When children go to bed at 9 p.m. and rise at 6 a.m., they’ve gone nine hours without food. Their bodies need a nutritional recharge.

A study of American school-aged children conducted by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University showed that food-insufficiency not only affected cognitive and academic performances, but psychosocial development as well.

So, start this year by teaching your children about good nutrition.

Not just any breakfast will do

"Any breakfast will do" is a myth. A doughnut gives tweens a sugar-carbohydrate lift, but several minutes later, the energy dissipates and their blood sugar level drops, often causing drowsiness. Other performance-busting foods are muffins and bagels made out of white, bleached flour and sugary cereals. Let tweens know that eating low-sugar and whole-grain foods is important.

A nutritious breakfast has a combination of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates provide the energy while the proteins repair the body and keep hunger at bay. Unsaturated fats create slow-burning fuel so tweens have energy when they need it. If your children want to eat dinner leftovers, such as chicken, carrot sticks and a whole-wheat dinner roll for breakfast, let them.

Avoid caffeine

Stress that coffee, pop or high-energy drinks will not help tweens make up the energy difference. Marketed as performance-enhancing beverages, energy drinks are loaded with sugar, legal stimulants and other additives, including caffeine, taurine, ephedrine and ginseng. Ingredients such as ephedrine (which is unsafe for heart patients, diabetics, patients with eating disorders or glaucoma and possibly all children), have questionable effectiveness as performance enhancers.

Many popular energy drinks contain 80 mg or more of caffeine, sometimes twice as much as Mountain Dew (55 mg in a 350 ml can). Stimulants can increase heart rate, blood pressure, tension, urination and irritability. They also affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature, and they reduce coordination and balance.

Excessive caffeine and sugar may lead to dehydration, disruptive behaviour or weight gain. In addition, the caffeine found in coffee and energy drinks leads to shorter nighttime sleep, prevents deep sleep and increases daytime drowsiness.

From Focus on Your Child’s Tween Ages, August 2008. Published by Focus on the Family. © 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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