Foods That Affect Children’s Behavior

As parents of precious newborns and little ones we all want to do the very best we can for our children. That natural nurturing feeling includes all aspects, such as keeping our kids in clean nappies and nighties and ensuring they get plenty of fresh air and fun activities. So of course the same goes for what we feed our little munchkins. How seriously should we consider what we eat and what we will feed our kids? Exactly how should we feed our children?

We all have beautiful little baby cakes in our lives that may have bona fide different tastes in the food that they want to eat, and many of us have children who have food intolerances or reactions to different products which are in the forefront when it comes to mealtime.

As more and more becomes known about food additives and artificial coloring for example, we have pretty good guidelines to help us make the all important decisions about our kids nutrition. But the more we can learn the better and we hope we can give a little taste test here in regards to foods that affect children’s behavior.

Speaking from experience, as the parent of a child who was diagnosed at the age of three with the feeding disorder of “extreme sensitivity to tastes and sensations”, I can relate oh so well to the difficulties of putting the family table together in an appealing, healthy way. 

One year of weekly treatments at a feeding disorders clinic helped us the face the difficulties ahead, but now, many years later I wonder if more effort on my part should have been made in influencing my child to eat better, more nutritious meals. The effort would have been a bonus to all five family members, and actually after researching this article, I have a renewed desire to improve my family table.

The food we partake of is an extensive part of the health of our kids that we all need to pay attention to, since food affects our children’s behavior in many ways. And hey, what can be better than sitting down to a fabulous meal prepared with love, while talking and bonding together? We’ve got some great information here on foods that affect children’s behavior, and we hope that the inside story will help you make informed decisions about the fare that you put forth for your growing family.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

8 The Behaviors

It is a well known actuality that our behavior and how we interact with others on a day to day basis can ultimately affect our life experiences. Unfortunately, children who have behavioral issues - and we know it is through no fault of their own, can face social prejudices, problems at the park, and as they grow and attend school, lack of success in the classroom.

No parent wants to see their child ostracized by their playmates; no one wants their little one to come home from school upset or sad. I think if we can help our kids at all when it comes to behavior we will. Certainly, assuring our child’s health and happiness by doing what we can in regards to nutrition is a no-brainer.

Now, we aren’t saying that you are not a good parent if you don’t have your own garden, or if you are not one to make everything from scratch. I for one am guilty of shopping a bit too much from the supermarket aisle as opposed to baking and creating in my own kitchen. But I can see from how I feel myself personally when I eat too much processed food, that I am setting my kids up for a tough day when I don’t take the time to ensure adequate nutrition.

Some of the behaviors that have been found to become evident because of our diets are:

●Difficulty falling asleep at bedtime - Toddlers and school aged children should get between 10 and 12 hours of sleep a night. Not enough sleep sets the stage for a difficult day ahead.

●Aggression towards others and temper outbursts - If your child is unable to manage the outbursts or is impossible to calm down, further investigation into the cause may be best.

●Irritability and restlessness - We all have days where we are a bit out of sorts, but it should not be a daily personality trait.

●Lack of concentration - This is a behavior that can cause your child to fall behind academically.

It has been well documented that certain foods can cause behavioral issues in our wee ones. But we won’t overlook the fact that there are plenty of foods that offer positive behavior changes, too. Let’s investigate further and see what we can do to give our kids the best chance at feeling good.

7 Artificial Coloring

A color additive is a dye, pigment or substance used in the food industry for several reasons. Making the food look less bland or to correct color variations in food are two uses; if you take a look at the foods on supermarket shelves you will see that many contain artificial dyes.

How can these dyes affect our youngsters? Uncontrollable behavior for one, has been seen by parents of kids who ingest artificial color additives. You know, the crying and stomping and sudden change in a child who was angelic and happy, before unknowingly ingesting a dye that caused a reaction to take place.

As I researched the artificial coloring found in foods, I realized that I should be reading food labels every time I shop. Yes, I agree we don’t always have the time to shop in that fashion. But I think if we find several good products that we can count on, that is a good start for sure.

●Blue # 1 is found in some Yoplait products and various Oscar Mayer Lunchables.

●Red # 40 is added to Quaker Instant Oatmeal and some Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker Frostings.

Yellow # 5 is the second most used dye in the United States and is linked to hyperactivity.

●Yellow # 6 is found in Betty Crocker Fruit Roll Ups and some Kraft Dinner products.

●Beware of tartrazine and fast green on your food labels.

●Beet juice and black berries make for great natural food colorings.

I for one know that I will begin to read labels more in order to avoid quite so many artificial colorings. There are alternatives. Did you know that the red dye otherwise known as cochineal extract is indeed extracted from the female cochineal bug - harvested in Peru and the Canary Islands - is found as a color additive in some of the foods we ingest? It’s known as carmine or natural red 4. Hey, I think it’s a better choice than chemicals, don’t you?

6 Sodium Benzoate

I for one know that the food we eat has changed to the ninth degree since we were kids. I really don’t think that the selection and variety was there - but then neither were so many additives.

Sodium benzoate for example, is found in soft drinks, condiments and processed foods. The effects of this additive which is used to extend the shelf life of foods are lack of concentration, hyperactivity and tantrums.

As I researched, I seemed to find that many articles with beneficial information were from the UK, and coincidentally the UK seems to have a more advanced view on the precautions we should take in regards to additives. As a matter of fact, many products still used in North America have already been banned in Britain and other areas of the United Kingdom. Hmm….. what does this tell us?

●Also found in jam, salad dressings and children’s vitamins, this additive is thought to exacerbate asthma and hyperactivity when consumed in products containing food coloring in particular.

●When checking food labels, look for sodium benzoate, benzoic acid, benzene and E211.

There are many signs of food sensitivity in our kids other than the behavioral ones.Look also for fatigue and headaches, as well as skin and respiratory issues.

Limiting products such as sodium benzoate in our diets is bound to be a challenge with the way food is produced today. I believe the tried and true advice of shopping the perimeter of the store where fresh fruits, veggies and meat products are found is the key to keeping us, and our precious kids healthier.

5 Caffeine

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am a great lover of all things chocolate: brownies, puddings, frosting, chocolate bars….. Of course, as parents we don’t allow our kids to eat too much chocolate, nor do we indulge in it while not letting them having any. Unless you have a secret stash of course!

A little chocolate now and then is okay, I think - everything in moderation, they say. Still, there are the very real effects of caffeine to consider here. The over consumption of chocolate, soft drinks and coffee (no coffee for kids!) can lead to changes in hormone levels that can alter the way developing brains perceive and evaluate risk.

In our little pumpkins, it does not take a lot of caffeine to cause nervousness or difficulty concentrating, along with increased heart rate. Regular coffee drinkers know what a few cups of coffee does to adults - imagine the effects on our children. Many soft drinks contain caffeine, as does iced tea.

●Drinking too many soft drinks can lead to obesity. There is a ton of sugar, coloring and other additives found in soft drinks.

●Caffeine can make heart problems or nervous disorders worse, and you may not even know that your child has a problem.

Cold relief medication can contain caffeine.

The effects of caffeine can be felt by kids up to 6 hours after consumption. Since caffeine is a stimulant, I think that 6 hours is a long time for a child to be affected.

The best way to keep caffeine consumption under control is to limit soda consumption, or read the labels and purchase non caffeinated drinks. (Watch out for sodium benzoate in soft drinks, too.)

A little slice of chocolate cake or a cup of hot cocoa contains much less caffeine. Sounds like a great treat and a fair trade to me.

4 Salicylates

I’ll be genuinely honest here, this is one I had never heard of - but it is decidedly interesting and notably real in the behavioral effects for many children and adults. There are many symptoms which materialize in children who may have an intolerance for salicylates, some being headache, inattention, restlessness, anxiety and sleep interruption.

This naturally occurring chemical is found mostly in fruits, but is also in vegetables, herbs and flavor additives, along with many other foods such as some processed meats.

Of course, I am not encouraging you to stop your child from eating fruits and vegetables - that would be a pretty drastic measure to take based on the extreme health benefits we find in these foods. But, if you are finding that your child is having behavioral differences after consuming some foods, it is certainly an area you could investigate on your own or with the help of a nutritional expert.

75% of children with behavioral problems may be having reactions to salicylates.

●Include in your child’s diet items such as pears, green beans, golden and red delicious apples.

●Avoid foods on the high end of the salicylates scale. These include avocado, berries and dried fruit.

Some parents who saw that their little snicker doodles weren’t happy, were displaying fits of anger and crying, suffering from bouts of fatigue, or having trouble sleeping tried a diet called FAILSAFE eating which stands for Free of Additives and Low in Salicylates, Amines and Flavor Enhancers.

This may be an option to try, though testimonials show it can be a tough diet to follow. However, results have been more than positive for kids who face food intolerances, specifically salicylates.

3 Foods That Give Positive Reactions

So we’ve taken a look at many additions to the foods our little bonbons eat, and how they can affect them day to day. No doubt here, we know that many additives and chemicals can play havoc with the emotions and personalities of our children.

There are many foods available though, that produce a positive, calming and relaxing effect on us and our children. And to be truthful, who doesn’t need to have a restful evening after a day of school and extracurricular activities? The foods we are talking about are healthy of course. For many of us, putting the healthy food on the table is the easy part. Getting our kids to eat it, happily I might add, is not always a breeze.

Let’s face it, as our children grow and their experiences in life expand, so does their desire to try new foods, most of the time. With exposure to junk food at birthday parties to snacks at holiday time in school, I can easily attest to the fact that nutrition is not always paired with the word fun.

But we are the parent here, and we have the ability at this point to heavily influence our children’s choices.

Oatmeal topped with bananas and walnuts is known to have a soothing effect after a long day.

●A nice warm bath and then a bowl of fresh peaches warmed in the microwave and topped with milk can be super calming.

Whole grain crackers with peanut butter are a nutritious pair for those children without nut allergies.

Omega 3 foods and vitamins are good for concentration, learning abilities and heart health.

2 Eating Plans

Families and individuals have different approaches to eating and we totally get that. I am pescatarian for example and my hubby loves beef. I have friends who eat only organic and others who are vegan. Some follow the Mediterranean diet, while others eat however and whenever they feel hungry.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that as parents, we have to do what is best for us and our families, and the same goes for eating as it does for schooling or child rearing.

●We’ve mentioned the FAILSAFE eating plan, created by food intolerance expert Sue Dengate, used by families who need to restrict family members from many additives.

●Another interesting eating plan I discovered while researching this article is The Feingold Diet Program, an eating regimen that is essentially an elimination diet; the purpose is to give solid guidelines and support to those who need to remove foods containing additives in a step by step manner in order to pinpoint items that may be causing issues.

Dr, Feingold, a pediatric allergist, created this eating plan for people who have a variety of demeanor or performance concerns such as mood swings, irritability and distraction. Dr, Feingold’s diet has helped many families worldwide who have also had skin problems, autism and seizures to name a very few.

Some of us may choose to follow a gluten free diet, whether through want or necessity. Other choose a vegan plan or an eating regimen free of processed foods.

1 Resources

Thankfully, due to the internet, there is an abundance of resources for us to draw from as we plan our meals and choose foods for our families to eat. We must take the information with a grain of salt though, as not all information is adequate or absolutely spot on.

Use your resources well, speak to professionals that may have the knowledge you need, and join a support group. There are many out there that can assist you in healthy choices.

Here are a few books and websites to consider:

- The Food and Mood Book

- Food Additives: A Shopper’s Guide To What’s Safe & What’s Not

- Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks

- The Feingold Program

- BODYunburdened.com

These resources may provide further information on additional additives such as MSG and aspartame. If you do decide to do a major diet change, follow these steps to make the transition easier for your family:

●Make the change slowly. Start with the occasional change in meal or snack and gradually leave the other foods behind.

●Stop stocking your shelves with the foods you are trying to avoid.

●Remember you are the parent and you make the rules and the choices as best you can.

Give yourself a pat on the back for the efforts you have made so far in feeding your family in a healthy manner. We think you are doing just peachy. On a positive note, you are interested in their health and behavior and you may have learned something new here. You are now a bit more in the know - as am I, and as caring moms, we can move forward and approach the daily lunch box or dinner table in an educated way. Good luck and for that matter, wish me luck, too!

More in Incredible