is sometimes difficult to focus on as a parent or caretaker, it doesn’t have to be complicated! Let’s explore the ins and outs of a balanced diet and how you can provide the essential fuel for a developing brain without adding any extra stress to your already-overwhelming day.

Establishing healthy eating habits

For caregivers, the actual process of eating is often just as hard, if not more complex, than preparing a balanced diet. It’s important to make mealtimes structured and timely to navigate these issues, establishing a routine that gets children ready and excited to eat in the first place. Complementing this by catering food to the child’s age by appropriately cutting up portions, incorporating palpable textures and eating with them can help too. It’s all about making eating fun and an invigorating experience without distractions.

It’s also recommended that the household is marked by healthy indicators, such as a visible fruit bowl and a lack of junk food in the pantry. Setting an example of healthy eating yourself is similarly essential, as children will look up to you for inspiration.

Get to know the five food groups

The Australian Dietary Guidelines are a helpful resource highlighting various aspects of healthy eating. It points towards five main food groups that meals should draw from in a nutritional balance:

  • Fruit 
  • Vegetables, legumes and beans
  • Lean meat, fish and poultry
  • Cereals (such as pasta, noodles, rice and bread)
  • Milk (dairy), yoghurts and cheeses 

Incorporating minimally-processed examples from each category into everyday meals is a delicious and easy way to craft a healthy basis of eating. 

Superfoods for superb growth

As children grow, they will naturally require more and more sustenance to fuel their active lifestyles and thriving imaginations. Here are some staples from each food group that will be forever relevant in a child’s diet.

  • Apples – Forever popular, forever healthy, apples are brimming with beneficial nutrients such as vitamin C and promote positive gut health with high fibre content.
  • Spinach – Alongside other leafy greens such as kale, spinach is chock-full of vitamins K, C and E, antioxidants and folic acids, which all promote positive cognitive function.
  • Eggs – In both the white and the yolk, eggs are naturally rich in protein and choline, essential to brain development and concentration.
  • Whole grain bread – It’s worth making whole grain bread the sandwich staple from an early age as it packs four kinds of B vitamins, iron, magnesium and selenium into every slice.
  • Greek yoghurt – In its full-fat form, it is a powerhouse of healthy fats and proteins that can positively impact brain cell growth and synapse connections.
Not-so-superfoods

While it’s ok to let a child dig into what we call “discretionary foods” now and then, these kinds of food are not essential in a child’s diet and can negatively affect their early brain development.

  • “Fast” foods – Polyunsaturated fats are at the core of many commercial, processed foods such as fries, burgers and pizza, as they are commonly cooked in long-preserving oils. Overconsumption of these fats can inflame brain tissue and decrease cognitive function.
  • Processed sugars – Found in lollies, ice blocks and soft drinks, processed sugars can have detrimental effects on blood glucose levels, are linked to the brain’s functional connectivity, and cause atrophy or shrinkage.
  • Simple carbohydrates – Unlike complex carbohydrates found in foods like brown rice, simple carbohydrates transform straight into sugar and provide transient bursts of energy without any nutritious positives. Avoid the overconsumption of cake, cookies and sugary breakfast cereals to prevent significant variances in mood and other emotional dysfunction.  
Fuel for the brain

With 90% of brain development occurring before a child gets to kindergarten, caregivers must provide the fertiliser for growth through a balanced diet right from the get-go. At home and within childcare settings, the consumption of beneficial nutrients is equally as important.

We understand the significance of nutritious foods at all Young Academics childcare centres and are committed to providing these building blocks daily to foster strong, happy and healthy kids. With each of our centres featuring an inclusive menu and an in-house chef, we know good nutrition and only want the best for your little one. 

Get in touch with Young Academics today to explore how we navigate nutrition in a childcare setting.

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